In high school, I attended classes with teenagers from all over the world. As a student at an international boarding school, I rubbed shoulders with classmates from China, South Korea, Russia, Mexico, and several other countries. I tried different foods, learned words in Chinese and Korean, and made friends who grew up half-way across the world. I loved it. I enjoyed seeing people from different nations taking advantage of the blessings of freedom. Whether they stayed after graduation or went back to their home country, we welcomed them with open arms in the small town of Atchison, Kansas. I learned quickly that in the United States, we love taking in immigrants and visitors to our nation who aim to create a better life for themselves and for their families. That is the nature of the American Dream. Today, I am personally offended when I hear liberals call conservatives anti-immigration or against people of different skin colors. I learned to embrace my classmates in high school and enjoy interacting with immigrants to this day. I discovered long ago that “anti-immigrant” labels are far from the truth when it comes to conservatives.

Liberals often labels conservatives “anti-immigrant,” or worse, “racist” because we take a hard-line stance on illegal immigration. However, the fallacy in this type of statement is that liberals rarely separate “legal” and “illegal” immigration. The more radical seek to eliminate the “i” word from the conversation. Most Americans, conservatives and liberals alike, are strongly in favor of the former. Opinions on the latter category, however, prove divisive. Conservatives often preach about the dangers of poorly-guarded borders and the economic damage illegal immigration wreaks. Liberals weave stories of hard-luck illegal immigrants who “live in the shadows” and work low-paying jobs at dangerous locales. My answer to this type of commentary: It’s time for a little personal responsibility. Who is really to blame for their predicament? If an immigrant doesn’t respect the rule of law and enter this country the right way, there are consequences. Unfortunately, those consequences extend far beyond individual illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigration has a broad negative impact on both our economy and our security. The American-Mexican border is a war zone. An estimated 35,000 people have died as a result of the Mexican drug cartel wars on the border. As our illegal immigration laws become more lax, that danger is seeping over the border at a startling rate. And don’t forget about the fiscal impact. The estimated federal, state and local costs of illegal immigration total $113 billion. We currently have the “worst economy since the Great Depression,” don’t we?  The last thing taxpayers need is a larger federal deficit.

Most importantly, we need to ensure that America is still a nation where freedom thrives. We must provide incentives for immigrants and ensure that immigration is streamlined and simple. Right now, legal immigration is too cumbersome and waits are too long. If people want to take advantage of the American Dream, our immigration system should not halt their progress. Additionally, once immigrants make it to the U.S., we must ensure that they are rewarded with all of the blessings of freedom. This includes making sure our economy is strong and our laws are respected. While the former might be more pressing, the latter is also important. Many people come to the U.S. in order to flee from corruption in their own nation. What will they think of our government if we don’t enforce our own laws? No immigrant wants to escape a corrupt nation by running into the arms of another crooked legal system.

What if I told you that conservatives are in favor of a path to citizenship? Of course we are. It’s called legal immigration. The “pathway to citizenship” conservatives support is not simply a euphemism for “amnesty.” We are “pro-immigration” rather than solely “anti-illegal immigration.” While I reject the notion that “illegal immigrant” is an offensive and/or racist title, let’s throw it out, true as it may be, and stick to “pro-immigration.” We’ll make it much further in the debate if we are “for” something rather than “against” something.

Conservatives truly understand the plight of those “yearning to breathe free” in America. However, that doesn’t authorize breaking the law. Liberals, it’s important not to mistake feelings for facts and let your desires for “social justice” get in the way of rationality. We need to make the wise choice, not the expedient one. So please don’t tell me I’m anti-immigrant or against people of different races. I’m against illegal immigration because I value this nation and its ability to serve as a sanctuary for the poor and oppressed all over the world. Illegal immigration destroys both our security and economy. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.” Let’s make sure people all around the world are able to escape to America in the future and take advantage of the many blessings of freedom.

Amy Lutz | Saint Louis University | @AmyLutz4