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Tightening border security helps aspiring legal immigrants

A U.S. Border Patrol agent keeps watch along

A U.S. Border Patrol agent keeps watch along the U.S. and Mexican border in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Photo Credit: Bloomberg News / Luke Sharrett

President Donald Trump understands that our current immigration and border security system is failing nearly everyone.

Having our government work collaboratively to fix it will benefit not just Americans but also foreign citizens who aspire to live and work here legally.

Before Trump, the president most interested in immigration reform was John F. Kennedy, who, before he was assassinated, planned to campaign for re-election in 1964 on the issue.

Being “a nation of immigrants,” as Kennedy explained in a book of that title published after his death, is a measure of national strength, not weakness.

Among the countless immigrants who’ve come to love and contribute to our great nation is my Dad, the late Edward Eid. He journeyed to the United States alone on a student visa in 1957 at age 17 with just $100. My Dad was never prouder than on the day during the Kennedy administration he became a U.S. citizen.

Unfortunately, our current immigration policies bear little resemblance to what Kennedy envisioned. In fact, our laws have it exactly backwards, incentivizing illegal immigration over naturalized U.S. citizenship.

A record 4.4 million foreign citizens are currently on the immigrant visa waiting list, and the average wait-time for a Mexican citizen to obtain a visa to enter the U.S. legally is now 18 years.

Small wonder so many people — an estimated 11.3 million — have come here illegally from Mexico and around the world.

Meanwhile, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, commonly called IRCA, also encourages foreigners to come here illegally, which they can often do in months or even weeks — at little risk to the U.S. companies that eventually employ them.

IRCA dramatically relaxed criminal penalties for businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens.

As a federal prosecutor, I confronted large-scale hiring of illegal aliens by U.S. employers. Yet thanks to IRCA, U.S. attorneys’ offices can only charge those employers with misdemeanors, not felonies — with nominal fines and little prospect for jail time.

President Trump has vowed to overhaul IRCA and curtail federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities, whose elected officials shield illegal aliens — and not incidentally, their often politically powerful U.S. employers — by refusing to cooperate with federal authorities who enforce immigration laws.

Another prudent measure was the president’s executive order temporarily suspending entry to the U.S. for citizens of seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen. Though the order aimed at boosting homeland security was blocked, we’ve been promised a new, more streamlined order is coming. The list of nations is no surprise: President Barack Obama identified these countries in 2015 and 2016 as raising special terrorism concerns.

Trump has also pledged to prosecute illegal aliens who commit violent crimes here. The facts bear out why this priority is vital.

One in every four criminals sentenced to federal prison is an illegal alien who, after committing at least one felony in our country, was deported but returned illegally to the U.S., according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The average criminal alien in federal custody has already been deported 3.2 times.

Then there is border security. Trump’s approach relies on virtual protections, such as expanding the E-Verify program so employers don’t hire illegal aliens.

Yet the need for stronger protection along America’s southern border can’t be ignored. The possible benefits are hardly speculative: After constructing a security fence along its Egyptian border, Israel saw illegal border-crossing attempts there plummet.

Immigration reform demands an immigration president. Helping Donald Trump become that leader serves the national interest.

Troy A. Eid, the first Arab-American appointed as a United States attorney, a position he held with the District of Colorado from 2006-2009.

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