Monday, June 05, 2006

Illegal Immigration

On May 1st, the “International Day of the Worker”, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across the county to protest pending legislation regarding illegal immigration. Many were illegal workers. Some waved their national flags, while others waved the American flag. A few were even dressed in native costumes. What the media barely covered was another national march four days later on May 5th, also known as Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican celebration of a victory over French and Pro-French Mexican troops in their fight for independence which began in 1810 and took some 11 years to achieve. The espoused goal of these protests was to flex their economic muscle by shutting down businesses and restaurants.

So, what’s all the fuss about? One group wants open immigration while the other wants controlled immigration right? Well, not exactly. This fight is about whether illegal immigrants can come and go in this country with complete disregard of our national laws. Mexican President Vincente Fox has publicly said that the United States does not have the right to restrict immigration. He believes these workers have every right to enter this country to seek work. President Fox believes we should dismantle our border stations and remove our border patrols.

Those who support President Fox’s point of view believe that our immigration laws are racist because they’re “directed” primary against Spanish speaking individuals. They believe these illegal immigrants should be able to obtain drivers licenses, permits, etc without restriction. Perhaps not surprisingly are the business owners who want to keep the gate open as well. They point to the numerous jobs, mostly menial, low paying and sometimes dangerous, which wouldn’t be filled if not for their “undocumented” employees. They also claim that these workers pay taxes through the purchases of goods. Finally, proponents of open immigration, especially in the Hispanic community point to the potentially huge voter block, which is something politicians are keenly aware of and don’t want to upset. Indeed, during the May 1st demonstrations, many carried signs which read, “Today We March. Tomorrow We Vote”, implying of course that illegal immigrants should be given our most cherished national possession, the right to vote.

My take on all this is somewhat different. We are the most diverse nation the world has ever seen. Americans, as a whole, enjoy the cultural diversity our nation offers. But, we’re also a nation of laws. That’s how we function as a society. If someone wants to come to this country, that’s great. All we ask is that they get in line. We have procedures for immigration, just like everyone else. As a sovereign nation, we have the right to secure and protect our borders. In Mexico for instance, if you’re caught being there illegally, the “undocumented” employee gets an automatic 2 years in Federal prison. If they’re caught a second time, they get 6 years in prison. If they’re dumb enough to get caught a third time, they get life! Most every country in Latin America has similar laws. All we do is deport them so they can try it again the next night. So, while President Fox seems to think we should open our borders, he obviously doesn’t believe the same should hold true for Mexico. It should also be pointed out that President Fox has also repeatedly failed to create jobs, or develop a solid middle class per his campaign promises, and his country has an almost insatiable need for US dollars because of the level of poverty.

As for the demonstrations themselves, they had virtually no effect on the national economy whatsoever. It seems the only ones hurt by the protests were the businesses who closed in support of the protests. Some are now permanently closed. Such was the public's response. And while we’re on the subject, how many countries do you know of where illegal aliens can openly protest in the streets! I bet it’s not many.

Regarding the well worn charge of racism, nothing further could be from the truth. We are a nation of immigrants (I’m, for instance, prominently of Northern German origin with a little Scots/Danish thrown in). We only ask that they apply for citizenship like everybody else. If they don’t want to be a citizen, then at least get a work permit. I don’t think anyone cares where these people are from. It just so happens that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are from south of the border. I know it’s hard to believe, but we just don’t seem to have many Canadians sneaking across the border at this point.

With respect to jobs, it’s true that illegal immigrants take the jobs that no one wants. But, on the other hand, what choice do they have? They’re here illegally! If they were citizens, do you think they’d be housekeepers, gardeners, or janitors? Do you think they’d want to work in sweatshops, or in jobs that don’t even pay minimal wage or don’t offer benefits? Do you think they’re overjoyed working under the hot sun, in fields picking crops for literally pennies? I think its criminal that employers would treat anyone like this, illegal or not. If employers are really that desperate to find people to work in these jobs, my suggestion is that they need to clean up their act. There are already numerous local, state and federal laws. Let’s enforce them. Pay your employees better. None of this “piece work” garbage which works out to pennies on the hour. We have a minimal wage law in this country. Pay it. Make working conditions safe (and sanitary). Offer benefits. Help illegal immigrants get temporary work cards. Meanwhile, I think local, state, and federal government should look at stopping the source of illegal immigration by focusing on employers who hire illegal workers. Businesses, even the most shady, understand money. They understand, and sometimes fear publicity. Hit them in the wallet with stiff mandatory fines and publish their names in the newspapers. It won’t be long before they’ll stop or face being run out of business.

I think this area is also an untapped resource for unions too. Unions can help these folks; while they’re still in Mexico or Latin America to get temporary work permits. They can offer them English classes. They can sign them up as union members. They can teach them how to organize and the benefits of being a union member. They can also help them become citizens. For those who want to return to their home country, these people would represent a ready source of organizers with US Labor contacts and training. It’s a win-win situation for Labor.

Finally, these illegal workers do not pay taxes. Yes, they pay sales tax whenever they go to the grocery, but that’s about it. Employers usually attempt to skirt various tax laws by applying social security and other tax deductions to a single social security number, or they pay in cash or in the form of tips or as “independent contact” employees. Illegal workers also make use, at taxpayer costs, of public schools, which often have to employ translators for the students (again, at tax payer costs). They also generally don’t have insurance, so once more taxpayers have to pick up the cost for accidents, or health care costs (of course, we’re not even considering lost revenue for work done illegally because permits weren’t obtained, or the effect on the economy because of illegally low wages).

American is like a giant quilt. We are a patch work of every nation, every religion, and practically every culture on earth. I believe this diversity is what makes us great. But like any quilt, we are a strong as the thread that binds us. Language, in my opinion, is that thread. Without a common language, we can’t continue as a country. We’ll quickly drift into our own separate neighborhoods and communities. Whole cities and areas will become like foreign outposts. Soon, we’ll have nothing in common because we are unable to speak to each other, and when we lose our ability to communicate, we’ll soon lose our identity as Americans. So, I would say that any immigrant to this country, be they from South American, Asia, or Europe, should be required to know basic English. As for that piece of legislation, the U.S. Senate proposed a spineless piece of work granting illegal immigrants amnesty (again). Sadly, even our own U.S. Senator, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) failed us by supporting this travesty of legislation. I seriously doubt this bill will go anywhere. Finally, I’d like to close with a quote from one of my favorite presidents, speaking on the issue of immigration:

"In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag... We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language... and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people." ------Theodore Roosevelt 1907
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