Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bush calls on the National Guard to bail him out on immigration

It shouldn't surprise us that Bush's answer to immigration issues is to call out the National Guard to beef up security on the Mexican border. Relying on the National Guard to solve problems has been a hallmark of his presidency. Of course, his overuse of the Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan came back to haunt us during Hurricane Katrina, when the Louisiana Guard was shorthanded.

Several prominent Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, are questioning whether the Guard has the resources to take on another task and even whether this should be the role of the Guard. And it is almost hurricane season again.

As is usual with this administration and this Congress, no one in authority is actually dealing with the real problem. The House of Representatives has passed a draconian bill that would make criminals out of those who cross the border unofficially. The Senate is currently debating a more palatable compromise that would allow "guest workers" -- people who come here to do our dirty work but aren't given the right to stay. And Bush is playing games, trying to keep the anti-immigrant forces happy while still appeasing the businesses that want the cheap labor that illegal immigration brings. No one is out to help the actual immigrants.

But there is a ray of hope here and it comes from the immigrants themselves. The boycotts and marches of the last month have buoyed my political spirits in a way that nothing has since Bush took office. Here are people with a lot to lose taking political stands and making themselves heard. They're not relying on their proxies. And while many of the protesters aren't citizens, they have a core of support among people who do have the right to vote. Make no mistake, they're going to have a political impact on our country, and, as with the Civil Rights Movement, we're all going to be the better for it.

I favor a path to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented workers already here and an easing of the immigration rules to allow more people to cross legally. If you take a look at how difficult it is to enter this country legally, it becomes obvious that most of our undocumented workers would never have a chance to enter the U.S. if they tried to do things by the book. Take a look at regulations and restrictions for various types of immigration on the US Citizenship and Immigration Service website.

My reasons for supporting citizenship and eased immigration are emotional ones: I cannot in my heart oppose people who want a better life for themselves. Everyone should have at least as much opportunity as I do to live decently and follow their dreams. Even though I know we can't open our border to everyone who wants to come, and even though I know the long term solution is better government and economies in the countries the immigrants are leaving, I find I cannot help but look at the individual human beings caught up in the struggle, rather than at an amorphous group labeled "illegal immigrants."

But there is also plenty of evidence that immigrants, legal or illegal, are good for the United States. Michael Ventura, himself the son of Italian immigrants, says in his May 12 column in The Austin Chronicle:
Yes, technically undocumented laborers are here illegally. Yes, they break immigration laws. But in their specific case, the laws constitute a lie – because for the better part of a century, these people have been invited here. Not by law; not by public pronouncement; nevertheless, by intention – they have been invited by widespread and accepted business practice. And every American profits from their presence.
He goes on to point out that keeping immigration difficult, and thereby encouraging illegal crossings, keeps the needed labor these people provide cheap.

Here's another thought about the value of immigrants to our culture: In a May 6 broadcast on the NPR program "Weekend America," demographer Phillip Longman discussed the importance of immigration to the U.S. population in the future. According to Longman, we need immigrants, especially young immigrants, to offset our falling birth rate. You can listen to his observations on immigration demographics here or check out some of his publications as a fellow of the New America Foundation here.

I don't agree with everything Longman says, but as someone who see overpopulation as one of the key problems facing the world today -- one that isn't being addressed, but that's a subject for another day -- I think encouraging immigration is the obvious solution for all countries that have an aging demographic. Yes, newcomers change the culture, but this isn't as big a problem for the United States as it is for France or Japan. We've been a nation of immigrants since our founding. We should continue to open our doors as wide as we can.

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