Am I the only one around here who gives a s– about the rules?” That question was posed by John Goodman in “The Big Lebowski,” and I have to ask the same thing of the hundreds of thousands of protesters across the country clamoring about the proposed illegal-immigration reform bill currently being debated in Congress. If we’re going to have laws, we need to enforce them. And despite all the lip service offered by people on both sides of the aisle in Washington, little is being done to protect our country and stop the seemingly endless tide of illegal immigrants streaming across our southern border.

The House bill in question, H.R. 4437, is not a perfect solution. The bill perhaps overly criminalizes illegal immigrants who, while they are criminals by definition, are nonetheless present in this country through our government’s deliberate negligence in order to provide Big Business with cheap labor. But the bill succeeds in taking a decisive first step towards a feasible and productive immigration solution for the United States. As a nation, we must stop the bleeding before we can start healing the wound. Increasing border patrol, building a wall and harshening the penalties for illegals, as H.R. 4437 could, would help stop the bleeding.

As the 9/11 Commission Report asserts, the immigration system is currently “unable to deliver on its basic commitments, much less support counterterrorism.” Anybody can understand the security hazard of having millions of undocumented people in the United States. Of the 400,000 illegal aliens who have been ordered deported, 80,000 have criminal records. The Department of Homeland Security does not know the location of any of the illegals, criminal or not. Moreover, the number of illegal immigrants classified as OTMs — “other than Mexicans” — is increasing. While OTMs come from a variety of Latin American countries, an increasing amount originate from countries hostile to the United States such as Egypt and Iran. Given the increased security measures at airports, the flood of illegal immigrants over the Mexican border provides the perfect cover for terrorists seeking to enter the United States No reasonable person can deny that a terrorist could enter the country, without too much trouble, through the southern border. If a domestic terrorist attack were perpetrated by people who came to the United States through the southern border, you can bet politicians would be climbing over one another trying to pass measures definitively to secure the border.

The assumption that jobs filled by illegal immigrants would not otherwise be filled is inherently flawed. Even President Bush has proposed a program that would “match willing foreign workers with willing American employers, when no Americans can be found to fill the jobs.” The low wages made possible by the influx of illegal immigrants, however, is the reason these jobs cannot be filled in the first place. The chief economic columnists for the Washington Post and the New York Times, two papers that are anything but conservative mouthpieces, have both come out against proposed guest worker programs. Both columnists assert that a guest worker program would essentially import poverty, and because assimilation occurs at a much slower rate than immigration, the strain on local schools, hospitals and housing would continue to grow. A recent Harvard study, furthermore, shows U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more in wages if it weren’t for Mexican immigration and the increased availability of cheap, illegal labor.

Illegal immigration makes a mockery of the fine U.S. tradition of encouraging legal immigration, an institution that has made this country the greatest in the world. Increasingly, there is little incentive for potential immigrants to play by the rules. It is foolish to extend the tradition of immigration in America to those who choose to enter this country illegally.

These issues underline the importance of controlling our borders. No solution addressing illegal immigration will be even remotely successful unless we are able to control who enters our country. Any plan to tighten border security while helping illegal immigrants earn citizenship will only be accompanied by an influx of illegals trying to enter the country before the tighter border restrictions are applied. The government’s first priority should be effectively to stop the bleeding ­­­– whether with a wall, increased border patrol or the National Guard.

Once the border is secured, it will be time to talk about how to treat humanely the millions of illegal immigrants in the country already. The McCain-Kennedy bill currently being debated in the U.S. Senate establishes a path to citizenship for illegals that is not overly burdensome but also prioritizes citizenship for those who have pursued immigration legally. Some conservatives criticize it as offering amnesty to illegals, and in a sense it is. But what these critics fail to admit or realize is that the United States has facilitated the growth in illegal immigration through deliberate negligence designed to benefit Big Business. Hopefully, however, the pressing security risks and drains on the economy will convince the politicians in Washington that it’s time to get real on illegal immigration. If politicians don’t get serious about border security, they should be replaced by people who will.

Gregory Duboff is a sophomore in Saybrook College.