Jumping the Border to a Hostile Land

    Along the entire 2000-odd mile length of the U.S.-Mexican border, the conditions vary on one theme: violent and desperate. In American cities where illegal immigrants live as cheaply as possible in order to send the bulk of their wages “home,” the pattern is the same: crime, decreases in property values, and a critical draining of resources from the community by those who know they will never be part of it.

    In this nation of immigrants, it is no betrayal to state that this is far from the kind of immigration we want, nor is it the kind of immigration upon which the economy can rely. House Resolution 4437 addresses this problem, and while the Senate will no doubt amend the legislation considerably, perhaps beyond recognition, before it ever reaches the President’s desk, it is far from the inhuman crackdown upon illegal immigration that opponents claim it to be. It is in fact one of the most realistic approaches to the problem to come out of Congress in a long time.

    There must be tougher border control — this is nothing but a sad fact. Beyond the practicalities of preventing terrorism and drug trafficking, illegal immigrants have no access to health care or legal recourse; they accept low, exploitative wages; and their very presence encourages companies to break the law for profit. Those undocumented workers who come only to send remittance money back home end up creating conditions like those already described.

    Any attempt to solve the problem must start by regaining control over the U.S.-Mexican border. HR4437 provides funds to expand the border patrol, build fences and buy the equipment to keep better, more secure watch over the border. With fences and more restrictive rules, border control forces can more easily slow the flow of illegal immigrants and relieve the current violence and lawlessness of border conditions. Moreover, the madness of proclaiming illegal immigration to be bad while tolerating a largely open border will be over.

    The provision that likely sent thousands to the streets of Los Angeles in protest last week, however, is that HR4437 makes it a felony to enter the United States illegally or to assist a person in doing so. The details of this are still up for debate —­ one question is whether a church charity can be held liable if they offer assistance to an illegal immigrant — but the basic idea is sound.

    No matter what immigrant communities may claim, there is no right to enter the country illegally, regardless of whether Americans are willing to do the jobs an illegal immigrant will take or not. Where circumventing the law does little harm, a nation can afford to be lenient, but illegal immigration has been damaging for so long that the United States has no recourse but to punish those who engage in it.

    HR4437 fails in one area, and the Senate would be wise to address it before they take on the challenge of convincing a huge Hispanic constituency not to vote them out for being sensible.

    The current version of the bill makes it impossible for the nearly 12 million immigrants who came here illegally to obtain legal citizenship. This is a short-sighted, punitive measure that ignores the fact that we cannot uproot so many people, who in many cases have had children here. What it will do is create an underclass of illegals — albeit one that will last only so long as the immigrants themselves live — that will perpetuate the very problem the bill attempts to solve.

    The hard-line stance many take in this case is understandable, since giving amnesty to undocumented workers has spectacularly failed to curb further illegal immigration in the past. The most notable failure was the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986, which gave permanent status to 3 million illegal immigrants, and resulted only in millions more crossing the border.

    Amnesty is a historical blunder, but closing off any avenue through which undocumented immigrants may become legal is myopic. The Senate is discussing proposals for a legalization process that would involve fines, background checks and the payment of back taxes, ideas that are realistic and far from blanket amnesty. The economy needs more workers, especially with an aging Social Security base, but it needs legal citizens as workers, people who pay taxes and invest in communities. We cannot be temporary space for workers who never become a part of the community.

    The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that California alone is the source of over $9.6 billion per year that flows to Central America and Mexico through remittances. We cannot afford to continue being a source of involuntary foreign aid.

    The most meritorious objection to the bill is the concern that crackdowns on the hiring of illegal immigrants will lead to the kind of discrimination that comes when companies fear hiring even a legal immigrant. Such an effect would indeed be serious, but it can be dealt with. HR4437 itself includes an expansion of the Basic Employment Verification Program, which allows for businesses to perform quick online checks of Social Security names and numbers. Such checks are simple, and if the name and number match up, then the business is legally clear.

    The Los Angeles Times recently reported that this program is effective, but the lack of funding and cooperation by businesses has hampered it. Should Congress and the White House choose to seriously address the problem, this is the tool they can use, by systematically going after industries that refuse to participate. Effective border policing and deportation of undocumented workers will help to dry up the pool of cheap labor that tempts companies to skirt the law, and so long as real-time verification of legal status is available, they have no excuse for not hiring legal immigrants. Companies that unfairly discriminate can and should be sued.

    Border control and enforcement measures are what deal with the troubled present, and the Senate must look at ways to begin dramatically expanding the number of work visas issued and legal citizenship applications granted, which is what will ultimately create the conditions for a satisfactory future in American immigration. But one cannot come without the other.

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