Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Republican View on Immigration

Dear John and Sarah, **

As I have gone from "adult" to "mature adult" over the past 6-7 years (for the record, I am only 29, but I am referring to the process of becoming aware of the world outside oneself/becoming involved in the community/taking on responsibilities/etc), I have begun to notice and at times become a part of the ongoing debate on immigration, both legal and illegal. Recent years have seen an increased focus on this issue, especially in my town, where there has been at least one heinous murder and several horrendous traffic accidents perpetrated by illegal immigrants. There is also a large and necessary segment of the labor population in this area composed of immigrants.

I thought that the immigrant issues were new issues, but as I researched the topic I found that America has been dealing with immigration issues since day one, including illegal immigration. I will be focusing on the last 30 years in this letter in order to better understand where we are today and why.

"Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge"

Immigrant workers have been a part of our nation's fabric for centuries now, including and especially in the later half of the 1900's. Over the course of the century numerous laws were passed regarding immigration in order to control the flow of people into this country. A quota system was set up so that we would only be allowing certain numbers of people from each country in the world to enter our borders. Also, these numbers were impacted by what employment needs we had as a nation. But, and you would know this better than I, since you were already mature when this was happening, immigrants, legal or illegal, who were willing to do hard, seasonal jobs for low wages were often welcomed and sought out by American companies. They were hired and paid under the table with a wink, and employers looked the other way. Many employers got rich from these arrangements, and we all have profited from lower food and commodity costs to boot. Even now one will hear positive comments about cheap ways to get any menial, difficult, or disgusting task done.

It was due in part to this "wink, nudge" system that in 1986 Ronald Reagan signed an immigration act giving amnesty to illegal immigrants who were here. Everyone knew they had been drawn here by the magnet of work, and that they were needed. But the system had gotten chaotic, with almost 2 million people entering the country illegally in 1986. Reagan intended to curb this swell by enacting stricter rules about hiring illegals, giving a "temporary worker" classification, and making other changes to make it possible for seasonal workers to come and go as needed. According to Theodore Hesburgh, the chairman of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, it was an attempt at "closing the back door to undocumented illegal immigration, opening the front door a little more to accommodate legal migration in the interests of the country...."

The Blame Game

Unfortunately, from what I am seeing now, this did not work. We seem to be in the same place we were at 20 years ago, and from what I understand, Bush's most recent attempt to pass an immigration reform bill was a similar move to what Reagan did in the '80s. Now, however, the word "amnesty" has been poo-poo-ed by all. But the gist was the same. And as I look at your "planks" (love that political word picture), I see a very Reagan-esque picture.

You say you want to:
1. Secure our borders first. Your plan is sketchy as to details, in that you say this could be done with physical and virtual barriers, including use of man power to patrol by land and air, but it is clear you want to stem the tide.
2. This would then be backed up by Comprehensive Immigration Initiatives. Your bullet points include: 1. Screening individuals for eligibility to work through an Electronic Employee Verification System., 2. Meet labor needs in both the high and low skilled sectors, 3. Address the undocumented aliens (your words) that are already here, 4. Eliminate the family backlog.

Now I want to stop here for a moment and just state for the record that I am someone who has over the past few years, been a hard line, "what part of illegal don't you understand?", takin' our country back kind of Republican. The whole sneaking across the border thing just did not sit well with my sense of fairness and my propensity to see things in a very black and white sense. But to tell you the truth, over the past 6 months I have become a, well, McCain Republican. You see, I got sick of hearing conservative talk radio play, what I call, the blame game.

"It is the illegal immigrants who are draining the system," "It is the illegal immigrants who don't pay taxes" "I can't get a job because the illegal immigrants took it," "Get 'them' out of my country", and on and on. I got sick of it, and regardless of all the legal issues, when we dehumanize our fellow man, that is just plain wrong. So I decided that there had to be a more sensible answer out there.

The "Others"

So I wonder what we can do next. As you said on your website "America cannot permit a permanant category of individuals that do not have recognized status--a permanant second class." These immigrants live like shadows, especially, it seems to me, the women. They are afraid to make connections, afraid to trust, afraid to demand fair treatment as employees, afraid to call for help if they need it. They are like ghosts living in the same world as the living, but not really alive. And this is wrong. No matter what the solution, this is wrong. on your website you also stated that you want to "Provide a system that is fair, humane, realistic, and ensures the rights of the individual and families will be protected."

The border is key, and you know that as it is your first plank. Without that problem solved, all other attempts at order are mute.

Should some people be deported. Oh, definitely yes. Can we afford to let people, legal or illegal, have multiple DUI charges or criminal charges simply remain on the street to offend again. No way! But we MUST be humane and orderly and fair in the process. We must do cost/benefit analyses of our processes. And we must break this ongoing cycle that continues. "De-magnetize America" is a repeated phrase on talk radio, and I agree with the concept, but how will it work practically. Living on the streets in America can be a better life than living in a hovel in some other countries. But if there is a user friendly, legal way to navigate the American system, there will be less need for people to be drawn to illegal methods of navigating it.

But it is a complicated problem, and John, Sarah, you will need not just a specific plan, but a way to change the hearts and minds of those playing the blame game while closing the gap between those who are "us" and those who are "others".

Good luck, and don't let this issue get too lost in the cracks this year. Some Republicans see it as your weak plank, but I truly think you could turn it into one of your strongest pillars.

Thanks for listening!
CaDh 8

**disclaimer: I have chosen to use the term "illegal immigrants" in this letter because I am referring to a segment of the immigrant population who have chosen to purposefully enter our country illegally. I am not talking about people who have simply had difficulties getting appropriate documentation. I am also not trying to say that all the laws on the books are right and just. But they are there. Hence, I choose to use this term.**

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