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The Illegal Immigration Debate Erupts Like Mount Tambora


By Pam Prather

By Pam Prather

If you asked me what I think people will take away from the topic of “Immigration 2011”, I would have to say the overriding issue is simply emotion.

Strong emotion.

Strongly worded emotion.

Have you ever seen the Comments section after an article about U.S.  immigration?

It is an unabated flow of vitriolic lava!

We’ve learned over the past many years that the anonymity of the  internet allows for speech that would not be given – or tolerated – in a  personal conversation.  But Americans seem to want validation of  their view that illegal immigrants are ruining our country.

Of course, this sentiment is not new.

With every major wave of immigration in our country’s history, we have experienced (or exhibited) a similar reaction.  In an article by Kenneth C. Davis (July 3, 2007) he reminds us:

“A PROMINENT American once said, about immigrants, “Few of their children in the country learn English… The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages … Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.”

This sentiment did not emerge from the rancorous debate over the immigration bill defeated last week in the Senate. It was not the lament of some guest of Lou Dobbs or a Republican candidate intent on wooing bedrock conservative votes. Guess again.

Voicing this grievance was Benjamin Franklin. And the language so vexing to him was the German spoken by new arrivals to Pennsylvania in the 1750s, a wave of immigrants whom Franklin viewed as the “most stupid of their nation.”

Germans, Irish, Chinese, Italians, Catholics, Baptists – all have faced this seemingly impenetrable wall of fear and hatred.

One of our earlier immigration laws (1790) reserved naturalization to “free white persons” who had lived in the country for two years. Where would we be now if that law had not been changed?

Most of the negative comments I read or hear are based on the notion that undocumented aliens are, simply put, criminals.

Does this remind you of anything?

Perhaps Slavery? Prohibition? Women’s Suffrage? Civil Rights?

Sometimes laws are wrong, or at the very least, not enforceable, so throughout our history, we have broken them.  To make change, people have sacrificed, suffered, and even died. They may have been called criminals at the time, but in retrospect we have seen them as people who simply stood up for what was right.  We’ve called them courageous activists, and even icons of American culture and politics.

“We have to uphold our laws”, anti-immigrationists cry out in anguish.

I wonder if they have ever fudged on their taxes, driven over the speed limit, smoked marijuana, or tasted alcohol before the age of 21.

“Not the same thing”, they say.

They’re right.

They broke a law to make things more convenient, comfortable, or enjoyable for themselves.  Desperate people from other countries, who have no lawful means by which to immigrate, break the law to feed their children and provide some measure of hope for their future.

Definitely, not the same thing!

I’ve also heard many, many people say things such as “why don’t they just file their papers, pay the fine, and get legal”??!

This is a clear example of the general public’s lack of knowledge about U.S. immigration law.  In a nutshell, there is no way for them to get legal. This would be called amnesty, and there is currently no program for that.

Basically, there are only a few ways to immigrate: through family, through employment, or as an asylee/refugee.  The process has several steps, each with different hurdles.  But a person who has entered, lived, or worked in the U.S. without proper authorization is usually not eligible for to obtain a Green Card under most circumstances.

Another widely-misheld belief is the ‘Anchor Baby situation. This is the erroneous belief that if an alien has a baby in the US, then they’re allowed to remain in the US legally.

Not so.

A person born in the US is a US citizen, but the immigration benefits to the parents are extremely limited. Under current immigration laws, parents who enter the U.S. illegally cannot legally benefit from having a baby on U.S. soil.

Deport them all, you say?

You may not realize what that suggestion means.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement deputy director Kumar Kibble estimates that the cost to deport one person is $12,500. That means it would cost $137 billion to deport all illegal immigrants. This is simply not logistically possible or financially feasible.

So maybe we as a society could agree that undocumented immigrants are not exactly criminals, and that they have a great and desperate need to better their lives.

We know that the U.S. does not have a workable/enforceable framework for lawful immigration, and that we cannot afford to deport 11 million people. Our immigration system needs an overhaul.

We need no less than complete immigration reform, but our political machine cannot deal with this until voting Americans make room for a reasoned, practical discussion on the topic.  We as a nation have so many other things to work on, other things that need insightful consideration.

Can we start by agreeing that illegal immigration is not the root of all our problems?


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