Randy Forbes: Our word matters when it comes to immigration

randy forbesWhen my dad passed away in 2004, I received many condolences but some comments in particular stuck with me. Several people said, “I really respected your father. He was a man of his word.

I took these comments to heart because they were true. My dad clung to his word. When he was in Europe during World War II, he prayed for protection and promised God that if he made it home, he would take his family to church every Sunday.  And so every Sunday, whether it was while we were on vacation or in the middle of a storm, my brother, sister, and I found ourselves sandwiched between my mom and dad at church. Upholding his commitment wasn’t an obligation for my dad; it was the way he lived his life – as a man of his word.

For many of us, our national identity is rooted in the idea that our word is our bond. The words of the Constitution provide a foundation for freedom. The words of our laws provide stability. The words of our national creeds ascertain unbridled commitment to our citizens: we are one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. The Pledge of Allegiance invites swells of pride in our hearts and causes our busy brains to pause because those words mean something.

That’s why so many Americans are deeply frustrated and angry over the state of illegal immigration in our nation today. The real battle over immigration isn’t simply about the number of individuals coming across our borders illegally. Those are the effects of something deeper. The broader issue is about the commitment our nation has made to uphold the laws of the land. It’s about our word.

Our word, through our laws, preserves the core belief that United States citizenship is not a right, but an honor that transcends race, religion, privilege, or politics. So when the Administration lacks the will to secure the border and enforce our laws– choosing instead to release over 30,000 criminal illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2014 alone – it tastes strongly of disloyalty. When the government releases an illegal immigrant with repeat felonies, only to have him kill an innocent American citizen in a random act of violence, it evokes anger because our laws  would have — should have — prevented it in the first place. And when cities across the nation offer sanctuary to illegal immigrants, it causes unrest because our word as a nation seems devalued.

I refuse to let America become a nation of empty words. We are greater than that. We have sacrificed too much for that. We need our nation’s words to matter — for the integrity, security, and future of our nation, so I will not back down in the fight to uphold our word.

We can start by enforcing our laws. That’s why I’ve championed the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act. The premise of the bipartisan bill is simple: cut off certain federal grant funding for sanctuary cities that do not comply with current federal immigration laws. The bill passed the House this summer with bipartisan support by a vote of 241-179, and now awaits action in the Senate.

I have written legislation to immediately deport any illegal immigrant who is a member of a violent criminal gang. The crux of this legislation was included in a larger immigration enforcement bill (H.R. 1148) passed out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this year and is awaiting consideration before the House. That broader bill would also remove the ability of the President to unilaterally shut down immigration enforcement and strengthen the interior enforcement of our immigration laws by allowing state and local governments to enforce federal immigration law.

Just as my dad was a man of his word and that represented who he was as an individual, so our words as a Nation show our character and chart the course forward for our country. I will fight everyday to uphold them. It shouldn’t be a partisan issue to enforce the laws we have already passed; it’s something we should be able to rally together as Americans and agree upon. Where necessary (as in the instance of sanctuary cities) laws can be changed through democratic process – but simply ignoring the law is not an option. Our words on immigration should be clear: our borders must be secured, our laws must be enforced, and our citizens must be protected.

Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.

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