Tuesday, May 2, 2006

The Illegal Immigration Debate

Yesterday morning, I went to get my morning coffee in the usual place, a local carryout located in an industrial park, not far from my office. It is a clean and brightly lit shop that serves the usual omelettes, fried potatoes, bagels, grilled cheese sandwiches, ham & eggs, sort of fare that one would imagine finding in an industrial area. The people that get their breakfast here at 5 A.M. are construction workers, cops, plumbers, electricians, and delivery men (and women). Another thing that is served at the Bren-Mar Deli is coffee… hot, strong coffee. Coffee, not latte, not espresso, not the double half-caf mocha-frappacino drinks, frequently consumed by skinny, twenty-something women and metro-sexual men who carry man-bags and wear those stupid-looking little rectangular glasses.

When I entered the deli yesterday, I was cheerfully greeted by the proprietress in the usual manner: “Anyeong ha-seyo!” to which I replied cheerfully: “Anyeong ha-seyo! Buenas Dias!” I always give the greeting in Korean as well as Spanish because all of the people that work in the shop, which is open from 5 A. M until 6 P.M., are either Korean or Latino immigrants. The employees always get a kick out of my meager attempts to speak to them in their own languages, no matter how much I butcher the words and accent.
I chatted with the shop employees while I prepared my 20 oz. eye-opener (I’m tired, ok?). The shop owner told me today, that she wanted to tell me how important it was her for her to be here in America, and that while she still loved South Korea (she is from Seoul), she loved America even more, because of her ability to own her own business and achieve a level of economic status she never could have attained in her homeland, despite having a university education attained at Mainz University in Germany, where she studied biology.

The shop owner went on to tell me that she thought that it was important to tell this to me, specifically on this morning, while so many immigrant groups were encouraging immigrants not to shop or to go to work. She told me that she was sad about what was happening with the boycott, which shut down or slowed down at least one fairly large industry in the United States yesterday. She looked at me earnestly and told me that she was “a good immigrant”. I didn’t know what to make of that, so I put my arm around her shoulder and told her that I am glad that she was in the country, told her that I would see her tomorrow, and went on my merry way (yes, I DID pay for my coffee. I don’t take gratuities).

With this conversation in mind, I decided to write about my thoughts on the current illegal immigration debate and what I see as some of the solutions.

I’ll start by saying that I don’t think that it will be any more possible to completely stop illegal immigration than it will be to completely end terrorism. These are things that have been with us for generations and will probably continue until long after I shuffle off my mortal coil.

I think that the overwhelming majority of immigrants that come to the United States (or any of the more prosperous nations), come here because of increased opportunity. Many come for political freedoms that they cannot enjoy in the places that they are from. For some, they come to escape genocide, war, or oppression at home. People have been coming to the United States for those reasons since long before any of the great-great grandparents of anyone reading this in 2006 were born.

Currently, illegal immigration is discussed in the American media, and by so many of our citizens as being one of the most important issues in the nation today. I don’t agree that it is, but I will tell you what I think needs to be done:

Control the borders. Please note that I said borders, not border. I believe that having porous borders is a huge problem. It just doesn’t make sense to speak of an illegal immigrant problem while leaving the borders wide open. Our southern border with Mexico is large and is the major source of visible illegal immigration, so I will discuss it first.

The first thing to do in controlling the border is to greatly increase funding and manpower to the U.S. Border Patrol, for reasons that should be obvious.

As harsh as it may sound to many, I believe that the next, and probably most important thing to do in order to control that border is to build the much talked about wall, or fence.

A fence is needed to at least slow the flood of people entering the country illegally. I think that the fence should be built 500 yards inside the U.S. border, and that a moat or ditch should be built in front of said fence. The Border Patrol would patrol the outside of the fence, turning around any people that they apprehend attempting to enter the country, which would save money on deportation before it became an issue.

I know that this is a difficult fix. I also know that building a fence would be a difficult, lengthy, expensive, and unpopular prospect, but I am certain that the costs of construction will be offset by the savings in deportation costs in a fairly short amount of time.

I realize that there are many that believe that a fence or wall is inhumane. I must respectfully disagree. I don’t think it is inhumane to erect a barrier to secure your own borders.

Regarding the northern border… that, too, clearly needs to be controlled, but the truth of the matter is that most of the illegal immigration that happens through that border takes place in the form of people that legally visit the United States overstay the limits of their visit, or who use forged documents to enter. In these cases, the fixes are a bit different.

First, we have to beef up our staffing at the borders and do a better job of access control. We must do this, but we must do it in a manner that will not bring the enormous amount of international commerce between the United States and Canada to a standstill. I don’t have the answers, but real effort must be made to accomplish this. We must increase the staffing of the Border Patrol on the northern border as well.
One of the biggest problems with our northern border is that most Americans don't seem to care about the fact that our shared border with our Canadian brothers and sisters is even longer than the border we share with Mexico. You know they don't care? Because most of the people crossing that border aren't Mexicans, or El Salvadorans, or Guatemalans etc... Yes, the immigration debate has ugly racist overtones, and it isn't all that subtle.

The next thing to do is to decide what to do about the estimated eleven million (counted by whom and how?) illegal aliens already in the country. It is simple to just say: “Round ‘em up, and deport ‘em all!” Indeed it is simple to say, but not so simple to put into practice. We don’t have the resources to make this happen, and without doing some other things, it wouldn’t do much good. To deal with this, I support the notion of a Guest Worker Program, and eventual citizenship for them.
I believe that those that have been here for an extended period, without a criminal record should be allowed to stay and pay taxes (and back taxes!) just like the rest of us. Can you imagine the revenue gleaned from eleven million new taxpayers? I believe that becoming taxpayers working toward citizenship will build permanent ties to this country that many illegal immigrants don’t really have now.

I also believe that those who have children born here should be allowed to stay. American citizenship is granted by birth, and that is as it should be. It has always been that way… it was for the Irish, the Germans, the Poles, the Italians etc..., or have some of you forgotten how your great grandparents got here? I don’t believe that breaking up a family is right, nor do I believe that we should be deporting people that were born here.
Having said these things, I believe that we must speed up the adjudication process, so that when an illegal alien is caught, his or her status can be determined and a decision made about deportation is reached immediately. This will negate the current, untenable "catch and release" program that we have now.

I think that those in the House of Representatives that make so much noise about making illegal immigration a felony crime are downright stupid. If we make illegal immigration a felony, than we are going need a great big whopping pile of money to build new prisons.

I don’t think any of the answers are easy, but I think that deliberate, rational thought has to be applied throughout in order to get anything done.

I’ll close by saying that I think that those folks who spent so much time boycotting and demonstrating yesterday, might have done themselves more harm than good, as I think that their activity may go some way towards calcifying the attitudes of many American people.


super des said...

I just want to sat that this country is ABOUT immigration. There should be some control measures, somewhere in between Ellis Island-name changing, refusal of the sick, to just letting millions of new people in each year.

I don't have the answers, and that's why I'm not running for pres.

PT-LawMom said...

Very thoughtful commentary, as usual. It's such a difficult issue. I agree with you that boycotts cause more harm than good. Not only do people who probably can't afford to lose wages take the day off and risk their jobs, but those who want to clutch to any little sign that they're right will twist this against immigrants. :(