Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Need for a Good Faith Effort on Immigration Reform

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 (New Living Translation)

“The LORD your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and takes no bribes. He gives justice to orphans and widows. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. You, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

Yesterday, in a twelve to six vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a recommendation to the full Senate that would dramatically change our current laws on immigration. This morning’s Kansas City Star published two of the highlights of the proposal, which would:

“Allow undocumented immigrants who were in the United States before 2004 to continue working legally for six years if they pay a $1,000 fine and clear a criminal background check. They would become eligible for permanent residence upon paying another $1,000 fine, any back taxes and having learned English.”

“New immigrants would have to have temporary work visas. They could also earn permanent residence after six years.”

The proposal also includes provisions for doubling the number of Border Patrol agents by the year 2011.

Opponents of the proposal see it as a blanket amnesty which would perpetuate an already festering problem. Senator Jeff Session of Alabama put his objection this way:

“The Judiciary Panel let the American people down by passing out a blanket amnesty bill.”

The proposal will be debated in the full Senate later today and, if passed, will then have to be reconciled with a much tougher House measure, championed in large part by conservative Republicans, particularly Tom Tancredo of Colorado. That bill includes provisions that would make the eleven to twelve million illegal immigrants already here felons. Another cornerstone of the bill is a security fence extending from Texas to California.

When the original bill was passed a few months ago, Tancredo declared victory for the “immigration reform” coalition and then fired a shot across the bow of anyone supporting a plan that would fall short of the House bill:

“Today we savor our victory, but tomorrow we must begin the fight to ensure our victory becomes reality. I am well aware that this is a three-round fight, and while this has been a good round, we haven’t delivered the knockout punch. The open borders lobby and its cronies in the Senate will undoubtedly attempt to attach an amnesty to our reform bill. The American people know what the Senate’s plan is, and they will bring political punishment to any official that favors it. No backdoor amnesty—no matter what you call it—will become law. Americans demand real reform now and, thankfully, they may get it.”

I’m not sure how this is all going to be resolved. I hope and pray that it will be, but I’m not supremely confident that it will.

I do believe this. The problem needs to be fixed. But I don’t like the way fire eaters like Tancredo are going about it. It’s a bit too mean spirited for my tastes. In a recent policy statement, for example, Tancredo went so far as to assert that children of illegal aliens born in the United States should not be considered citizens of the United States:

“Likewise, Congress must declare that the child of an illegal alien inherits the status of his parent; thus, the child, like his parent should be deemed to be an illegal alien. Otherwise, immigration law creates a perverse incentive for people to sneak into our country and give birth.”

I suppose when one has an agenda it becomes easy to overlook the Constitution of the United States, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment, which is very explicit about the matter:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Living here in Emporia, the issue is of great interest to me, for several reasons. First, statisticians are telling us that in about twenty years this city’s population will about forty percent Hispanic. I’m not sure what percentage of our current population is Hispanic, but it’s sizeable. And, I’d be willing to bet that some Hispanics here in Emporia are here illegally. We have a beef packing plant just a few miles down the road. It’s been said that it’s a place where cows come in, steaks come out, and what happens in between the two is a bloody mess. The work is backbreaking, monotonous, and the wages low. I would never do it, and most “Anglos” I know wouldn’t either. Oh, there are some, but they don’t last long. About the only people who are willing to do this type of work are those at the lowest rungs of our economic ladder and, yes, illegals who have crossed the border.

For better or worse, Tyson Foods now represents a major component of our local economy, and the cows coming into the plant are being cut by a goodly number of illegal immigrants. After all, Americans love beef and they’re going to get what they want.

Second, the issue is of great interest to me because of history. When the Irish came to this country in the mid nineteenth century, they did so to escape famine and persecution. In the same way illegal immigrants come across the Rio Grande today, the Irish came to this country, willing to do whatever job they could find so that they and their families could make their way here. They took the low paying jobs, the same types of jobs many illegals do in America today:

“When the newly arriving Irish immigrants looked for work, they found only the lowest unskilled jobs available to them. Men were hired for low-paying, physically demanding and dangerous work. Wages for unskilled jobs during the 1840s were under 75 cents a day for 10-12 hours of work. The men built canals, railroads, streets, houses and sewer systems. Many others worked on the docks or canals.”

The same stigma that now attaches to illegal immigrants and migrant workers today attached to the Irish in America back in those days:

“There was very deep prejudice against Irish-Americans during the 19th century, especially as more immigrants came into the United States. Many Americans considered the Irish as dirty, stupid and lazy. Newspaper cartoonists often contributed to this image by drawing Irishmen as looking like apes with a jutting jaw and sloping forehead. Newspapers also wrote about Irish people using the derogatory term of “Paddy.”

“Americans also blamed the Irish immigrants for causing economic problems. They felt that the great numbers of Irish workers would put Americans out of work or lower wages. Americans felt that the increased number of people would mean taxes would rise due to additional needs for police, fire, health, sanitation, schools and poorhouses.”

“Consequently, it became acceptable to discriminate against the Irish. Many job posters and newspaper ads ended with “No Irish Need Apply.” Hotels and restaurants may have had signs stating “No Irish Permitted in this Establishment.” In 1851-1852, railroad contractors in New York advertised for workers and promised good pay. When mostly Irish applied, the pay was lowered to fifty-five cents a day. When the workers protested, the militia was called in to force the men to accept.”

Third, I’m very interested in this issue because it comes even closer to home. While my father was a citizen of this country, my mother never was. She got here legally, but she never became a citizen. I remember many times when I feared that my mother was going to be deported. I was especially afraid because my father had died when I was very young. What would that have meant for me, my brother, and sister? Would we have been deported too? Would we have been left behind as wards of the state? If men like Tancredo had their way back then I guess we would have been sent packing.

While my mother never became a citizen of this country, she embraced its ideals and taught us to embrace them as well. She was an uneducated woman, but even after a complete nervous breakdown when my father died, she was still willing to do whatever work was available to her so that her kids could find their place in America. She did! And, so did we! We learned the value of hard work from her. We learned about the value of education and opportunity. We learned to love this country. And, we have contributed a great deal to this nation. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished. My brother and I both served in this country’s military. I spent a year in Vietnam, defending this country’s ideals. Well, I didn’t do all of that so that men like Tom Tancredo could demagogue. I say, let’s fix the problem, but let’s not penalize the people who cut the cows or pick the onions and other crops. Let’s find a way for them to be the vibrant part of our national life most of them want to be. I believe the Senate is on the right track here and that Tancredo and his allies are way out of line. There is a way to secure our borders and to also make provisions for those currently here illegally to become citizens. America is a big enough country to assimilate those who are now the targets for the demagogues. We just need to find the way.

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The Kansas City Star

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Just wanted to let you know immigration is the subject of the month over at The Foundation. Feel free to contribute an article there.