Archive for Saturday, August 18, 2001

U.S. ambivalent on illegal immigration

August 18, 2001


Immigrants and immigration are hot politically.

On the Republican side, there is not so much as a semi-kind syllable for former California Gov. Pete Wilson, whose get-tough-on-illegal-Mexicans policies may have won him re-election in 1994 but who is blamed for losing the Hispanic vote, along with the Golden State, to the Democrats maybe in perpetuity.

The White House of George W. Bush talks openly of granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants. Catholic bishops, Protestant church leaders and The Wall Street Journal's editorial page praise Bush's modified "open borders" policy. Democratic leaders in Congress upped the ante to permit the unification with their families of U.S. undocumented workers of all nationalities and urged "earned legalization" that would grant permanent residence to "longtime, hard-working residents of good moral character with no criminal problems."

The longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer will soon be quoted approvingly by politicians of all parties: "It almost seems that nobody can hate America as much as native Americans. America needs new immigrants to love and cherish it."

There is truth here. Every American, with the exception of those whose ancestors were here when Columbus arrived or those whose ancestors were brought here against their will in chains, is either an immigrant or the direct lineal descendant of immigrants.

Much has been written and rhapsodized about the immigrant experience: the courage required and it is considerable to strike out across the sea or the continent, to live among people you have never met, to speak a language in most cases you have never heard. Constant companion to that courage has been the hope the immigrants have carried within them. Americans, by actual measurement the most optimistic people in the world, have built in Lyndon Johnson's phrase "not merely a nation, but a nation of nations."

But what about the rule of law? What about the hardworking men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol, especially those who patrol the 2,000-mile border between Mexico and the United States? Has any prominent Bush administration official or any major Democrat ever even heard of Border Patrol Agent Joel Martinez, who while checking freight trains in Combes, Tex., for illegal aliens heeded to his dog Brutus' barking and scratching, and found two tons of marijuana concealed behind false walls?

Of course not. Americans who are 5 percent of the world's population consume somewhere close to 50 percent of the world's cocaine. The kilo of cocaine that sells for less than $2,000 in the producing country of Bolivia can bring more than 15 times as much in the streets of Washington, D.C. Border Patrol agents stand, sometimes alone, against drug thugs on both sides of the border with the deepest pockets, who can buy submarines, jet airliners, sophisticated military hardware and hired assassins to use against anyone who threatens the empire.

The contributions of illegal immigrants are manifest. Driven by poverty, desperation and hope, they scheme, dream, connive and risk all to make it north to get a job and a paycheck.

Border Patrol agents are trained and charged with the mission of stopping them. But the agricultural growers of California, with their grapes and lettuce to be picked, the Iowa meat-packers and the Nevada manufacturer to say nothing of the American consumer so addicted to low prices all want the Border Patrol to fail and the law to be broken..

Now that both parties feel virtuous and broad-minded in their embrace of amnesty for undocumented immigrants, who will now raise the questions about the employer abuse and exploitation of undocumented workers too terrified to resist, let alone join a union, for fear of exposure and deportation? Undocumented immigrants are indispensable to the American economic engine.

Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex., dissents from the bipartisan consensus and speaks the unvarnished truth: "The system of illegal employment demeans them (undocumented workers) as human beings and makes a mockery of the rule of law."

Now if only someone in power would have the guts and the decency to stand up for the good men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol, and tell them what their mission really is.

Mark Shields is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.

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