Sunday, May 21, 2006

Déme su cansado, sus pobres....

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

There are many who would like to slam that golden door shut but there are a few sensible voices to be heard. There is an interesting editorial in the Sunday New York Times reprinted here by Marc Cooper. The Times lays it all out:

A good immigration bill must honor the nation's values and be sensible enough to work. It must not violate the hopes of deserving people who want to work toward citizenship. It must not create a servant class of "guest workers" shackled to their employers and forbidden to aspire to permanent legal status. It must give newcomers equal treatment under the law and respect their rights of due process. It must impose rigorous enforcement of labor laws, so unscrupulous employers cannot exploit illegal workers. And it must clear the existing backlogs of millions seeking to enter the country legally, so that illegal immigrants do not win an unfair place in line.

This is a common sense summary of what immigration reform needs to do.

Turning an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants – roughly the population of Ohio – into felons as legislation from the House of Representatives would do is simply crazy. This sort of spitefulness does not speak well of the American people. This is simply, as the Times points out, turning immigration into a pest control problem.

Then there is a common refrain heard that by those upset by the presence in this country of undocumented workers from Mexico is that don’t play by the rules. That’s a fair argument but overlooks the fact that the rules, as they pertain to immigration, have always been very arbitrary. As just one example, look at the treatment of immigrants stepping on our shores from Hati versus immigrants who arrive on these shores from Cuba. They are treated very differently. The rules already vary (and always have) so the special relationship between Mexico and the United States should be taken into consideration when reviewing and rewriting laws.

Part of the problem with attempts at closing the border is that it makes the problem worse. It forces immigrants from the south to attempt ever more dangerous entry into the United States over unfriendly terrain and it forces those who are here to never leave out of fear they will never be able to return. A common sense immigration policy requires regulation but needs to easy enough for people to come here to work and return home without fear not being able to return. If you make it hard to comply with the law you are only going to recreate the situation we have now.

Of course every nation requires secure border for purposes of national security but why then the concern about only the border with Mexico when the Canadian border is much longer and just as porous. Is it because most Canadians are white and speak English? Let’s be honest with ourselves about that.

The worse thing Americans can do is panic. There are issues to be resolved but we need to keep in mind that while there are cultural and language differences with our brothers and sisters from Mexico we also have cultural similarities and a great many Americans speak Spanish as a second language. Certainly, issues of integration here pale in comparison to the issues of integration of Arab and Turkish immigrants in Europe.

Finally, the current debate is taking a unilateral approach to immigration from Mexico. There may be many who are convinced there is only one side to this issue but no one can deny there are two sides to the border. How many National Guard troops are we willing to place on the border and how high are we willing to build fences with razor wire and walls of steel and concrete before there is a dialogue with Mexico. Because we share a border with Mexico we have a special relationship that country. It is in the interests of both Mexico and the United States that Mexico prospers. This should involve not only the American government but American businesses and American labor unions.

Given the tenor of the debate, doing the right thing will take some political courage. However, doing the right thing will pay off in the long run for both our countries.

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