President Bush has rediscovered illegal immigration as a political issue. After previously focusing on ''welcoming'' all who come to America by whatever means, the president spent most of his recent speech in Tucson, Ariz., sounding like Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, who has been the most vocal proponent of sealing U.S. borders to illegal aliens.
Ninety percent of the speech was about the president's new get-tough policy. The rest focused on his ''guest-worker'' program, which is amnesty by whatever name he calls it. He says he wants to end the government's catch-and-release policy in which non-Mexican illegals are apprehended, detained and then released, but that there aren't enough beds in detention centers to hold all of those apprehended. By some estimates, sufficient housing won't be available for at least six years. There are many ''sounds--good'' proposals in the president's speech and his remarks might have more credibility had they come immediately after Sept., 11, 2001. An unknown number of people crossing our borders have no interest in building homes; they wish only to destroy America's ''home.''
According to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), of the 94 foreign-born terrorists who operated in the United States between the early 1990s and 2004 about two-thirds (59) committed immigration fraud prior to or in conjunction with taking part in terrorist activity. Of the 59 terrorists who violated the law, many committed multiple immigration violations. In 47 instances, immigration benefits sought or acquired prior to Sept., 11, enabled the terrorists to stay in the United States after Sept., 11, and continue their terrorist activities. In at least two instances, terrorists were still able to acquire immigration benefits after Sept., 11.
The president acknowledged that, ''securing our border is essential to securing the homeland.'' Absent from the speech were proposals to sanction businesses that knowingly hire illegals. As long as there is a demand for cheap labor and insufficient disincentives, they will continue to come. It is why the government has had minimal success curtailing illegal drug shipments. Demand produces supply.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center and the Center for Immigration Studies, there are nearly 11 million illegal aliens in the United States, of which about 7 million are workers. In 2002, it was estimated that households headed by illegal aliens used $10 billion more in government services than they paid in taxes.
They cost California taxpayers $10.5 billion in education, medical and other expenses.
There is another dimension to illegal and even legal immigration the president did not mention. We have failed to make Americans out of many of them. This is part of a larger cultural problem that tells immigrants they should hyphenate their heritage with ''American,'' retaining their language, traditions and even loyalty to the country from which they originated.
The CIS sponsored a forum in Washington recently titled ''Dual Allegiance: A Challenge to Immigration Reform and Patriotic Assimilation.'' John Fonte, senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., said that previously when immigrants became American citizens they took a solemn oath to ''absolutely and entirely renounce'' all previous political allegiances. They transferred their loyalty from the ''old country'' to the United States. Too many, he says, maintain dual allegiances in violation of the oath.
Immigrants need to be transformed into full Americans, not only by their citizenship, but also by their language (English), by their allegiance, voting habits (for American candidates and not for candidates in the nations from which they emigrated) and by their attitude. This was the profile of earlier immigrants, who wanted to come to America to become Americans.
In recent years, certain elites have taken the view that there is something better about other countries. In this view, immigrants should keep their allegiance and cultural heritage and not assimilate. This is a strategy for the death of any culture. While a nation cannot exist ''half slave and half free,'' in Abraham Lincoln's words, neither can it exist in a state that is culturally subdivided.
John Fonte believes (www.cis.org), ''Congress should exercise its undisputed authority in this arena and prohibit certain acts (e.g., voting in a foreign election) that indicate dual allegiance. The purpose of such legislation would not be to punish people who have acted in good faith in the past, but to establish clear rules for the future in order to discourage and restrict dual allegiance.''
Along with a much stronger and workable border control policy and penalties for businesses that knowingly hire illegals, attention to fully assimilating the non-native-born population would go far to fulfilling our national motto: E Pluribus Unum -- out of many, one.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist and a host on Fox News Channel. Readers may leave e-mail at www.calthomas.com.
His column appears on Tuesday and Thursday.