How often have you heard the emotionally and politically charged rhetoric with respect to immigration? Some blame all of the country’s ills on immigrants, while others believe them to be the very panacea for all that’s wrong. Some wish to allow anyone and everyone to come in and do the work Americans allegedly do not wish to do, while others will wear shirts that read “America Is Full” and want to build a really big wall along the Mexican border to keep people out. In order to dig through the mud that is being slung from both sides, wade through the piles of verbiage that are accumulated, and make sense of the real issue, here is a short crash course in reality.
Our school system is bursting at the seams with an influx of children who do not speak English and fall behind as soon as they are enrolled. Further, many children drop out of school because they are frustrated in their learning process. Our hospital system is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy since many bills remain unpaid. The quality of life for many illegal, sometimes hispanic, immigrants is very limited, since many are preyed upon by employers who will pay slave wages and only offer substandard and unsafe working conditions.
Where do the Parties stand on the Issue?
Well, President Bush and his republican backers have decided to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan and do something about the problem. Instead of proposing an amnesty as Reagan did with the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act which succeeded in legalizing 2.7 million illegal immigrants, he proposes a temporary worker program. Mr. Bush’s goal is to permit American employers to fill job openings with available foreign workers if no American worker is available to be hired. Mr. Bush wishes to permit future immigrants to take part in this program as well as those he considers “undocumented yet employed” at the present time. President Bush and his backers believe that by instituting a guest worker program, a form of border control may be instituted. Further, the economy is served by providing willing workers, while the workers are protected because they are no longer forced to work for slave wages.
The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is somewhat hesitant about the proposal, although many see it as a step in the right direction. While they wish for an amnesty, they shrink back from what is generally perceived as the creation of a sub-class of laborers. Instead of permitting all “undocumented” immigrants to become guest workers, the Democratic Party wishes to have the illegal immigrants go through a background check and prove themselves via hard work and the payment of taxes. Further, they wish to make certain that family reunification will be hastened rather than hindered.
- An immigrant to America is a person who comes to the United States to take up residence here. Since there are some house rules in effect, he or she will have had to abide by the laws of the Immigration office and gather all the paperwork needed, obtain the proper visas, and usually pass a background check.
- An illegal immigrant to America is a person who comes to the United States to take up residence here without abiding by the laws in place for those who wish to immigrate. Very often she or he will obtain false or forged papers to gain entry into this country.
- “Work that Americans do not want to do…” is an incomplete statement, since it omits the second portion that should read “…for less than a reasonable wage.” Show me an unemployed father of four who would not want to take a job picking strawberries – if the job paid a competitive wage.
- The term “undocumented worker” is a bit of a misnomer and much of a euphemism for illegal immigrant, since nobody –neither citizens nor immigrants- is a documented worker. For example, if you are a citizen of the United States, there is no card, ID, or paper that specifically makes you a documented worker.
- “Guest worker” is a misnomer and perhaps a euphemism for “cheap laborer.” After all, if you go to another country and take a job, and if you are permitted to stay for up to ten years, is it not reasonable to assume that sooner or later you will find the love of your life and get married? Perhaps you will have children. It is unreasonable to assume that someone will be a guest for ten years in the United States and put his or her personal life on hold. It is even more unreasonable to assume that after the guest period is over, the worker will leave the country, the life he or she established, the home she or he bought, the spouse and children she or he garnered behind in order to return to a life that no longer has a lot of meaning for her or him.
Is there an Answer?
In my opinion, both parties hold pieces of the puzzle, but neither one has the full picture. A collaboration that will look beyond the emotionally charged rhetoric, euphemisms, and double-speak that seem so prevalent in this discussion would be quite helpful, but unfortunately the movers and shakers on both sides appear too enamored with their grandstanding to let go of it.
- So, will an amnesty work? No, probably not. It did not work for Reagan, and it won’t fare any better now.
- Will a guest worker program work? No, because it is unrealistic to assume that someone will leave behind everything she or he built at the end of the guest period to simply go away.
- Will deportation work? No, because persistent illegal immigrants will return continuously.
- Will a wall between the United States and Mexico work? Aside from the fact that it is a sad state of affairs to even contemplate this idea, no, because it is impossible to maintain and patrol such a large border
- Will withholding services from illegal immigrants work? No, because this is a cruel way of enforcing the laws.
- Will enforcing our existing laws work? Well, we haven’t really tried it, but it could work.
- Will prosecuting employers who prey upon illegal immigrants for their personal gain work? We haven’t really tried this either, but it could work.
- Will reforming the immigration process which is currently more Byzantine than the tax code work? We haven’t really attempted this either, but if someone knows that instead of waiting years or decades for a visa, they will have an answer within six months, they will quite possibly be more likely to stick it out and wait to come in legally.