It's a hot topic. Thousands of people in the streets protesting pending legislation. It is democracy in its most visceral form. And yet it is also theater. Just what, exactly do the protesters want? On the surface they seek fair and equitable treatment for immigrants. Illegal immigrants.
Part of these protests make sense, the country does benefit from the work of illegal immigrants. They fill a niche of the labor market which is underserved by our own population. In a nation which is essentially at full employment, there are many jobs which are simply left undone. Some of these immigrants are economic pilgrims. They have travelled to the USA to "build a stake" after which time they will return to their home country. Some are seeking out a new life of opportunity form a place where there was none. We can not afford to ignore their concerns, nor can we afford to discount their status. These individuals came to the country voluntarily, at great risk, and in violation of the law.
I believe there are three major elements to the present fracas over immigration. One is our relationship with our southern neighbors. Nations, such as Mexico, which boast rich natural resources and stable neighbors, should not be wallowing in near poverty. Part of this problem is corruption and mismanagement by their own government. This must be addressed. Canadians do not flock to the US beacuse Canada is (relatively) well run, despite a lackluster economy.
Secondly, the risk to enter the US is too low. Individuals can essentially move through the border with impunity. They arrive on visas and overstay them, they cross rivers, ride in the backs of trucks or stow away in aircraft wheel wells. The penalty for attempting to cross is low and this must be changed. Good control of border crossings is essential to improving our overall immigration policy. I do not favor militarizing the border, however, a physical barrier reinforced with technology is not an unreasonable approach.
Finally, the individuals who are here now need to be dealt with. I am in favor of a two pronged approach. For economic pilgrims, develop a robust guest worker program which will afford transient workers with legal protection, tax liability and some measure of accoutnability. For folks who seek citizenship, set them on a path with specific milestones. Some prorated credit for time spent in the US could be developed substantiated by tax receipts and sponsoir affidavits. For example, an illegal residing here ten years with no criminal activity should get twenty-five percent credit towards citizenship. Those on a path to citizenship must demonstrate that they are fiscally responsible, law abiding and willing to assimiliate (learn English - it's not too much to ask).
Amnesty is ultimately what we are discussing. It has been done before in 1986 and the results were not favorable to the nation. Mainly, I think, because we failed to address the two other legs of the immigration stool. We can not afford to ignore these elements. Parts of my own family emigrated to the United States in the early part of the 20th century. Immigrants are vital to enriching the strength of our nation.
We owe our country, its present citizens and those who would be in the future a strong and flexible immigration policy which allows for growth and opportunity while eliminating abuse and opportunism.