Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Illegal Immigration

by Richard Crews
When I lived alone on a rural mountain top in central California in 2003, I hired a young man one day at the curb outside a Home Depot to help me move some lumber. We worked together for the better part of a morning, and talked of many things. He was a good worker and a congenial companion. He was also an illegal immigrant from Mexico; he'd been in this country for four years and had a wife and two very young children, at least one of whom had been born in this country and was therefore a U.S. citizen. He drove an unregistered and uninsured old pick-up truck. He told me he had been stopped by the California Highway Patrol six times--several of those for speeding--but had never gotten a ticket because each time the cop knew if he ticketed the young man, his immigration status would lead to his being deported.

There are estimated to be about 13 million illegal immigrants in this country. Relatively few--for example from Cuba--are here for asylum because of political oppression or--for example from African and Asian "hot spots"--to escape ethnic violence. Most have come--for example from Mexico--to escape poverty, hunger, disease, and criminal violence. They are here against all odds, against all their cultural traditions, to try to find a better life for themselves and their families.

They raise difficult questions for anyone who believes in human rights--who believes that the U.S., historically a nation of immigrants, can and should be an international beacon of freedom and opportunity.

Some say they do not compete fairly for U.S. jobs. But arguments that they are a drag on the U.S. economy are misinformed. A recent study out of UCLA, for example, of the three million illegal immigrants granted amnesty during the Reagan years found a resulting overall support of minimum wage, union strength, and national productivity.

Arguments that they can be kept out by a bigger fence or wall--a so-called "non-porous" national border--are ultimately unrealistic. Every country has a right to secure its borders, but even the Berlin Wall saw an average of 23 people killed each month trying to escape from Communist East Berlin, and hundreds did escape.

The ultimate solution, of course, would be to raise the standard of living--of health care, education, public safety, political freedom, and economic opportunity--in the would-be immigrants' home countries. Many such efforts, including NAFTA, have been tried--many are under way. But they are Sisyphean tasks, heaving against the relentless gravity of history.

In the U.S. we are engaged in an intense national dialog about illegal immigration, often more the subject of political heat than of humane or informed light. For example, the "Daily Beast" (an informational electronic newsletter) reported this morning--

"AZ Needs U.S. Help for Immigration Law

"Arizona’s tough new immigration law goes into effect Thursday, but will the state have the muscle to enforce it? Maybe not, says The Wall Street Journal: While state and local officials can arrest and imprison illegal immigrants, only federal officials have the power to deport them. State and local police are required to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement to check the immigration status of detainees; ICE will then let them know if the suspect is deportable. ICE has insisted that it will continue to focus on recent crossings, felony re-entries, and serious criminals. However, in the past, the federal government hasn’t withheld its cooperation."

The effects vary county by county.

"The United States has deported 115,841 illegal immigrants under the federal-local partnership since 2007, and—this is really shocking—nearly a quarter of those, 26,146, have come from a single Arizona county: Maricopa County, home to the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio."