By Alvin Benn
The flood of illegal immigrants in America is triple
's population of 4.5 million people and no one seems to know how to stop it, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said Wednesday.
"The system is broken," Shelby told a large crowd at the
St. James Hotel
. "It doesn't work."
Speaking at the weekly meeting of the Selma Rotary Club,
touched on a variety of issues confronting the state and nation, but spent a good part of his talk on illegal immigration.
He said he opposes a plan by President Bush to allow illegal immigrants to return to their home countries and then return to the
legally. He said that has little chance of succeeding.
"Are you going to leave a place where you're doing 50 times better than you've ever done before in your life?" he asked, before answering with a firm "Heck no."
Shelby said the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in America today would just about fill the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and
. He also said the actual figure probably is much higher.
does not have enough police to deal with that many illegal people "when we don't know where most of them are," he added.
businessman Ronnie Leet said he had "mixed emotions" about the immigration problem, but made it clear he favors a policy to curtail what has gotten out of hand.
"I'm all for people making a better life for themselves, but we have to have some controls," he said after
's speech. "It's a hard subject, but there's got to be a solution."
As he hurried to another speaking engagement in Hayneville, Shelby said
businesses could hold a key to solving the illegal immigration problem.
"We just need to enforce our laws," he said. "If we continue to break the law and look the other way, what does that say to the people who come here legally?"
As he has done since being elected to the Senate in 1986, Shelby is on an extensive swing through
Subjects ranged from the war in Iraq to his efforts to extend Interstate 85 through Alabama's impoverished Black Belt region to the
He pointed to his efforts to set aside $100 million to plan for an I-85 extension likely to exceed $1 billion, but acknowledged completion is a long way off. He said one way to speed things up is to build a toll road to help pay for construction.
"I hope I live to see it," he said. "I've done my part. Now it's up to the state to do something with it."
said he would vote to support the nomination of U.S. District Judge Samuel Alito to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he has told Alito to meet with Democrats who might question his nomination "because I'm voting for him." Alabama's other senator, fellow Republican Jeff Sessions of
, has also announced his support for Alito.
Shelby also said the United States should remain in
until it is stabilized, adding that to leave too soon would send the wrong message to the world.
"The worst thing we could do is cut and run," he said. "If we do, it would be a horrible mistake."