Safe, Not Silly

Imagine if you will the picture of 11 million men, women, and
children, all illegal immigrants, being rounded up by United States
law officers, charged with felonies, and transported by buses,
trains, and planes back to their country of origin. Imagine the
grandparents forced from their homes, separated from their
children. Imagine the untrimmed lawns, the unwashed cars, the
strawberries rotting in the fields. Now imagine $8 billion spent on
building a 700-mile wall along our shared border with Mexico. Do
any of these pictures make you feel safer? No? And yet this is the
substance of a bill that has already passed the House of
Representatives and of the proposals presently being pushed by
Senate majority leader Bill Frist.

For months now Congress has been struggling to agree on a law
that would secure our borders and stop illegal immigration. Why
then are we still such a long way from any reasonable solutions?
Because most members of Congress are tripping all over themselves
trying to sound tough. But sounding tough and passing unenforceable
legislation will not make our country any safer — only sillier.

Fortunately, a bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee
in a 12-6 vote last week offers real reform and a chance to get
control of our borders. It has been endorsed by both the National
Council of Agricultural Employers and by the United Farm Workers
Union. It addresses the problems practically, and spends money
sensibly. Illegal immigrants would have to pay $2,000 in fines and
any back taxes, and would need to pass background checks before
they could enter the line behind those aliens already seeking green
cards. To become a citizen would take 11 years, a continuing clean
record, and knowledge of English and civics. Just as importantly,
the bill would double the number of Border Patrol agents, provide
resources to verify worker identities, enforce the law in the work
place, and impose tougher punishments for employers.

Wouldn’t it be smarter to spend $8 billion buying devices to
detect nuclear material in all cargo containers entering our ports
rather than on a wall that will only barricade part of the border?
Or should we try to deport a population the size of Indianapolis
when our government couldn’t even evacuate the smaller city of New

In truth, nothing will stop impoverished peoples from trying to
better their lives. To really secure our borders we need to protect
all workers — citizens and immigrants — from exploitation. Since
illegal immigrants are most vulnerable to the worst abuses, we need
a legal workforce and government regulation of our borders and work
places. In the last six years, we’ve seen precious little
regulation of any kind — any action against businesses employing
illegal immigrants has virtually stopped. The number of firms
warned they would be fined for hiring illegals declined from 417 in
1999 to three in 2004. Is it any wonder more illegal immigrants are
being hired?

When the rule of law returns to the workplace and the minimum
wage is raised above the poverty line, more Americans will take
jobs now going to undocumented workers. Unfortunately, the majority
of the present Congress act as if any attempt to help workers is
akin to torpedoing the economy. Congress seems to believe, as Karl
Marx did, that capitalism can’t succeed without vicious
exploitation. Perhaps they are right, but what would happen if farm
wages, for example, were raised? One study by UC Davis suggests
that if wages grew even as much as 40 percent, from almost $9 per
hour to $14, the price to the consumer would only increase by 2 or
3 cents per dollar.

But this Congress has so far resisted any attempt to help
American middle class workers, let alone those in the unskilled
labor force. Bizarrely, now Congress also refuses to help the
businesses who need this labor force to survive, by refusing to
allow a guest worker program. As of press time, Senator John McCain
said he does not think he has the 60 votes necessary to get a guest
worker program passed. Too many confused conservatives still insist
on trying to stop the flow across our border by turning everyone
into a felon.

We can only hope that reason prevails. That the Senate passes
the bill approved by its own judiciary committee, and that the
House abandons its vindictive, expensive plan to turn the whole
country into an armed camp.

Who will work in the fields, gardens, kitchens, construction
sites, and households? One congresswoman from Huntington Beach
seriously suggested that prisoners take the jobs now held by
illegal immigrants. Imagine driving along East Valley Road watching
orange-garbed convicts clipping the hedges of Montecito

Imagine the well-armed guards protecting residents from their
new gardeners. Imagine the costs of such a program. Imagine the
picture. — Marianne Partridge, Editor-in-Chief


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