Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Great Immigration Debate

There were two interesting articles in the paper this weekend. One of them is discussed here, and the other, here.

My uncle (the one who used to be a Democrat, like the rest of the family, until he started making too much money and now he's Republican) sent out an email last week containing an editorial someone supposedly wrote, comparing illegal immigration with breaking and entering into your house. I found the email ignorant, innacurate, and offensive, but considering how other conversations with this uncle have gone, I wasn't going to get into it. My mom, however, did get into it. I didn't want to leave her out there all by herself, so I got into it, too.

You can imagine how this went - my mom, the social worker, who moved to Chile in the early 70's because the country had just elected a Socialist president, and me, raised by this mother in Chile - by definition, and immigrant myself -, against my uncle, who has never left the country and regularly watches Fox News.

I'll spare you the details, but Sunday morning (after a few days of back-and-forth emailing) my eye caught an interesting headline in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Okay, the headline wasn't that interesting, it was more straightforward - something about "Immigration Debate Continues" - but it was relevant, which made it interesting to me.

When most people, at least here in Texas, talk about immigration, they pose The Wall as the solution. Build a big wall along the US/Mexico border, and that will solve the problem because it will keep all those dirty Mexicans out. Yay, we fixed the problem! (Now, I'm not sure if this wall will cut across the Gulf of Mexico, coming out of Brownsville and connecting the Florida Keys, or if it will simply run along the beaches of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida... anyone heard the details on that?)

The article mentioned a case in New Jersey where an illegal immigrant out on parole had killed three students. The article did not care to mention how this particular gentleman happened to have entered the country, but considering he was originally from Peru and he was living in New Jersey, I'm willing to bet he didn't get here hopping the border. My guess is, like most illegal immigrants, he hopped on a plane, went through US customs at Newark Airport smiling and showing his legal passport to the nice officers, then overstayed his tourist visa.

It seems to me that if we want to solve a problem, step number one would be to figure out the source of the problem. How are these people getting here? Why does this article on immigration, pretending to address the problem, not want to share information with me?

One of the most common complaints about illegal immigrants, even the ones who are here working, not committing crimes, is that they are draining our social services without paying anything in, because they don't pay taxes. (It seems to me that is the least of our problems, because it's the easiest to fix! If an illegal immigrant is here working but not paying taxes, because he doesn't have papers, then give him papers! Grant him legal status or give him a work visa, pay him a decent wage, and charge him income tax! Problem solved! But I digress...) The social services mentioned are emergency health care and education.

The man mentioned in the article was an illegal immigrant on parole. He is not a US citizen, and we knw that, but we put him in a US jail. We did not choose to send him back to his home country when we found out he was here illegally and doing no good, we chose to send him to our tax-funded prison system. The same one that drains more tax funds than education.

Giving children basic health care and education is one thing. Children are innocent, they did not choose to leave their home country, their parents made the choice for them. Giving them an education so they can grow up to be productive members of society does not seem like such a terrible thing to me.

However, spending twice as much as I would to teach that child to read and write, to keep some bastard in jail... that one I do have a problem with.

First we chose to keep him, and put him in jail (three meals a day and cable TV - children in school only get two meals a day, if they're on the free and reduced lunch program, and no TV). Then, we chose to release him on parole - and let him stay here, instead of putting him on a plane back home.

The Average Joe, especially here in Texas, will take this case as yet another reason why we need to build The Wall and get those dirty Mexicans out of Our Country... regardless of the facts. What caused the death of those three students was not illegal immigration - we had two chances, at least, to remove this person from the country before he ever got close to those students; the problems were with the legal system.

One of the problems with immigration is that the topic is too big, it has too many facets. It is hard to have a discussion on immigration because the people having the discussion could be arguing completely different sides - some people are simply racist, and don't want anyone "different" among them. Some people have concerns about terrorists entering the country. Some people are concerned about the economic issues, and workers not paying taxes to pay for the public services they are enjoying while living here.

The Wall is not going to address these issues. (Except perhaps the racist one, but I don't care to address it.)

If terrorists are going to enter the country, they are going to do it through smarter ways than crossing the border. If criminals are going to enter the country, they are going to do it through easier ways than paying a coyote's fees and risking their lives in the desert. They are going to come in through visas and forged documents, which is where we need to focus our energy.

For the people who come into this country to work, and are working, all we have to do is grant them legal status, through work visas or resident alien status, and charge them taxes. Of course, they means the companies hiring them would have to pay them legal minimum wage and offer benefits such as health care - the ones opposing that movement are not the workers, but the CEOs.

Politicians are good at Band-Aid solutions to appease the mob, and smoke and mirrors to make you think something big is happening. The Wall is one big smoky Band-Aid.

When my uncle and I finally agreed to disagree and end the steam of emails flooding the rest of the family's inboxes, he agreed with most of the points I brought up. Yes, we need to hold companies who employ illegal immigrants accountable for their actions. Yes, we need to look at all the ways illegal immigrants are entering the country, and control the influx. Yes, if the immigrants are working and are not breaking any rules, they should be granted legal status and allowed to stay, once they start paying taxes. (He still strongly supports The Wall, but that's probably because he watches all that Fox News. And because he vacations in the Bahamas, not Corpus Christi, so The Wall won't be cutting across his beach.)

If we're going to debate the immigration issue, then let's debate the immigration issue. Let's study the facts, all of them. Let's look for a solution, not a scapegoat.

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to add that the Great Wall didn't work for the Chinese and the Berlin Wall didn't work for the Soviets. However, lets not learn from history ...