Honolulu Advertiser

SECOND OPINION  by Cliff Slater

September 13, 2004

 Illegal immigrants: Let’s get real

ZACATECAS, Mexico — Supposedly intelligent people are currently telling us that illegal immigrants – mostly Mexicans -- should be given driver’s licenses, their children given subsidized college educations and their parents given welfare -- and so on. And further, that we should bow to the inevitable and give legal status to illegal immigrants -- now euphemistically referred to as ‘undocumented aliens.’

The arguments of the ‘inevitable’ appear to be a) that we need the eight million illegal Mexicans to supposedly do our dirty work, b) that our border with Mexico is porous and nothing can be done about it, and c) we must be realistic and accept the situation.

Now, before I am accused of being an anti-immigrant racist, let me state my experiences and sympathies with this issue.

First, I am an immigrant myself[i] -- a British/American one -- and like virtually all other legal immigrants of the time, I was sponsored. That is to say, a U.S. citizen, a cousin, had agreed to be liable for any behavior of mine that might cause me to be a financial charge to the taxpayers. In short, I was a privileged guest of the country -- and I was grateful for it.

Second, my mother-in-law migrated legally from Mexico and her subsequent progeny include my wife and my two grown children. In my house you are far more likely to be served tortillas than bread, the decorations of the house are more reminiscent of Mexico than anywhere else and this is fine by me because I love Mexico and travel there frequently, particularly to the Colonial Cities where I am now as I write this column.

Having said all that, to propose to give criminals amnesty (an ‘undocumented alien’ is by definition a criminal) is absurd on many counts. First, it is a slap in the face of aspiring law-abiding immigrants worldwide (Mexicans included), who have waited patiently for a legal opportunity to enter the U.S.

Bear in mind that those who are willing to flout the law to get into the country are going to be more than willing to sign up for welfare illegally, forge papers illegally to get a Social Security card, and commit other illegal acts such as voting. It is hardly a propitious start for law-abiding citizenry and not surprising that illegal immigrants comprise a disproportionate amount of our prison inmates.

Since politicians of both major parties are avoiding any taint of negativity in dealing with this issue, it is obvious that a considerable number of ‘undocumented aliens’ must be voting.

We have to step back and ask ourselves: If the whole world wants legal entry into the U.S., is granting potential citizenship to criminals the best of all possible options?

Instead, we should adopt policies that do not violate our legal system (what a concept!), however hard that road might be. And if we need eight million immigrants, we should ask ourselves, who are the most desirable? And then over time replace the illegal ones with those more desirable. For example, replacing illegal Mexican immigrants with law-biding Mexicans.

The idea that the border is impossible to control is absolute nonsense. If the federal government were to privatize the policing of our border with Mexico with harsh financial penalties for companies found to have allowed an illegal border crossing, we could put an end to the current incompetence at the border in short order.

The rule of law is the cornerstone of our republic. It is in all our citizens’ interests that it remain so.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at: www.lava.net/cslater

[i] When I came to the United States in 1959 the cheapest way to travel from Italy to the U.S. was by ocean liner; airplane travel at the time being prohibitively expensive. Accordingly, I had the experience of most European immigrants of that time, and prior to it, of sailing up New York’s East River past the Statue of Liberty – an emotional experience.