Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Rights not Rhetoric

On April 10, 2006, ten thousand Latinos and supporters marched on the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison to protest HR 4437 and other anti-immigrant legislation currently working its way through Washington and dozens of statehouses throughout the US. This has become a predictably partisan issue, with those on the left screaming "racism" and those on the right screaming "law breakers."

There is some truth to both sides. There seems to be little question that if the majority of immigrants were educated, white, English speakers, that this issue would be less prominent. However, there is a complex reality that must be faced. A great number of Mexicans are in fact entering the US illegally. This is only possible because of our shared border. What of the countless Mexicans, other Latinos, Africans, Indians, Chinese, and Eastern Europeans who try to enter the United States legally?

There is the arduous and time consuming process of obtaining a green card. Only 50,000 green cards are awarded per year, via lottery. This requires an application fee, filling out dozens of forms, and a fair amount of luck. There is also the H-1B work visa process. This is difficult as well, with only 65,000 issued - at most - each year. Sadly, these are only for college educated professionals who can make a contribution to the US economy. Then there's citizenship itself. An expensive and time consuming process, one must maintain a period of permanent presence in the United States -- the date of which doesn't even begin until one has permanent legal resident status.

For better or worse, this is our process and our law. When some immigrants circumvent said law, what message does that send to other immigrants who endeavor to go through the almost unimaginable difficulty of doing it legally? Also, when immigrants circumvent the law and remain illegal, they become part of a permanent underclass from which they simply cannot escape.

At the same time, the United States has always stood as the beacon of freedom. "Give us your tired, your poor." Most Latinos are coming here to work and provide a better life for their families. In most cases, they are doing jobs that most Americans are unwilling to do, for wages we'd consider ludicrous.

This is not an easy problem and like most, there is no easy solution. One thing that will not solve the problem: the left screaming "racism" at the right, while the right screams "illegals" at the left. The solution will require several elements:

(1) An avenue to legal status and citizenship for the illegal immigrants already living and working here. Any other solution does nothing but drive the problem underground and create a police state where neighbors spy on neighbors.

(2) A new temporary work visa that belongs to the worker, not the employer, and enables a wider range of migrants with job offers to enter the U.S. legally. The vast majority of immigrants come here to work. Let's create a system that allows them to come legally, work with dignity, and maneuver their way into our economic mainstream.

(3) An improved family unification system, which would reduce the delays experienced by immigrants seeking to rejoin their family members in the U.S. This is simply essential in any nation that purports to care about family values.

(4) Possibly most importantly, we need to recognize that the vast majority of us are descendents of immigrants. Our grandfathers and grandmothers often faced the same scorn upon entering this country. It is the 21st century and it is time to evolve our thinking. We are rapidly becoming the most multi-cultural nation on earth. Assimilation is no longer the answer. Instead, we must guarantee equal opportunity for all, celebrate the diverse traditions and cultures that add so much value to our nation, and welcome our new neighbors with open arms.

There is great complexity here, but answers do exist. We need to focus on solutions, not rhetoric... and we can begin to solve the immigration problem in a way that is both fair and dignified.

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