Monday, April 3, 2006 – The topic of illegal immigration is unequivocally the most difficult issue that I have ever tried to tackle in this column. Frankly, I’m just not sure. Like most Americans, I value our system of laws, flawed as it may be. And like many Americans, I am a descendant of immigrants, in my case Hispanic and Irish immigrants. So when the House of Representatives proposed legislation last December to criminalize illegal immigration, I found myself scratching my head as to whether or not I agreed.
But let’s be clear on something: When most people talk about “illegal immigration,” at least in the current debate, they are not talking about illegal immigrants from ALL other countries – they are talking about Hispanic illegal immigrants, especially Mexican immigrants. So let’s just stop pretending to be politically correct about this. I’m one-fourth Mexican, one-fourth Puerto Rican, one-fourth Irish, one-fourth French if you want to get technical about it, and I’m not afraid, nor will I to pretend that I’m talking about anything else but the problem Americans have with illegal Hispanic immigrants.
I doubt that many would argue the importance that immigrants have played in the development of American culture and society. I remember my elementary school teachers stressing the importance of encouraging diversity, and those are lessons I will not soon forget. Yet, with all the talk lately about immigration “reform,” I think that many Americans, myself included, are confused on the issue. Should we, in our dedication to law and order, criminalize illegal immigration? On the other hand, do we allow those who are here illegally to remain and provide them an opportunity to become legal citizens?
If we allow illegal immigrants to remain, and then reward them for their actions by granting them “guest worker status,” what message does that send to the countless others who desire to become American citizens through established legal processes for immigration? It’s a slap in the face to our system of laws. Not surprisingly, President Bush supports such a plan, a plan that rewards employers who are essentially “outsourcing” labor inside our borders by employing illegal immigrants and marginalizing them as a separate class of laborers while providing employers with a different set or rules to play.
When I applied to Cal Poly, if I had lied on my application, let’s say about my U.S. or California citizenship status (something that’s illegal), and then Cal Poly later discovered my deception, I wouldn’t be granted “guest student” status. If I just decided to sit in on classes, I would not be considered a “guest,” much less one allowed to benefit to the detriment of other legal students and given a diploma. That just isn’t how it works. I would be a liar, and would have a difficult time getting into Cal Poly, let alone any other academic institution. We have a system of rules, and when someone breaks those rules (or chooses simply to ignore them), they should not be rewarded for their illegal actions.
In such a situation, should my desire to work hard be reason enough to allow me to continue taking up that seat in class? In my opinion, the answer is no. Nevertheless, those who support allowing illegal immigrants to remain in this country argue differently. They take refuge in the fact that it would be nearly impossible to execute policies that would criminalize illegal immigration or call for the deportation of the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants, something that would undoubtedly be impossible. They preach doomsday scenarios: If illegal immigrants were not here to pick our crops, to clean our corporate offices (like Wal-Mart) and hotels, or to wash our cars and dishes, that those jobs would go undone, and our economy would crash.
Bullshit. If employers would pay even slightly higher wages for those jobs and offer some benefits, they’d be buried in applications – from Americans. And yet our politicians suggest lunacy legislation, like building 700+ mile long walls along the U.S./Mexican border, in hopes to distract us from the real culprits who contribute to the problem of immigration – illegal business practices.
We need to face the facts: The U.S. cannot control the circumstances south of the border that make hopping it so enticing. So let’s stop being anti-Mexican, anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant. Let’s stop dangling the carrot. Illegal immigration is not the problem; illegal employment practices are. Let’s require our businesses to pay higher wages and stop rewarding employers who “race to the bottom” by hiring illegal immigrants because they will work for less pay than most Americans. That is the real problem with immigration.
Jack Ingram is a political science senior and a Mustang Daily columnist.