Friday, June 3, 2005

Give immigration reform a chance

As the late film comic Jimmy (The Schnoz) Durante would say in a moment of exasperation while slapping his thighs, "Everybody wants to get into the act."

Indeed, voices everywhere are popping up with "solutions" to the hot new national controversy, immigration—specifically the steady human stream of illegal aliens across the U.S.-Mexico border in search of work. The issue of terrorists slipping across is a different challenge.

President Bush has a solution, as do members of Congress, radio and TV commentators, business groups whose members rely on immigrant labor, Hispanic coalitions, and, of course, volunteer Minutemen patrolling the border.

Some ideas are far-fetched, such as mobilizing the National Guard to form a human wall along the border to prevent entry. The Army, stretched thin in Iraq, will be surprised to know of spare Guardsmen for border patrol duty.

The most plausible, the most easily implemented plan seems to be common to proposals by the president, U.S. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho and Sen. John McCain of Arizona: a form of amnesty to allow illegals to remain as accredited workers and eventually apply for permanent residency as well as allow would-be immigrants a chance to register for jobs.

Any notion that 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens could be rounded up and deported is nonsense. The major blind spot of xenophobes with a generalized resentment of "illegales" is they're convinced they've gobbled up jobs that American citizens would work.

As Sen. Craig points out, upwards of 78 percent of all agricultural work these days is done by immigrant labor—a force that could hardly be replaced with American citizens.

In Idaho's Canyon County, 20 percent of the population of 151,000 is Hispanic, many presumably illegal. In Blaine County, it's about 10 percent Hispanic, although no figures are available on illegal vs. legal immigrants.

None of the proposed legislation can possibly stop illegal entries. The reality is that Mexicans find better-paying jobs in the United States, and until Mexico provides economic incentives for residents to remain there, some illegal immigration will continue.

Meanwhile, some control over immigration can be achieved through laws that would penalize U.S. employers who haven't become part of a hiring plan that authorizes immigrants to work here temporarily.

Proposals also would effectively remove any power of employers to blackmail workers into accepting peonage wages and remaining at their jobs out of fear they'd be reported to U.S. authorities.

With a measure of regulation in place to track immigrants at work here, federal and local agencies will be in a far better position to also begin tackling the nagging problem of immigrants overloading health-care facilities.

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