From Amarillo.com, Amarillo Globe-News, Allen Finegold, 10 Apr 2011.
Greg Sagan’s carefully crafted column in the March 8 edition of the Amarillo Globe-News politely exposes Texas House Bill 1202 as an act of bald-faced hypocrisy.
But then, hypocrisy has been the general approach that Texas legislators, especially conservative Republicans, have taken on the issue of illegal immigration during the past 25 years. Most congressmen have been no better. Even Democratic legislators seldom have shown initiative or courage on this issue.
Perhaps this is because the public has an ambiguous, if not hypocritical, attitude toward illegal immigration, especially if the immigrants are from Mexico. Nearly every adult U.S. citizen will tell you, if asked, that he’s against illegal immigration. Nearly all benefit from it economically, but we just don’t want to admit it.
We want a new roof on the house as cheaply as we can get it. We want a newly paved driveway or highway. We want the beef from cattle and the leather from their hides for shoes. But we’d rather not think about who nails on that roof, finishes that concrete driveway, helps lay down the asphalt on that highway, helps raise the cattle, slaughter them or tan the hides. Until the immigration crackdowns of the past three years, about 20 to 30 percent of the men who did such work were illegal immigrants.
We want millions of tons of produce, but we do not wish to acknowledge that as many as a quarter of the people who worked, until recently, in food-packing warehouses or canneries were illegal immigrants, or that about half of all farm workers in America still are.
Which public official in this state (certainly not the governor) will acknowledge that it is Texas, more than any other state, that benefits economically from the work of illegal immigrants? Those who benefit the most from the labor of Mexican immigrants are usually business owners. Will they speak up? Will they declare publicly, “I’ve hired illegal immigrants for five or ten or fifteen years. Guess what; most of them are really good workers. I’d hire them legally if I could”?
You won’t hear them say so – for an obvious reason. If any of them did, he would become a target of investigation by federal immigration authorities. There would also be a certain degree of social opprobrium if he were to admit he does hire illegal immigrants from Mexico.
There is another reason, which is both cynical and widely accepted, that keeps those who hire illegal immigrants from advocating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
If “illegal” workers were allowed into the United States legally, then the whole dynamic of their situation would change. Working immigrants might become less compliant. Many who do not yet receive the federal minimum wage might insist on being paid that wage. They might be less likely to accept working in an unsafe environment. They might, good gosh, even just consider joining a union or forming one.
Indeed, if there were a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, they might behave a lot more like your average American citizen – especially if that path were not a winding trail that took 10 to 12 years to traverse.
Foreign workers who did not want to become citizens could be issued “green cards,” or work permits valid for six consecutive months of each year, or for one full year during an interval of two. So long as he remained in good standing (not committing any felonies or serious misdemeanors and being steadily employed), a guest worker could return to the U.S. every year for six months, or every other year for twelve months. By way of contrast, illegal immigrants who chose to become prospective citizens would have to register with federal authorities and the state where they reside.
They would be given U.S. immigrant identification cards, as well as state residency permits and, if necessary, drivers’ licenses. The immigrant ID cards should have two thumbprints, and could be made far more difficult to counterfeit than the typical state driver’s licenses.
Suppose that there would be about 4 million formerly illegal guest workers from Mexico and 6 million prospective citizens. Is that too many for American society to deal with? Six million “illegals” who wanted to become citizens would constitute no more than two percent of the present U.S. population (excluding illegals).
Keep in mind that during the period from 1890 to 1914, this country (on average) received and assimilated a number of immigrants equivalent to 1 percent of its population each year.
Allen Finegold is a long-time Amarillo resident.