This is not an apocryphal story. A couple of years ago a police car pulled into the driveway of the construction site of one of Sun Valley's multi-million-dollar second (or, perhaps, third) homes being built for people who will live in it and be peripherally part of the local community two to six weeks a year. The car was on an unknown mission, only using the driveway to turn around, but before that maneuver was completed half the construction crew had fled into the nearby hills. They were illegal immigrants, also known as "illegal aliens," for whom a police encounter means a major disruption in their lives and a long trip back to their native country, often Mexico.
"Immigrant" and "alien" in this context are functionally interchangeable, but which is used says more about the writer or speaker than about the person described. I prefer immigrant. We are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants (including Native Americans). Immigrants are human beings looking for a job, a better life and human dignity, and America's have always been a "problem." There was a time when the large number of Italian and Irish immigrants was a feared and reviled "problem" for those who got here a year or a generation earlier. Eventually those problems were assimilated into the mainstream of American society, as will the current "problem" of Mexican and other Latino illegal immigrants.
Some estimates place the number of illegal immigrants at more than 20 million. It's probably less, but there are a lot of immigrants breaking the law of the land. Of course, they're not the only ones breaking the law. Immigrants do not risk life and health to illegally cross the American border in the night for the fun, adventure and warm welcome they receive, or the fine working conditions or lifestyle they will find. People do not leave communities, families and friends unless they have to. They leave because they need jobs. The people who hire them are breaking the law as well. There are far fewer employers than workers, though the former have far more political power.
Anyone who has given much thought to the legal (morality, practicality and compassion are entirely other matters) aspects of illegal immigration, including the headless head of our government, the spineless body of our Congress and the armed vigilante yahoos guarding the Mexican/U.S. border with lawn chairs, rifles and the blessing of Arnold Schwarznegger, know that it is a great deal easier and more practical and honest to enforce the law by arresting, fining and jailing the employers of illegal immigrants than the millions of immigrants themselves. If employers were fined, say, $10,000 for every illegal immigrant hired, the practice of hiring people outside the law would end, as would, in theory, the "problem" of illegal immigrants. That is not going to happen. All the current political posing, pompous palaver and pretend policemanship reported in the media will not end or even slow down the flow of people illegally entering America to do the low-paying, back-breaking jobs that very few people reading this want to do.
For a very good reason.
Obeying the law would bring California's agriculture industry to a standstill, shut down hotels and restaurants in every mountain town in western America and slow down and raise the cost of construction projects everywhere, to mention only three of many affected economic engines. Despite the posing, palaver and threatened policemanship by politicos with an eye on the next election, the real politics of America is not going to let that happen. Whether it should or not is a separate question. In 1994 while she was flogging NAFTA for its American corporate sponsors, then Attorney General Janet Reno predicted that NAFTA would reduce illegal immigration by two-thirds by the end of the century and would raise living standards and wages in Mexico. The NAFTA spin was that trade, not aid, would boost the quality of life for Mexico and Mexicans. "NAFTA is our best hope for reducing illegal migration in the long haul," she said. "If it fails, effective immigration control will become impossible."
She got the last part right.
NAFTA has successfully raised the profits of companies on both sides of the border, but it has utterly failed the Mexican people and, consequently, the American people as well. Standard of living and wages have fallen in Mexico and the numbers of jobs per capita for working-age Mexicans are fewer now than when NAFTA arrived. Cheap labor never benefits the laborer's standard of living or community, whether in Mexico, India, France, the United States, the Philippines or China. Despite their nifty acronyms, NAFTA, GATT and the like are not designed for the benefit of working people. NAFTA was intended to and does benefit the large multi-national corporations and the people who own them and who, as a result, can hire illegal immigrants to build multi-million dollar second homes in places like Sun Valley to live in a couple of weeks a year.
Yes, illegal immigrants are a problem. They are a mirror and America doesn't like looking into it.