Friday, June 15, 2007

Demonizing Illegal Aliens

Here's one more article -- relating to all my recent commentary on the immigration debate -- from Jeff Jacoby over at the Boston Globe. Jacoby wants to know: Are we demonizing illegal immigrants?

WRITING IN The Examiner last month, the ranking Republican on the House Immigration Subcommittee offered an endearing analogy to explain his opposition to the Senate's proposed immigration overhaul.

Kindergarten students, wrote Iowa Representative Steve King, are taught to line up at snack time and patiently wait their turn. A child who cuts in front of the others is promptly reprimanded and sent to the back of the line. "If not, the entire classroom erupts with charges of 'That's not fair!"' Making the line-cutter wait until all the other children have gotten their snacks teaches "the entire class . . . that good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished." King's conclusion: "The Senate amnesty proposal amounts to letting every line-cutter walk away with his cupcake."

Given the
rancor with which so much of the immigration debate is conducted, there's a winsome appeal to this "kindergarten" comparison. But winsome or not, King's analogy fails. Illegal immigrants don't steal across the Mexican border because they lack the patience to wait their turn in line. They do it because there is no line for them to wait in.

The great majority of immigrants who enter the United States lawfully qualify for visas because of
family ties: They are lucky enough to be related to a US citizen. For them, there is indeed a line -- the waiting time for a family-based visa can take upward of 10 years. A smaller number of legal immigrants are granted visas because they have advanced degrees or specialized skills and a job is waiting for them.

For most illegal immigrants, a legal option simply doesn't exist. Under current law, a young Mexican or Salvadoran who wants to improve his life by moving to America and working hard at a useful job generally has just two options: (a) Enter illegally, or (b) stay out forever. Several hundred thousand a year choose option (a).

To Representative King and those who think the way he does -- the Pat Buchanans, the
Lou Dobbses, the conservative talk-show hosts and their riled listeners -- the illegal entry is all that matters. They don't ask whether it makes sense to bar industrious and productive go-getters who value America as a land of opportunity and who supply labor for which there is a yawning demand. As far as they're concerned, illegal aliens are "immigration criminals," and the only issue on the agenda is how to keep them out.

"Put up a giant fence,"
demands radio talkmaster Glenn Beck. "You stop the people who are coming here because they're criminals or they want to do us harm." In a Page 1 story on the grass-roots opposition to the immigration bill, The New York Times quotes "angry voter" Monique Thibodeaux, an office manager in suburban Detroit: "These people came in the wrong way, so they don't belong here, period."

But something is not wrong -- intrinsically wrong, bad in and of itself -- merely because it is illegal. It is against the law to put anything without postage into someone's mailbox.

If your neighbor prints flyers advertising a yard sale and drops one into each letterbox on the street, he has broken the law, but would anyone say he has done something evil?

Someone who crosses the border without a visa in order to find work doesn't deserve to be branded a "criminal." Doing so only inflames and confuses an issue that is contentious enough as it is. And it cheapens a word that should be reserved for those who purposely harm others through genuinely wrongful behavior: embezzlers, rapists, arsonists, murderers.

The demonizing of illegal aliens keeps us from having a rational discussion about US immigration policy....

Twenty years ago this week in Berlin, President Reagan uttered his memorable challenge: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Conservatives who extol Reagan's legacy might ask themselves what he would have thought of the idea that our response to hard-working risk-takers so eager for a piece of the American Dream that they endanger life and limb to come here should be a Berlin-style wall of our own. I suspect it's a notion he would have scorned, along with the suggestion that all we really need to know about immigration we learned in kindergarten.

The issue's probably more complicated, and I'm to the right of Jacoby on this (perhaps he needs to get down to Southern California more often). Nevertheless, his commentary's well said! If readers don't know, Jacoby's a prominent neoconservative. I'd be interested to see some of the (thoughtful) comments from those who think otherwise.

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