Saturday, April 15, 2006

Immigration and Public Opinion

Public opinion is an incoherent mess when issues are clear. The immigration issue starts out muddy and gets worse. I can't get a handle on who stands for what -- Left, Right, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, wealthy, poor, black, whitem other...

It is clear that first generation Hispanics want to stop living in a state of legal confusion, with existing laws unenforced and proposed legislation that looks like nothing more than a deeper layer of mud. My guess is that every extended immigrant family consists of a mixture of both legal and illegal family members, with as many as four generations involved. And that picture gets more complicated when the larger community is in the picture.

James Zogby writes about his own family history, noting that because of his personal experience he is not among those who, having made it as an American whose family arrived as "immigrants" now wants to slam the door in the face of others who would like to follow. He articulates three general positions which probably catch the majority of all public opinion. Most people will fall into one of these three groups.

As posed by policy-makers, three options are currently being discussed. On the one side, there are those who call for criminalizing not only the undocumented, but also those who hire them or provide for their social needs. This new nativism is both cruel and unworkable. Not only would it create untold human suffering and economic chaos, but it would cost over $260 billion to implement. The mind reels, I might add, at nightmare scenes of roundups, arrests, and forced deportation of millions of men, women, and children.

There is a proposal by those who are considered "moderates" in this debate to create a "guest worker" program, that would legalize the status of the undocumented, without ever giving them the hope of becoming Americans. This would only bring to the US the same failed system that is now haunting Europe, creating a new class of exploited "guests," without defined rights.

Finally, there are those who recognize that while the current situation is unsustainable, reality must be acknowledged and rationalized into a new framework that both protects the rights of American citizenship while, at the same time, applies the lessons of American history. Borders must be protected and our understaffed and underfunded immigration system is broken and must be fixed. But the millions who are here, working and providing for their families, can not be made to pay the price for this problem. To rationalize this process, the pathway to citizenship must be opened. It is the only way to end their exploitation and normalize their situation. At the same time, it is imperative to recognize that this current flood of illegals across our borders is a manifestation of a hemispheric economic problem that requires not a wall but greater investment, economic growth, and the expansion of rights in countries to our south.

No comments: