Friday, April 07, 2006

The Great Illegal Immigrant Debate

The Great Illegal Immigration Debate is one of those social problems where I have difficulty seeing a solution that is just and merciful. Most of the articles I’ve read state there are 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Twelve million. New York City has 8.1 million in the Five Boroughs.

There were “only” 5 million illegals in the U.S. when Reagan granted amnesty back in the 1980’s.

Over $16 billion is sent to Mexico from the U.S. This is not a transfer of funds from one corporation to another. This is not a parent company sending money to its maquiladora plant. This money is private—family members in the U.S. sending money off to family members in Mexico. This money is the second largest source of U.S. dollars in the Mexican economy, trailing behind Pemex, Mexico’s national oil company.

When I read numbers like that, my blood pressure increases. And it’s easy to forget that there are real people behind those numbers. People like Anna and Roberto Salazar and their three children. Mr. Salazar has been in the U.S., illegally, since he was 8. Mrs. Salazar is a native California, a citizen. Through a series of missteps, Mr. Salazar’s has missed the opportunity to change his status. Now he’s facing deportation to a country he doesn’t know, doesn’t have any connection with. Mrs. Salazar could be jailed for “harboring” an illegal alien. According to the article, she could face a year or more in prison, loss of her children to foster care during that time, and forfeiture of her assets.

Those choices seem too harsh, especially since their only “crime” was not taking care of the paperwork.

Of course, the IRS also takes a dim view of things if your paperwork is not completed by their deadline. As does the Traffic Control Department if you forget to pay a ticket. Or the Department of Motor Vehicles. There are consequences for neglecting to dot your “i’s” and crossing your “t’s” when it comes to the Government.

Debra Saunders has an idea. In her latest column, Prove It, she suggests Congress do the following:

“All they have to do is pass a law that allows for that legal pathway only after the number of illegal immigrants shrinks in America from some 12 million today to 8 million, or another number that represents a true reduction in illegal immigrants.

"When the number of illegal immigrants dips below 8 million, a trigger would allow the federal government to start proceedings to enable those illegal immigrants who otherwise have followed the rules become legal residents, and eventually citizens. If the number of illegal residents rises above 8 million, the government then can suspend the process until the number falls below 8 million again.”

That sounds like a reasonable compromise to me. Which means, of course, that it will never happen.

Why not offer blanket amnesty? Or offer amnesty to those who have made a life here, put down roots, bought homes, established businesses or have jobs?

“But that’s not fair!” I want to cry out. “What about those who have played by the rules? Who have waited—or are waiting—to come to this country legally? Why should those who happen to live close enough to sneak across the border get a pass? What about my friends, legal immigrants, whose husbands had to wait a year to come to the U.S.? What about my BIL, who is going through the slow process of becoming a citizen so that if something happens to my sister, he’ll automatically get to keep the kids?” (We were all shocked to find out that, should my sister die, my BIL would have to petition the courts for custody of his own children because they are citizens of the U.S. and he is not. How bizarre is that? How about fixing that part of Immigration Law along with the rest of it?)

I do believe that the seemingly endless supply of cheap unskilled labor depresses their wages as a group. I know that illegal immigrants have trashed homes of those who live near border areas. Because illegal immigrants have not had health screenings, drug resistant tuberculosis is a problem in my area, so much so that parent volunteers in the schools must have a TB test on file—the more complete, under-the-skin test or a chest X-ray. I know that gangs have crossed the border, bringing their feuds with them as well as drugs.

I also know that the United States is a Nation of Immigrants. There is something unique and vibrant about our country because it is a crazy quilt of nations. Because who you were in the “Old Country” doesn’t matter as much as who you are willing to become here. This land is brimming with opportunity for those who are willing to work hard.

There is a bit of racial hysteria in those who wish to seal the borders. There is also a bit of hysteria in those who see racial prejudice in every attempt to monitor and regulate the flow of immigrants into this country. Most Mexicans do not want to take back the Southwest (they left Mexico, remember?). Most American citizens do not want to break up families and seal the borders. The Mexicans who carry signs advocating "Reconquista" perhaps need to remember that their language and their ancestors also came from Europe. Our President, Ambassador, Secretary of State should press the governments of illegal immigrants to actively improve their economies and societies so their citizen will want to stay home. (As a "carrot," perhaps remittances to those countries from the U.S. could be frozen and used to repay the communities that are impacted by illegals. Or tax refunds and Social Security payments to invalid Social Security numbers can be earmarked for the same purpose. And the difference can be made up from the remittances.)

Currently, the Senate has come up with a compromise that no one likes--conservative, liberal, immigrant or citizen. Maybe that means it's a good one.

Immigration is definitely one of those issues where I'm glad I'm not member of Congress!