Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reflections on Immigration

After such a stunning aria it is best to have a moment to reflect upon the words, the pristine sound that has come from such a powerful performer. The same should be applied to the Immigration discussion. Let us reflect, as my two previous posts have explained, the House of Representatives back in December passed a bill that dealt with border security on the issue of immigration. The House bill (HR 4437) would treat anyone in the country without a valid visa as a felon and severely punish those caught helping them. It has neither guest worker provisions nor a path to citizenship. The Senate bill is the direct opposite and includes some amendments. On May 25, the Senate voted, 51-47, to limit the number of guest workers who could stay in the country permanently. The amendment, by Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., would limit the number of prospective immigrants who could get employment-based green cards to 650,000 each fiscal year. The total would include spouses and children. The underlying bill would have capped the green cards issued to those immigrants at 450,000, but it did not include their spouses and children. Another amendment, by John Ensign, R-Nev., would bar illegal immigrants from collecting tax refunds or filing claims for the earned income tax credit or other benefits for tax years prior to 2006. It was adopted, 50-47, on May 25.

All that comity after such a rocky start. The prospects for a bill nearly crashed in April over procedural differences and were revived only after Bush brought a bipartisan group to the White House for a pep talk and followed up with a prime-time nationally televised address calling for Congress to act. Now, some senators are saying Bush needs to step even further into the fray. “The time has come for very active participation by the president,” said Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who managed the bill on the floor. “The American people are watching to see if Congress can govern, and I believe the president will put a very heavy shoulder to the wheel. . . . I predict success.” House GOP critics of the Senate bill provided a reminder of why finding a compromise will be so difficult. “It’s hard to justify legislation that would reward millions of lawbreakers, attract more illegal immigrants and depress American workers’ wages,” said Lamar Smith, R-Texas, an influential member of the House Judiciary Committee. “The Senate bill may be good for other countries and foreign workers, but it’s not good for America and American workers.” Really? In my first post on immigration, I mentioned that I had my goggles on snugly. I certainly hope so, for I am about to crash against the wave.

Let us be clear, we need to be tough on illegal immigration, but we need to be tough on the causes of illegal immigration.

Instead of using tired soldiers already strained from service overseas to watch our borders the government should see that a big portion of congressional monies given to the Department of Homeland Security is marked for the hiring of more Border Patrol Officers (estimate at least 160,000) as well a smaller portion for technology. I do not mean special laser gadgets or sensors; walkie-talkies that work across long distances will do just fine. More people on the border, covering the large expanses of desert, will be both a psychological deterrent and emotional boost for American citizens worrying about border security. Businesses need to be held more accountable by the government. My post yesterday indicated loopholes and a certain mentality that has existed for many years between the government and businesses that employ illegals as well as between illegals and business. Labor that is affordable to business often has meant cheap. It is time that cheap means responsible too. Finally, and this will upset some people who might fall upon this blog, but if America is be honest about immigration we need to look at the whole picture. The majority of illegal immigrants come from the Hispanic world, Mexico, to be exact. The US government should work more closely with the Mexican government and find economic ways to elevate the level of poverty, low-wages, and unemployment in northern Mexican states and urban cities that are often the very causes for such illegal activity. A strong Mexican economy benefits the United States. This was the rationale behind NAFTA. The Bush Administration has a unique opportunity, especially with President Bush’s prior experience as a governor of border state, to assist Mexico. As of this moment, a guest worker program, no matter duration is the best option. Massive deportation is as unpractical as it is soundly un-American. What has been the central pillar of our American ideals, a guiding tenant preached under the Capital dome; our chapel to democracy has been compromise. Over the years the compromises made have defined who we are as a people—good and bad—but the silver lining through two-hundred sixty plus years has been most distinguishable, we have always become a stronger people. Let us hope our elected officials remember their history.

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