Immigration, Legislation, Politics, Undocumented Workers

Opinion: Border Call

From, “Border call” by Staff Editorial, 15 May 2011.

Perhaps President Obama figures, why not? He weathered the push for health care reform. He presided over the elimination of the world’s most despicable terrorist. And he continues to go toe-to-toe with congressional Republicans over the federal budget, trying to preserve education and social programs over GOP objections.

Might as well take another crack at a big issue that has bewitched members of both parties going back 20 years or more: What can America do about curbing illegal immigration, but perhaps just as important now, what should be done about the 11 million illegal immigrants (that’s an educated federal guess) already within our borders?

He made his own case, appropriately, on the Mexican border, in Texas, on Tuesday. (And yes, Republicans have a point in noting he likely was appealing to Hispanic voters and raising campaign money.)

Obama believes that the much-debated border fence primarily pushed by a couple of generations of GOP members of Congress is finished, and so it’s time to find answers to broader questions about those immigrants among us who work side-by-side with Americans, have children in school, buy goods and live in the shadows.

No easy path

If anything, the president’s ideas seem pretty tough in terms of what would make it possible for illegal immigrants to attain a status that would allow them to stay in the United States.

Those illegal immigrants who sought eventual citizenship would have to first register and go through background checks. To continue in the process, they would have to have clean criminal records, pay a registration fee and all fines and back taxes that they owe, and learn English and civics. There would be an eight-year wait for permanent residency and another five years to be eligible for citizenship.

Just how much more methodical could the process be?

The president realizes, of course, that he’s up against many factors in suggesting, as President Bush rightly did (against critics in his own party), that America needs to be practical as well as firm in immigration policy. A push from some, for example, to have the U.S. simply send all illegal immigrants home before a comprehensive policy is formulated plays to an audience that isn’t realistic. It can’t be done, and it’s a waste of time to argue that it should be.

The contradictions

There is no way to send 11 million people, or 12 million or whatever the figure really is, home. And what about the impact on the economy? The worst-kept secret, if it can even be called that, is that agribusiness relies on illegal immigrants.

Certainly that’s true in North Carolina, where agriculture remains a vital part of the economy. Immigrant labor also is heavily used in construction.

There are many hypocrisies and contradictions among attitudes in the United States toward illegal immigrants. They’re easy targets for politicians who seek to appeal to resentments among their constituents. These people, the argument goes, take jobs from Americans, soak free health care from emergency rooms, benefit from schools for their kids and cause crime.

But then there are the “practical” positions that go unvoiced (but not unrecognized) by some business interests who have a stake in seeing that many low-wage workers find their way to migrant camps and to the fields.

President Bush, who pushed for a temporary guest worker program, recognized that illegal immigrants did jobs Americans did not want to do. In other words, hard jobs with long hours and short compensation. But it should be noted that many have worked steadily to get better jobs, and contributed to American society.

Congress, meaning members of both parties, has ducked the immigration issue for a long time for a lousy reason, because it’s difficult. Absent federal direction, which ought to guide policy, states and localities have created a sour smorgasbord of laws aimed at illegal immigrants. Those laws are inconsistent, confusing and not a bit helpful in addressing the need for real action.

Source:, “Border call” by Staff Editorial, 15 May 2011.


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