Politically Savvy Friends

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Immigration -- Legalizing Illegals

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

When Emma Lazarus wrote her famous poem for the 1886 dedication of the Statue of Liberty, nobody quite envisioned the current debate over illegal aliens. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

This idyllic view of America as the great refuge for those from other lands has always been a bit overstated and hardly reality. After all, the USA has had substantial quotas on immigrants for decades, and even when a respectful concern for human rights might have dictated otherwise, we denied refugee entry to many Asians, Jews, and now Iraqis.

Still, Americans are conflicted on immigration. We (almost all of us) are descendant from immigrants, and we know it’s only fair to treat current would-be immigrants the same way our grandparents were retreated. The problem, of course, is that President Bush and the Congress are wrestling with a different kind of problem – illegal immigrants who did not follow the rules to get into this country.

A recent CBS/NYTimes poll highlights how schizophrenic Americans are on this issue. When asked if illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay if they pay a $5,000 fine, have a clean work record, and pass a criminal background check, some 67% say yes while only 28% say deport them – and a similar number support the proposed guest worker program. But if asked directly if illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and deported home, 69% say deport them and only 24% would not.

Because these people are illegals – not traditional immigrants -- the government really has no idea of how many people we’re talking about. U.S. immigration officials think the illegal influx amounts to about 500,000 people a year, and they estimate about 9 to 10 million illegals in the USA. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates the number at 11.5 million to 12.0 million. Others put the number of illegals closer to 20 million.

Even if the number is closer to 10 million than 20 million, how can the United States realistically capture and deport that many men, women, and children? And is that really the best solution when many (but obviously not all) of these individuals work hard and contribute to the American economy?

Congress is wrestling with a solution amidst a political cacophony from those who think any form of recognition of illegals constitutes amnesty and those who think these illegals, mostly Hispanics, should be given all the rights of traditional immigrants. In my view, both are wrong.

Here’s my proposal. First, anyone who entered this country illegally should be permanently barred from ever becoming a citizen of this nation. They broke the law, and that should mean something. Second, it’s in the best interest of this nation to encourage illegals to step forward, register as guest workers, pay some sort of restitution, and be allowed to stay (without forcing them go back home for one year or some other back-and-forth scheme) – so long as they are employed, have no crime record, and learn to speak English. Those who fail to step forward should remain subject to capture and deportation under the law.

Third, we should crack down hard on companies that hire illegal aliens, driving them out of business if need be because they are the catalyst that attracts illegals to this country. Fourth, border security is an important priority. While I am skeptical that building fences will really secure the border, we should not short-change law enforcement at the borders, as we do today. The last report I saw we had 11,000 border patrol agents monitoring the nation’s 19,000 miles of border. Sounds pretty spotty to me. Fifth, we should adopt a sensible immigration system that welcomes all those with something to offer without some artificial (and inherently racist or ethnically biased) nation-by-nation quota system. And those who enter lawfully should be encouraged to earn American citizenship.

Who knows what will come out of the Congress on this issue. My hunch is that the issue may still be too hot for a reasonable compromise to be enacted.

This "blog" was part of a much larger PSF newsletter I sent out the other day to my Politically Savvy Friends. If you would like to get that free newsletter, just click on the subscriber button found on this page. I would welcome you as a PSFer.


Bram Reichbaum said...

I don't know if you are aware ... there is a bit of a bru-ha-ha about the use of the idiom "illegals." To many it dehumanizes the person and reduces them to one (poor) decision, and linguistically it works to shut them out of our consideration.

I don't care much whether to go so far as to say "undocumented workers", because it is illegal, and it's best to be clear.

But I try at least to say illegal (or undocmented) IMMIGRANTS, just so they're not totally reduced to such a cruelly orwellian abstract.

Jon Delano said...

Thanks, Bram. I eschew "political correctness," so I have no problem calling someone who enters this country illegally an "illegal" because that's what they are. A wordsmith might object to turning an adjective into a noun -- but the use of the word "illegals" now has common acceptance.

I also don't think it "dehumanizes" the person who is an illegal. That sounds like PC psycho-babble. I am not comfortable combining the words "illegal" with "immigrant" as the latter suggest someone who has emigrated to another nation under the law with the purpose of settling permanently and becoming a citizen. Those who enter this country illegally, by definition, have broken the laws of the nation and that is hardly the basis on which to become a citizen.

Thanks for your excellent comments and the chance to expound some more!

Char said...

I agree with most everything you've put forth. Except I'd move reason #3 up to reason #1. If there were no jobs for the illegals, or very few jobs ....there wouldn't be so many of them to track down or for the fence to keep out.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Yeah, I wonder about the feasability of ANY solutions when there's a huge market for cheap labor in this country ... whether it's the current market or a black market, it'll still be a powerful market. Who feels like spending $4 on a head of lettuce?