It’s about the border stupid.

How did we let the debate turn from national security to illegal aliens’ rights?

Twelve million illegal aliens have entered and currently reside in our country. Twelve Million! We have turned our heads from this problem in the name of political correctness for far too long. We have let those who so willingly play the race card dominate this debate for years and allowed them to silence the voices of reasonable concern.

TWELVE MILLION illegal aliens. That is over three times the population of Oregon. The overwhelming majority of those have illegally entered our southern border through Mexico. And while the vast majority of those entering illegally through that border are Mexicans, there are also substantial numbers from Central America and South America including a steady flow of Colombians. Even more troubling is that there are increasing numbers of young men from the Middle East, as well as criminal elements from former Eastern Bloc countries.

TWELVE MILLION illegal aliens. It is not hard to conclude that amongst twelve million illegal aliens there is a substantial criminal and terrorist element. If you assume the most conservative estimate of 1% of that population is engaged in criminal and/or terrorist activities, that means there are at least 120,000 dangerous miscreants unaccounted for and running loose in the most open society in the world. It took only 19 terrorists to bring down the World Trade Center, attack the Pentagon and make a run at the White House had not heroic passengers thwarted that plan. The next 19 terrorist are almost certainly here amongst the twelve million illegal aliens.

And yet we dither. Both political parties are to blame. Both have been so busy courting the Hispanic vote that neither dared raise questions about this terrible problem for fear of alienating a voting bloc, or worse, being labeled a racist by the professional race baiters like Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte and Howard Dean. The Democrats have anxiously awaited a Republican move that they can label racist. And the Republicans, knowing that the Democrats are institutionally incapable of solving problems, continue to pound on them as soft on national and economic security.

There is already a great public debate regarding various proposals pending before Congress on what ought to be done to address the problem. Virtually all the proposals involve some method of securing the borders. Quit arguing and get it done. Until the borders are secured permanently the debate over what to do with existing illegals is pointless because the economic incentives to cross a porous border are so great that illegals will keep pouring in.

The rest of the debate seems to center around whether to grant guest worker status to the existing twelve million illegals or deport them all, and whether to penalize employers for hiring illegals. With regard to the first, we couldn’t evacuate New Orleans with four days notice in the face of a hurricane. What makes anyone think we can locate, identify and move twelve million people back across the Mexican border? Even if it is mandated it will not happen in our lifetimes.

But it is the latter question — penalizing businesses that hire illegals — that intrigues me. I am flat out in favor of stiff and graduated punishment for those who hire illegals. Providing the economic incentive to people that encourages them to illegally enter the country is seditious. But I have two problems that must be addressed concurrently with imposing harsh penalties.

First, there needs to be an easily accessible means for an employer, including household employers, to verify the status of a worker. There is a growing movement to require the issuance of national identity cards and just as much resistance from those who find them intrusive and too much like Big Brother. I stopped worrying about Big Brother when computers started tracking our purchasing habits. My guess is that VISA, Mastercharge, Amazon, Yahoo and Google know more about us than would be disclosed on a national identify card. But be that as it may, we don’t need to create a raison d’être for another government bureaucracy. We already have a national data base called Social Security and we simply need to enable it so that there can be readily accessible computer verification of someone’s status.

The second issue is the same thing that drives me nuts about government in general. While government is more than willing to impose penalties and burdens on its citizens, it regularly exempts itself from the same requirements. Better said, the same government that intends to impose penalties for hiring illegals, is more than willing to turn a blind eye to those same illegals when providing government services: welfare, healthcare, education, driver’s licenses. More pointedly, many local governments (Portland for instance) refuse to cooperate in enforcing immigration laws. How can a government which provides unparalleled incentives that encourage illegals to cross the border, punish its citizens for doing the same?

Local, state and federal officials need to stop turning a blind eye to those with whom they come into contact. That means that the police should inquire about the status of persons who enter the justice system for other reasons. Civil authorities should inquire about the status of persons who seek government services. And for those who are here illegally, or in violation of any guest worker requirements, there should be immediate deportation.

In the end, the first task, not the last, should be to secure our borders. President Teddy Roosevelt once said that a nation that cannot secure its borders is no longer a nation.