Saturday, April 15, 2006

Immigration Reform

Living here in southern California, the impact of illegal immigration across our southern border is direct, powerful, and widespread. Each morning on my way to work I pass several 'hiring' areas for illegals were as many as 60 or 80 men wait each morning for work. I drive a pickup truck, so as I pass the men raise their hands and wave, hoping for a day's work and a day's pay. I've never stopped, but often see other trucks doing so.

The debate over immigration reform is passionate. Many people I know want all illegals deported immediately, period. But I see the situation as being much more complex. For a country built by the sweat and blood of immigrants to now want to close the door on immigration is, for me, nearly oxymoronic. As reads the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty:
"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-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
I grew up to understand that those words signified a country better and different than all others, a place where everyone, regardless of class, wealth, race, education, religion, or political views were welcome. That is the America I know.

Ronald Reagan spoke often of a "shining city on a hill", and said this in his farewell address:

"I've spoken of the Shining City all my political life... In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still."
I see it that way, too. "Anyone with the will and the heart to get here". Those are powerful words, with powerful meaning. I am not asserting that Ronald Reagan advocated illegal immigration, but he certainly took a more compassionate view of it than many who are opposed to it now.

We all benefit from immigration, even if it is illegal. Our food is less expensive, our hotels are cleaner and rates are lower, our lawns are mowed, our trees are pruned, our dishes washed, our food prepared, our houses cleaned, and our children are cared for by illegal aliens. Not always are they illegal, but often. Even if you don't think you've hired illegals to work on your landscaping, or to clean your house, the legitimate company you hired may well hire illegals. There is no way to tell by just looking, and let's be honest, most of us don't really want to know.

In my neighborhood, a newer up-scale tract development, I was one of only a handful of residents who hired a licenced contractor to do the work. Even then I am confident that some of the guys working for the contractor were not working legally. Illegal immigrants are everywhere——at least here in the San Diego area—— and there is almost nothing you can do without encountering an illegal, hiring an illegal, benefiting directly or indirectly from the work of an illegal alien.

The recent immigrant protests that have gripped many large cities makes clear the impracticality of some of the proposals being discussed in Washington regarding immigration reform. Estimated at nearly 12 million people, how would we deport them all, let alone find them? If the Senate's version is agreed to, with provisions to treat those who've been here for longer differently, how many of those 12 million will admit that they've only been here for a year or two? They are here illegally anyway, and there are systems in place to create false documents. If their options are to go back to their home country, or to obtain new documents 'proving' their residence, I am confident that most will get new documents.

Moreover, many of these people have built lives here. They've gotten married, had children, (who are US citizens) pay taxes (maybe not income taxes), bought homes, work hard, support their communities, and help build our economy. Many of the students who protested recently did so because the US House version of immigration reform would make THEIR PARENTS felons. These are the same people we see on our roads, at the PTA meetings, in parks, at work, building our pools, and cleaning our houses.

Finally, the biggest impediment to immigration reform is the border itself. If the border is not secured, and none of the plans I've seen would further secure it, then no laws we write to address people already here will matter at all. The first thing we must do, if we want to keep people out, is to secure the border. That will take tens or hundreds of billions of dollars, tens of thousands of troops, and far more political will than I've seen from any politician.

If you haven't figured out my position on immigration reform yet, I support a guest worker program, and amnesty for those already here. I would deport all illegals involved in criminal activity, once they've served out their sentences, but for the vast majority of people living in this country who simply seek a better life, please stay and help us build a better country.

A final footnote: To provide better security against terrorism, I do strongly support a significantly tighter border, including a border-long fence. I am very concerned about terrorists entering this country with WMD's across our very porous southern border. Only a fence and more border security will stop this kind of traffic.


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1 comment:

EllenK said...

I think it's easy to be complacent when you are removed from the issue. And face it, Washington and points north don't have the inundation issue with immigration that the border states do. Here in Texas it's been a fact of life for the past ten years. My son works at a fast food place where he's the only person that speaks English. My daughter works full time for her college tuition, and that same tuition is offered freely to students that are here illegally. My youngest son works as a bagboy at at grocery store and he has to scramble to get hours because there are so many people willing to work for two bucks and hour. As I stated on my weblog, much of the issue is being ignored. And that meaty section is Mexico's almost total reluctance to address the problems and issue of her own citizens. Under normal circumstances, this national pandemic of graft and corruption would have caused a revolution, but as long as the borders are porous and the money keeps flowing back in hard currency from the U.S. the wolves can be pushed off for another day. Here in Texas our education, health, welfare and legal systems are majorly impacted. As a teacher we cannot ask anything other than an address. So we have bilingual classes, free lunches, health clinics, aftercare and more for students whose parents probably don't pay anything close in taxes to the amount they take out in emergency room visits and other services. The big lie that many tell is that these people pay their way in sales taxes and homeowners taxes. How can that be when down the street from me there are three families with seven school aged kids who all recieve services? And this doesn't even touch on the amount of crime and gang related activity has occurred. Sure most of the people are here because they want to live a better life,but it appears that many of them want to have it both ways. The reason that Mexico is floundering is because it will not adapt to new ideas and new ways. How can immigrants, legal or illegal, reasonably expect to succeed when they refuse to learn the language or adapt to the predominant culture? I am not saying to destroy or forget their heritage, but if they came here, then there must be a reason that life is better here than at home. And perhaps that reason has alot to do with HOW they choose to live, not just WHERE.