Senator John ThuneFor much of the past month, the Senate has been considering a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The debate has been a contentious one, and this week the Senate decided that it would not move ahead with the bill in its current form by a bipartisan vote of 46-53.
I opposed the bill because it would have provided nearly immediate legal status to between 12 and 20 million illegal immigrants. I believe that, before we deal with those illegal immigrants already here, we must first secure the borders of our country to effectively cut off the flood of illegal immigrants. Otherwise, we will be dealing with illegal immigration again on a much larger scale a generation from now.
America has a long tradition as a welcoming nation. Like many other South Dakotans, I am a product of that tradition.
In 1906, two brothers named Nicolai and Matthew Gjelsvik came to America from Norway. The only English they knew were the words "apple pie" and "coffee," which evidently they learned on the way over.
When they arrived at Ellis Island, the immigration officials determined that their given name would be too difficult to spell and pronounce, so they asked them to change it. They picked the name of the farm where they worked near Berjin, Norway, which was called the Thune Farm. And so Nicolai Gjelsvik became Nick Thune, my grandfather.
Then, as now, there was a great demand in America's growing economy for workers. They went to work on the transcontinental railroad, doing hard manual labor, learned English, and made enough to start a small merchandising company, and subsequently a hardware store that bears their name to this day. They came here for the opportunity America offered, the opportunity to succeed and the opportunity to fail.
Their story has been duplicated millions of times over and continues today. Millions and millions of Americans came here from other places, but they came here legally. I support them and the millions more who are still to come through legal channels. One can be both for immigration and for the rule of law. The two are not mutually exclusive.
One of the enduring symbols that we are a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of laws, is the Statue of Liberty. An inscription on its pedestal encourages those "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" to come through the "golden door."
We need to strengthen border security and workplace verification measures, but the immediate legalization of 12 million people is a bridge too far. It contradicts one of the great ideals of our democracy and sends wrong and conflicting signals to those who are here currently and those who will come in the future.
I will continue to work to ensure that our borders are secure, and look forward to working with my colleagues to develop an immigration reform policy that will make certain that all who come here arrive through the golden door, rather than through the back door of our country.