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Mary Pitt: Compassionate Immigration Reform

Compassionate Immigration Reform

by Mary Pitt

As our nation is being inundated by the stream of illegal immigrants crossing our southern borders, flooding our factories and fields with potential employees who are willing to work at extremely low wages, and overwhelming our already-stressed hospitals and welfare systems, Americans are being split yet again over how to handle the problem. There are those who cry for compassion in caring for these desperate people marching in determined opposition to those who are concerned about national security and the durability of our economic condition. Surely, in this country which prides itself on our ability to reach reasonable answers based on our concept of humanitarian equality, there is some answer which would be acceptable to both sides.

But there appears to be no consensus on the matter. The Republicans in Congress are proposing contradicting laws on which there is not, and is not likely to be, any agreement, while the Democrats just sit back and enjoy the show. Any sentient being would realize that most of the proposals are for the same thing that was passed in 1984, and that didn't work over the long haul. Why not? Because it was never enforced! The humanity continued to pour over the border and farmers and large corporations continued to hire them "under the table" with impunity. Most of us fully expect that Congress will merely "labour mightily and bring forth a gnat". There is no effort to develop a comprehensive plan that is enforceable, practical, and humane.

There is no doubt that, included in the numbers of illegal border-crossers, there may be those who mean us harm. We know that some are known gangsters with no intent to engage in productive work, but only to take advantage of richer "pickings" for their chosen occupations as thieves and murderers. Others could be "terrorists" with an agenda of creating desperate attacks upon our super-structure and our lives. Aside from those undesirables, the very number of the ones who truly expect to find a better life in a land of abundance are taxing our ability to serve them. While most of the dialogue deals with "the workers" and whether they are essential to a healthy commerce, little is said about the fact that there is a larger problem than the effect of the "workers" on our society. The number is said to stand at twenty million illegal immigrants among us now, but there has been no attempt to count the number of their children who have been born since the migration of their parents and, being "native-born", must be counted as citizens and thus are not included in that total.

Yes, something must be done! But what? First, we must consider the fact that not all of these people are those whom we consider to be "workers". Those who are in search of work also bring their families, and it is these families who become the taxpayers' burdens. Pregnant women make the journey, risking not only themselves but their unborn children in the arduous trek. They know that. once here, their children may be born in American hospitals without charge and will be citizens and, thus, the anchor for their entire family to claim the right to stay in the United States due to Arelationship to a citizen@. These children become entitled to health care, education, and social benefits for their own future families. However, they also strain the ability of the American taxpayer to provide the services which they need.

Those who are available and eager to work are willing to work for much less than are Americans because, contrasted with their accustomed standard of living, they consider the meager pay an improvement. They are willing to live in six-family homes and to subsist on a diet which would be totally unacceptable to American families, foraging for food and other necessities in very inventive ways until they can become established in jobs and be able to care for their own needs. Of course, their employers are happy to have them! They work very hard and make every effort to keep their job, sending a substitute to do their work if they have to be absent. They are constantly aware that offending their employers could lead to to their deportation. They are usually paid in cash, "under the table", and so do not bear the burden of paying taxes or even having Social Security deducted from their wages. This is not necessarily a benefit to them, but to their employers who save the money that should be contributed to the Social Security Administration as matching funds.

First, no problem that has been so neglected for so long can be corrected quickly, and so the details must be worked out on a gradual basis over a period of time, and it should be done with great care. The most urgent concern at this time is the problem of "border security". The dramatic increase in the number of illegal and uncontrolled residents in the nation is a definite threat to our security. Illegal immigration must be stopped immediately while those who are already here should be checked carefully as to nation of origin and the purpose for which they came. We have seen that the Border Patrol, even if fully utilized, (which it has not been), cannot totally control every footpath across the border. A giant and expensive "fence" as a barrier smacks too much of the Berlin Wall and the one which is being built by Israel to imprison the Palestinians.

Perhaps we should consider, instead, a trench the length of the border, too wide to jump, too deep to scale or to tunnel under, and lacking sufficient water to dive into and swim. This could be done for a much smaller expenditure than a wall and could be more easily monitored by an increased Border Patrol and well-installed electronic monitors. (The earth which would be removed could even be trucked across the "horn" of Texas to raise the level of New Orleans, build a higher seawall, and restore the delta, another neglected national problem!) This would stop the in-flow of both people and drugs, defeating both the "coyotes" and the drug gangs. A limited number of bridges could be more easily monitored at inspection stations while there would be a better chance of controlling the dangerous and illegal acticivities of the trans-national gangs.

The President wants an "amnesty" program because the employers of the nation need "guest workers", but this was attempted in 1974 and it didn't work! Employers ignored the law with impunity as there was little or no enforcement and it did nothing to stem the tide. If the employers are truly unable to find crews to harvest their crops or to slaughter and butcher their animals, they should be able to apply for them and to have them delegated to them by an official office that would be responsible for checking the qualifications and abilities of the applicant. These offices could be set up in embassies in Latin nations and be certified to issue the necessary temporary work visas which would entitle the applicant to work for that employer for a specific amount of time. These visas should be available only from American embassies in their home country and the employers would be responsible for withholding all pertinent taxes as well as for the lawful behavior of the employees and their prompt return to their home countries at the end of their assignment. Eligibility for Social Security should be a matter to be considered by the law-makers. Such legal "guest workers" should understand that they alone are responsible for carrying insurance for themselves and their families or paying any medical bills incurred on pain of losing their work visa prematurely.

As for the illegal immigrants who are already here, we will need time and compassionate debate. Perhaps, rather than criminalizing them immediately, a time limit should be set. If, for instance, within three or five years, they were to find their way back to their native country, they would be eligible to register to return for another period as a guest worker or for permanent residency as a potential citizen.. At the end of that time, those who remain here illegally could be located, deported and lose their privilege of return. Of course, many of them will have children who are were born here and are entitled to citizenship, and decisions must be made about them. The parents could be given alternatives. The President of the United States says that we all should be required to make choices and they should be allowed to make a choice between taking their children back with them with the proviso that the children could return at will to take up residency or to leave the children with friends or in foster homes while they are reared and educated as befits a citizen of the United States.

Despite all the vitriol on both sides of the issue, whether to throw open our borders to one and all without restriction or to secure our borders against potentially deadly interlopers, the problem is not insoluble. It only requires the patience to put our prejudices and partisanship aside and to act as loyal citizens of these United States to develop a workable plan that will satisfy both the need for security and any possible need for guest workers without ripping up the Constitution or the principles on which our nation was founded and has prospered. While our current illegal inhabitants will object, there will also be advantages for them. No longer will they have to work for years to repay the money which was paid to smugglers for guiding them here, no longer will they risk a miserable death in an over-crowded coyote van or from extreme thirst in the desert, no longer will their wives and daughters be sold into prostitution and drug smuggling on pain of exposure, and they can enjoy all the benefits of living in this wonderful land without the fear and blackmail which now plagues their very existence.

The "mainstream" political parties are split up the middle as to whether an "open borders" aspect would be desirable or whether a strict "law and order" posture would be better and, so far, we see no consensus on the proper way to handle the problem. Meanwhile, both the safety of the citizens of the United States and the ambitions of the migrant workers are hinging on whether the power-brokers in Washington would recognize the validity of the arguments on both sides and work to reconcile them. However, they first have to want to do so, and that appears to be the sticking point. Whether they can put aside their greed for virtual slave labor in the interest of national security is the question. It is well past time for them to stop playing politics with the question and to put up or shut up.


Mary Pitt is a septuagenarian Kansan, a free-thinker, and a warrior for truth and justice. Huzzahs and whiney complaints may be sent to

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