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DEMOCRATS AND ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

Most Americans clearly want their government to secure the borders and enforce immigration laws. They understand what many elected officials still don't: rewarding lawbreakers with amnesty only encourages a new flood of illegal immigrants.

In September, New York Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced a plan to allow illegal immigrants to obtain New York drivers' licenses. The proposal has been sharply criticized across the nation. A recent poll found 77 percent of Americans oppose drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants.

Despite overwhelming opposition, the proposal still has supporters, including many of the Democratic presidential candidates. Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York found out the hard way that the American people are unwilling to accept anything but a public denouncement of this proposal.

The public outcry ultimately forced Mr. Spitzer to withdraw his proposal, but the damage was done. With the 2008 elections less than a year away, senior Democratic leaders and members of Congress are desperately trying to strike the right tone on immigration. But efforts by Democrats to toughen talking points against illegal immigration are disingenuous at best.

In fact, Democrats and various interest groups have never been serious about reducing illegal immigration. In the last two years, an overwhelming majority of House Democrats voted against almost every piece of legislation aimed at reducing illegal immigration. For example:

• 80 percent of House Democrats said no to enhanced border security and increased enforcement of laws prohibiting the employment of illegal immigrants. The proposed bill required the use of a basic pilot program, which helps employers determine whether their employees are legal.

• 74 percent of House Democrats said no to national security standards for drivers' licenses to prevent alien terrorists from getting identification documents. The REAL ID Act aimed at keeping out and removing alien terrorists from the U.S.

• 63 percent of House Democrats said no to strengthening border security by constructing reinforced fences along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senate Democrats also have refused to reduce illegal immigration. For example:

• 75 percent of Senate Democrats said no to enforcing immigration laws before beginning the legalization process for the 12 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S. By opposing the common-sense Coburn Amendment, many Democrats rejected the American public's call for immigration enforcement.

• 86 percent of Senate Democrats said no to increasing the number of detention beds, allowing for the confinement of illegal immigrants to ensure their appearance for immigration hearings.

• 84 percent of Senate Democrats said no to funding 800 more immigration investigators.

Compare those numbers to the 69 percent of Americans who said they want illegal immigration reduced.

Refusing to enforce immigration laws simply maintains the status quo. Democrat proposals that reward illegal immigration, like Gov. Spitzer's plan in New York, only exacerbate the problem and encourage illegal immigration. Reducing illegal immigration requires increased border security, effective enforcement of immigration laws and an end to the job magnet that entices illegal immigrants to come here and stay.

The Bush Administration has begun to respond to the convictions expressed by the American people. But its efforts are blocked by interest groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have filed lawsuits to block the implementation of a key enforcement measure.

Specifically, they hope to block the Homeland Security Department's "no match" rule, designed to identify illegal immigrants using fraudulent Social Security numbers to obtain jobs. It is no surprise that these same groups favor amnesty.

The American people understand that illegal immigration is just that, illegal. They understand laws are meaningless unless enforced. But they can't understand why so many elected officials pay lip-service to immigration enforcement back home while voting against it in Washington.

On illegal immigration, it's time for Democrats to take a lesson in Civics 101 and start representing the views of the American people. It's time Congress got serious about immigration enforcement.

Lamar Smith is the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee.