Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now
28 November 2007
It may be the tryptophan-induced stupor left in the wake of the Thanksgiving feast, but I find myself unable to resist touching the electrified third rail of American politics, the topic that promises to be the most contentious issue of 2008, just like 2007: immigration. Indeed, the question of providing drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants has at least temporarily sidelined the Hillary for President juggernaut.
Thanksgiving celebrates America’s original Illegal Immigrants, the pilgrims. They had no permission to come here, no visas, no documents at all. Seeking a better life, they simply settled here. Lucky for them, the locals fed and helped them, rather than arresting and deporting them. Given how things turned out for the Native Americans, maybe they should have had better border patrol agents.
Immigration is a complex, emotional issue that divides both major parties. There are rational arguments on all sides, as well as a nasty undercurrent of racism and xenophobia. Admit it: there wouldn’t be half this much collective angst if the majority of current immigrants were fair-skinned and spoke English flawlessly. Even suggesting comprehensive, rational immigration reform – rather than building a Berlin Wall along the border and rounding up 12 million current residents – can get you run out of a town on a rail.
Obviously, every nation needs to control its borders, at least for national security. Remember, however, that our two worst terrorist incidents had nothing to do with people sneaking across the Rio Grande. Most of the September 11 hijackers came here with expedited visas from Saudi Arabia, while Timothy McVeigh and his deluded militia buddies were homegrown sociopaths. Building 2,000 miles of fence along our southern order – while completely ignoring the threat from those oh-so-polite Canadians and their socialized medicine – would not have prevented either attack.
What draws people here are jobs, jobs at the bottom of our economic ladder that still pay way more than they can make at home. We already have unenforced laws against employing undocumented immigrants, so what’s the point of passing new ones? Forget about rounding up poor laborers in the Home Depot parking lot – just throw a few CEO’s in the slammer and the entire problem would dry up overnight. Our economy has always relied on immigrant labor, and without it, our agriculture, construction and tourism industries would collapse. Americans would do those jobs for better pay and benefits, but would we pay more for those products? You say YOU would? Then why do you shop at union-busting Wal-Mart, the chief importer of slave-labor Chinese goods? When I hear some of the same people opposing immigration allegedly to protect the American worker who also virulently oppose labor unions, methinks they doth protest too much. We just need to restore the National Labor Relations Board to being a pro-labor body, and vigorously enforce labor laws for all workers, immigrant or not, and the incentive to hire people hiding in the shadows would disappear.
There is a liberal, quasi-environmental argument against immigration, that goes like this: population growth drives pollution, resource depletion, and global warming. Most of America’s population growth is caused by immigration, not birth rates. When people come here and participate in our wasteful lifestyle, they do use more energy and generate more garbage. Therefore, we protect our natural heritage by pulling up the drawbridge. True, GLOBAL overpopulation is the root cause of much of the world’s trouble, but people are people, no matter what side of an imaginary line they live on. Besides, if you think immigration is a problem now, wait until climate change swamps Bangladesh and drought ravages Mexico, sending unprecedented waves of desperate people our way.
The answer is to make our economy more sustainable, reform the current global trade policies that benefit multinational corporations at the expense of both American and foreign workers, and grapple with global warming, not throw people off the lifeboat and back into the stormy sea.