What's missing from today's new wave of illegal immigrants (and it was evident during the recent work stoppages and demonstrations) is the willingness to assimilate into American society.
America is a nation of immigrants. It is a nation built by immigrants. The United States owes much of its success to the millions of immigrants who came here to work in its factories and farms and fight its wars.
America is also a nation that may not survive because of immigrants.
An estimated 12 million illegal aliens are living in the United States today. That number grows every day as states and the federal government refuse to protect our porous border with Mexico. These illegals don't pay taxes. They don't vote. They don't serve on juries. Many of them drive without licenses. Some have committed serious crimes.
There's no question illegal aliens contribute to the U.S. economy, many holding down jobs that nobody else wants. But let's not forget that they are not citizens. They are not entitled to the same rights as U.S. citizens.
America has been the destination for millions of people who were no longer wanted by their own counties. The fled religious or political persecution. They fled dictatorships. They fled famine and disease. Many wanted a better life for themselves and their families. They saw opportunity in the United States that they couldn't find anywhere else in the world.
My family came to the United States from Cyprus, where I was born. We came here legally. We learned the English language. We went to school. We paid our taxes. We renounced the citizenship of our birth country for our new homeland. We went to the county courthouse for a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens.
Today's immigrant is a different case. The first act of millions of illegal aliens is to break U.S. laws by sneaking into the country. Now they demand citizenship after they've broken the law instead of earning the privilege of becoming an American.
As a naturalized American citizen and one-time immigrant, I am appalled by the recent demonstrations, boycotts and calls for amnesty by and for illegal aliens. The actions of labor leaders and politicians who pander to the illegals because they see them as potential union members or a large voting block are reprehensible.
The problem of illegal immigration can't be taken lightly. The arguments that Mexicans are already here or there's too many of them to do anything about it won't wash. Being part of a mob doesn't make your crime any less serious. You still broke the law. You still have to answer for it.
A nation that cannot secure its borders will cease to remain a sovereign nation. Mexico is not the 51st state of the United States. As we learned in New Orleans with last year's devastation from Hurricane Katrina, you have to fix the breech in the dam before you can start cleaning up the flood. We still haven't plugged the holes in our border with Mexico. Every day, hundreds or perhaps thousands of illegal aliens cross into the U.S. illegally.
Those 12 million didn't come here overnight. They came day-by-day, year-after-year while our politicians looked the other way. Our current dilemma is decades in the making. It's as much Bill Clinton's fault as it is George Bush's. Neither administration has taken the necessary steps to secure our borders.
And let's not forget that the Sept. 11 highjackers were illegal aliens. Imagine what our response would have been if the 19 men who flew airplanes into buildings on 9/11 were Latinos instead of Muslims. How quickly would we have secured the border with Mexico?
This is a complicated issue, but it's also one ripe for demagoguery. It's too important to leave it in the hands of Congress, the most embarrassing deliberative body this side of the League of Nations.
Let's put immigration — including key issues such as deporting illegal aliens and protecting our national borders — to a national vote. A binding referendum. Take the decision away from pandering politicians and give it to the people.
Most Americans believe citizenship comes with responsibility. Sneaking into the U.S. illegally does not entitle you to anything except deportation if you're caught. Open borders and blanket amnesty should be taken off the table.
What's missing from today's new wave of illegal immigrants (and it was evident during the recent work stoppages and demonstrations) is the willingness to assimilate into American society. Assimilation, the process that leads to unity among America's diverse population, goes hand-in-hand with immigration.
That doesn't mean you have to abandon your cultural or religious heritage. It means you have to be willing to make some sacrifice to become an American. The flagrant refusal by so many to abide by U.S. immigration laws disrespects the tens of millions of immigrants who came to this country legally and followed established rules to become American citizens.
The majority of Americans, including most immigrants, believe new citizens should learn to read and write the language of their adopted country. Most Americans believe the immigrants should know the basic history of their new nation. They should know who George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were. They should be able to tell you how many stars and stripes are found on the American flag and what they symbolize. They should know the Pledge of Allegiance by heart and take it to heart.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is not just a way to improve your economic lot in life. It's not an elaborate "guest worker" program to send money to third-world countries like Mexico. It's believing and promising with all your hear that you will defend and support the Constitution of the greatest nation the world has ever known. If you're not willing to do that, you can't call yourself an American.
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas