31 March 2006

Immigration Reform

Nothing bothers me more than having a complex issue boiled down to a simplistic statement on a cardboard sign while waving a Mexican flag. Americans are not racist for suggesting that immigration reform is needed. This is not a black and white issue and the time for immigration reform is long past due.

Do I mind that there are illegal immigrants here in the United States? Yes and no. I do not like that these people are thumbing their noses at our laws; however, American was built by immigrants. I am the son of immigrants.

Do we need illegal immigrants? It seems that some companies are not willing to pay top dollar for jobs that are not very desirable and Americans appear to be unwilling to do the "dirty" and hard jobs. Illegal immigrants provide cheap labor to these companies, keep prices down for Americans and, undeniably, illegal immigrants work harder than most Americans. However, I do not buy the excuse wholesale that illegal immigrants do the work that Americans do not want to do. That may be the case in some jobs, but I think Americans would do the work if those jobs paid more. Some Americans are losing their jobs to cheaper illegal immigrant labor - this is particularly prevalent in the construction industry (where people are willing to work - just not at cut-rate wages).

Should illegal immigration be a crime? Technically, it is already. If I were to enter another country by sneaking across a border, I would be entering illegally and breaking that country's laws. If I entered a country and started working on false identification, I would be breaking the law. That said, what do we do with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants? It does not make sense to round them up and deport them. It does not make sense to charge them with a felony. But it is also not fair to allow them easy legal status when those who come here legally have to jump through so many hoops. We need to implement immigration reform that requires them to register and start the process of becoming legal immigrants. However, this kind of “amnesty” means nothing without significantly tightening our border. We need a guest worker program of sorts.

Illegal immigration has burdened our social systems (health care and education), particularly in the southern states. Illegal immigrants go to the emergency room for minor issues like colds and never pay the bills and our schools have to spend money on English-as-a-second-language programs. Illegal immigration encourages identity theft. I would rather see Spanish and Mandarin Chinese being taught as second languages to grade school children. My parents came from Germany in the late 1960’s and have learned English. They did not expect the country they have adopted to learn their native language.

Our politicians need to think about this reform carefully and not rush headlong into reform for the sake of political maneuvering in the upcoming 2006 election cycle. Our politicians need to listen to the American people not the mobs of illegal immigrants protesting immigration reform. Smart immigration reform and not knee-jerk reaction will set us in the right direction. We need a debate where ideas are shared. Immigration reform without effectively dealing with the borders is not reform only maintenance of the status quos. Without addressing the border situation we will land right back where we started.

And please, get informed about the complexity of this issue before you start protesting. Don’t be a simpleton.

Photo Credit: High school students dance as they protest house bill HR4437 which calls for tougher border protection and immigration laws in San Francisco, California. Tens of thousands of Latinos protested across the United States, the fifth day of snowballing protests against plans for what they say is a racist a crackdown on illegal immigration.(AFP/Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)

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