I have linked to an article in today's "USA Today" about the immigration debate on Capital Hill. In reality I am writing to you, my readers, in the hope you will join with me and support both a guest workers' program and a "patriation" program for undocumented immigrants who have been in this country since 2004.
Why a guest workers program?:
Simple. There are an estimated 10 million undocumented immigrants in this country. We do not know who they are, or where they are at any given moment. They have no interest, nor do they have any incentive, to report where they are to us. In a country of 225 million or so, that about 5% of its population is unaccounted for in any way is a big problem. Post 9/11 it is just plain insane.
If most of America's undocumented aliens were to come out and let us know where they were, it would increase the ability to hunt out those who are here to do us harm. A guest workers program would give an incentive to both the alien and the employer to register. It would guarantee that the alien could report without fearing deportation and it would punish more severely those employers who would skirt the law. Moreover, the alien would get protection in the form of work and payroll support that are unavailable to him now because he fears deportation if he comes out of the shadows.
It would also favor fair and honest employers, as it would nearly wipe out the incentive for cutthroat business owners to cut costs using undocumented immigrants. It would dry up the pool of talented unreported workers and add a disincentive of stiff financial and criminal penalties. A guest worker program would thus protect law abiding business owners while punishing the unscrupulous. It would also add an incentive to report these unscrupulous employers because it would not hurt the alien.
Why patriate those that have been here since 2004?:
If we fail to patriate people who have been here since 2004 we will not get full compliance with the registration requirement. So many immigrants have built lives here and have families and people they love here. So many are integral to the businesses they are employed in. Their children know no other home. These kids have no future even if they have lead a life of achievement and hard work.
Failure to have a fair patriation program will subject these people to continued hardship. It makes them prey for extortionist and those that would take unfair advantage of them. It also would cut down on immigration fraud immensely. It would lessen the burden on our Immigration courts homeland security and the Matrimonial courts. It would be fair and just.
For example take a young woman I know who has been here since 2000. She was brought in to work in the sex industry by unscrupulous black marketers from Eastern Europe. She managed to get away from them and has taken up with a very nice American born kid her age. They would like to be married and have children. Although very smart, she is stuck working in strip clubs because she cannot get a day job that earns her any real money. Why? Because she cannot safely come up out of the shadows. Her lover cannot marry her. If he does, and applies for citizenship, she is deportable for being in country without papers. She cannot go home, because if she leaves the country, she cannot get back in (unless she does so illegally.)Further, in leaving, Homeland Security will find out she was here, again opening her up to a 10 year waiting period to get back in (and they will never let her back in.) Her lover and she fear starting a family, because she can be put out at any time.
She hasn't seen her own family in over 5 years. Loved ones abroad have had children, married, and died. She has not been able to go to them. She came here as a young girl not 20 years old. She is a woman now but she is in limbo. Her heart breaks as her mother was diagnosed with cancer and she cannot be with her, but if she leaves, she leaves her Fiance forever on our shores.
Present American policy on immigration is unfair and inhumane. It sentences people who seek a better life to a life of running and looking over their shoulders. It renders our nation unsafe, and it thus endangers all of us. It allows the undocumented to be taken advantage of, and be unable to report crime and criminal activity without fear of reprisal from those they would protect. It threatens our economy and fosters unfair business practices which hurt honest businessmen. It stresses our city's budgets for services without letting those governments collect taxes for the services they provide. It splits up families and it coursens the fabric of our nation.
I read with great displeasure a post by a "Neo-conservative" blogger a child of immigrants herself who took issue with the concept that America is a nation of immigrants. She wrote that 86% of us were born in America. She thinks us idiots. Anytime after 1825 American born people outnumbered immigrants by a great majority. We haven't been a nation of immigrants since before we were a nation by her definition.
The fact is almost all of us no matter how long our families have been in America are identified in part by the ethnic groups our forefathers hailed from. I will proudly always be an Italo-American though the only Italian words I know would get me kicked out of any decent establishment. (I can say the names of food I like however.) My sons are imbued with my sense of family history and pride. I do not think much about Italy. Instead I focus on the brave men and women who came here before me, raised my parents and aunts and uncles. I think of their struggles and the hardships they faced. I think of a family of young men who marched off to war and fought in their parent's homeland to free it from fascism and the Nazis. I think of a family that built construction companies. Those companies worked to help build a city and Island that I love. New York and Long Island were built by the hands and sweat of immigrants and their children. I have taught that history to my boys and I hope I will teach it to my grandchildren when that day comes. This immigrant experience is from where we draw our strength. It is how we measure our successes too.
I was the first Grandchild of these immigrants to get an advanced degree. My son Frank wants to be the first to go to an Ivy League college. We carry the traditions of our immigrant grand (and great grand)parents. We teach these traditions to our young.
America will continue to be great the great nation it has become, if it can remember that it is, in fact, a nation of immigrants. America is not just the greatest nation of our time, it is the greatest nation of all time. It is as great as it is, because we have taken the bravest and toughest and smartest of all nations and given them a chance to reach the pinnacle of their abilities. Yes we had great resources, but it takes great people to harness those resources. Those that oppose the President and Senator McCain's immigration initiative, have no vision. They look out only for themselves and only for today. They are short of sight and of charity. They are not Americans for they know not the American spirit.
For those not aware of the words inscribed upon the Statute of Liberty they are the words of poet Emma Lazarus. They describe the promise of the America I love. They inspire me daily. I commend them to those who agree with me on this issue. I pray that those who do not, read them and take them to heart, and that they too will be filled with the excitement and promise The Lady of the Harbor, Lady Liberty inspires.
The New Colossus:
"With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Keep the door open. Support the McCain-Kennedy Secure America and Orderly Immigration Reform Act. Call your Congressman, and Senator. Tell them you care about this issue, and tell them you vote. Remember their vote on this issue of national import when you vote in November.
UPDATE: Check out this wonderful blog on the importance of immigration to America's history.