Friday, July 9, 2010

The Hot Potato

As much as some politicians hoped fervently to avoid it, there are signs that the immigration issue will rear its politically dangerous head prior to the mid-term elections. It's dangerous because no one is really sure how it will affect voters. The flap over Arizona's recent immigration law has sparked a lot of debate, and lawsuits, both for and against the law and has kept immigration in the public's consciousness. This seems to be forcing the issue into the political spotlight. President Obama essentially conceded this point with last week's speech on the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

As the President pointed out, we seem frozen between the two poles of this issue. On one side are those who say that anyone here illegally must go and go now. They say that we need to fence off our borders and bolster our border security so that we can seal the borders up tight. This is unwise, unworkable and unlikely to actually work. Logistically it is all but impossible to deport the 11 million plus who are in the US illegally. Financially it would cost immense sums of money to attempt and stress the economy dearly in a time when we cannot afford more instability. Nationalistically it is absurd to attempt to turn America into a walled citadel. That sort of thing has been attempted in the past by ancient China and Rome with little lasting effect. For a nation that was built by immigrants, it seems awfully arrogant to stand up now and say it was fine when our grandparents did it, but it's somehow different now.

On the other side are those who call for a blanket amnesty for all who are in this country illegally. They say that it's the moral thing to do. But this ignores two major facts that the President noted in his speech. The first is that those here illegally are, quite literally, here in violation of US law. This can't just be ignored. The second point is that a great many immigrants are right now going through all the dance steps and jumping through all the hoops required to become a citizen. To grant amnesty to all of those who live here illegally would spit in the face of all who are doing it legally. And it tells those considering crossing the border, be it land or sea, that there is no real punishment if they come to America and get caught. In other words, why go through the work and cost of doing it legally when you can get the same result by just sneaking over the border and hiding out for a while?

So that leaves us with the need to compromise. I oppose a blanket amnesty for the reasons I stated above, but I do think a path to citizenship makes sense. Of course there must be required steps to get there and individuals here illegally must not be allowed to 'jump the line' ahead of those who have done everything right. Among the hurdles I've seen that make sense is some sort of background check to look for any criminal activity. Another is a requirement to learn English. Learning the language seems like a small requirement for someone who, presumably, wants to become an American. It's not about abandoning your heritage, it's about adapting to your new country and not expecting that country to adapt to you. This does also bring up the fact that America does not have an official language. This is something I believe needs to be rectified. Some may say that making English the official language is exclusionary, but that's ridiculous. I think it's more exclusionary to leave it as a free for all. As things stand now English already is the de facto standard, however the lack of a national code or amendment leaves too much ambiguity. In fact, in one case I stumbled upon when looking at this subject a Texas border town actually voted to make Spanish the official language due to the high Hispanic population. While I understand why they did it, this is the sort of thing that shows how the issue needs to be settled on a national scale. An official language should not be a State or town issue, it's clearly something that falls under the Federal government. Besides, is it a problem for Italy to make Italian the official language or Germany to make German the official language? I think it behooves us to make this vague area clear on a national level.

I believe that immigration is generally a good thing. Some of the more strident voices I've heard against immigration seem to view them all as nothing but a drain on society. This is preposterous. Even if immigrants are payed in cash, under the table, they are still part of the economy. Every tank of gas they buy is taxed. Every bag of groceries they buy is taxed. Every piece of furniture? Taxed. And every time they patronize a store or restaurant they are supporting the economy. So while illegal immigrants may be contributing less than those here legally, they are far from leeches sucking the life out of the country. Like most things, this controversy would do well with some level headed, logical compromise and a lot less emotional rhetoric. Of course in an election year that's about as likely as Limbaugh voting Democrat.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. We can't continue to hold up the "Help Wanted" and "Go Away" signs simultaneously. Not blanket amnesty but a reasonable path to citizenship for those who work and contribute to the economy. Yes to English as the official language -- for practical reasons. Of course, we should also hold employers' feet to the fire.

    Good posting.


Please let me know what you think, even if it's to disagree.