Monday, March 27, 2006


The current flap over illegal immigration is a big conundrum, with valid arguments on both sides. And it's both encouraging and annoying that there have been such huge demonstrations against the House's proposal to make illegal immigration a felony. Encouraging to see that such numbers of people will turn out to protest; annoying that these same people weren't marching in the streets over the Iraq War, or anything else of greater import.

However, watching the protestors today, I think they're risking losing the sympathy of those of us who think a guest-worker program and/or some sort of amnesty is a good idea. (Hints: stop waving the Mexican flags -- that's sending exactly the wrong message, and stop throwing the rocks and bottles at the cops.) Also, I've heard more than a few protestors say that illegal aliens have done nothing wrong. Begging the question "which part of 'illegal' don't you understand?"

That's kind of the crux of the biscuit here, and why the problem is so divisive. Because, as sympathetic as I am to the cause of illegal aliens or undocumented workers, there's still that "illegal" bit. Yeah, coming into the country without a visa is against the law. Employing someone who doesn't have the legal right to work is against the law. For the sake of business owners, and especially in Southern California, no one much follows the law.

And... there's really a two-tier problem here. When a lot of the anti-illegal people call for border walls and the like, they're not really showing concern about all illegal aliens. They're really speaking in a code, and when they say "immigrants" they mean "Mexicans". And that country probably provides the lion's share of illegals -- but they're not the only ones. New York and Boston for years have had large communities of aliens illegally here from Ireland, for example, and I've met illegals from more than a handful of countries. These groups vanish in the general din over one country. And there is that unavoidable detail that, for about 27 years in the 19th Century, or just over one generation, the southwestern US was part of Mexico -- about 131 years less than it's been a part of the US. Ah, perspective.

America was built on immigration, obviously. My most recent immigrant ancestors came here in the late 19th century. The earliest arrived here in the early 17th. But unless you've got Native American blood, you don't have any ancestors who have been here more than four hundred years. At different times in history, different immigrant groups were the despised invaders -- Germans, Irish, Italian, Chinese. What happened to them? They assimilated and vanished into the American melting pot. This gets back to the argument above that the protestors are doing the wrong thing. Like all the rest of us, if you want to live in America, be American. (Note: I'm not even going to touch the particular Mexican argument that claims Native American status for all Mexicans, mainly because I don't know enough about those claims to argue them either way.)

All that said, I do think that undocumented workers contribute to the economy. There's this myth that they don't pay taxes and suck up public benefits. Wrong. A lot of illegal aliens I've known have paid taxes, because they don't want to get in trouble with the IRS; if they live somewhere, they also pay property taxes, directly or indirectly. Other than putting their kids, if any, in the schools, they're not really getting anything back for that money -- and isn't it better to have their kids getting an education, as long as their here? Or would you prefer that they keep all those children out of the schools and uneducated?

The unanswered question is this: Is it fact or myth that illegals steal jobs from Americans? I've seen studies supporting both sides of that argument, but we haven't had verification. If laws against employers hiring illegals were enforced strictly, would we see wages go up so that Americans would want the grunt jobs? Is the current situation designed to protect employers and exploit illegals, to the detriment of Americans? Or do undocumented workers fill an employment niche that most Americans wouldn't touch at any price? Those are questions that need to be answered.

What we don't need are emotional arguments from either side. Spare me Lou Dobbs and his ilk, who seem to think that the biggest danger facing this country is illegal immigration. Relax, Lou. It's not. There are far worse problems, which have been created strictly by domestic forces. But we also don't need the screaming mobs in the street who don't quite grasp the concept that "illegal" means, well, "illegal." It's kind of like claiming that you have a right to help yourself to all the cash in that bank vault because you made it into the vault -- while ignoring the several doors and walls you blasted your way through to get there.

Both extremes need to chill out and we have to find a common-ground in the middle; something that doesn't fling open the borders to all-comers but which helps to assimilate those who are here and have been working. Yes, speaking English should be a requirement for citizenship; knowing the history of this country and the meaning of our founding documents should be a requirement for all citizens, native or naturalized.

In an ideal universe, all immigrants would come here legally -- but to get to that ideal universe, we have to deal with the causes, not the symptoms. Border walls and armed patrols will do nothing. Neither will granting carte blanche to every undocumented worker. Helping the countries that are the source of those workers while creating incentives for American companies to hire legal workers is a start.

But it's the same battle that's been going on since the Pilgrims got here. The dominant group at the time scapegoats whichever bunch of people is fresh off the boat. Eventually, that group assimilates and dominates, and the process repeats with the latest newbies as the targets. We may or may not be having this same argument thirty years from now -- but chances are good that mainstreamed Mexican Americans will be on the side protesting all the illegal immigrants coming from Country X. And so it continues.

Somos todos inmigrantes.

Wrap your brain around this: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060401/ap_on_re_us/immigration_front_lines;_ylt=AlI6pGzCqAB43sCiAmrqIqBH2ocA;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MjBwMWtkBHNlYwM3MTg-

"In Los Angeles County, the 29,000-person town of Maywood has fashioned itself as a sanctuary for immigrants. The city is 96 percent Hispanic, and 70 percent of its residents are not citizens, said Mayor Pro Tem Felipe Aguirre.

"Officials recently disbanded a traffic control unit because it was perceived as a threat to illegal immigrants without driver's licenses, Police Chief Bruce Leflar said.

"And three years ago, he said, the city ended its traffic checkpoints for driver's licenses, registration, insurance and drunken driving because they were catching a large number of illegal immigrants."
I think this issue probably has a bigger State vs. Federal snag in it than even medical marijuana or abortion. For example, it's been a long-standing policy of the LAPD to not arrest illegal immigrants who come to their attention if their only crime is being here illegally.

It's an emotional issue, and another case where the Federal government has said one thing, but acted in another -- in this case, having their huge immigration apparatus on a Federal level, but providing nothing to States and cities to deal with the problem.

It's typical. Look what this Administration has done to local schools with its "No Child Left Behind" program. In effect, they make a rule or set a standard, but then provide nothing in order for local jurisdictions to meet it.

I think, in the past, I've compared it to this scenario: parents decide that their sixteen year-old child should have a new car, so they give the kid one. Oh, but did they mention that the kid gets to make all the payments, as well as pay for the insurance, gas, repairs, maintenance, etc.?

Job? What job? But you can't refuse to accept the car, and if it gets repo'd, you'll be in big, big trouble.

Federal largesse. The gift that keeps on taking.
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