Hogan's Alley

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Immigration Marches

We have now seen that massive demonstrations can be mobilized by immigrant advocacy groups. Some of the feelings and views expressed in these demonstrations are profound reminders of the nature of the American experiment.

We truly are all the children of immigrants. The recurring process of people bravely leaving the comfortable, if impoverished, surroundings of home to venture to a foreign land has defined our culture. The contributions of these adventurers and their progeny are undeniable. As someone in a TV news clip of a demonstration said, "Even the Mayflower transported immigrants."

I also believe that fears of the massive number of immigrants who speak Spanish leading to a bi-lingual America are vastly exaggerated. Yes, those whose families speak Spanish at home do use their first language as the fallback choice anglos hear on the street. We forget that the same was also true of those whose first language was Italian or Polish. Unfortunately, because of the political power of immigrants from so many countries who all speak Spanish, school systems allowed the process of teaching English to newcomers to be highjacked into a Spanish-first environment that, it has now been shown, in fact inhibited the learning of English. That is now changing.

Years of interacting with Spanish-speaking families has demonstrated to me that the children, no matter what their educational environment, universally learn English. They often serve as translators for their parents, for whom adoption of English come more slowly. Further, since the Spanish used by these by these children is purely conversational, they rarely become highly proficient in Spanish. English, the language of the school, the job, the university, the literature, becomes the focus of their growing language proficiency.

The other truism expressed by the demonstrators is that significant sectors of the American economy could not function with out the presence of illegal immigrants. This is the source of the support by many business interests for some form of amnesty or guest worker program.

However, the apparent demand of many, if not most, of the demonstrators was for an amnesty that would make those here illegally citizens. Supporters of this view would have the United States essentially abandon immigration rules and procedures that are as open and liberal as any nation's in history. They seem to favor of a de facto "system" in which immigration laws are essentially unenforced and that every 15-20 years or so, anyone found inside our borders will be granted citizenship.

Either the borders must actually, for the first time in our history, be real barriers to illegal entry, or they might as well not exist. If the later is our choice, then it would be much more rational and sane to simply abandon immigration laws and criteria all together and throw open the borders to all comers. Anyone found in the territory of the United States would be granted the full rights of citizenship. This, of course, would be an insane abandonment of our claim to statehood and total folly in the age of jet-setting terrorism.

Once the borders are truly protected and illegal entry is a minor occurrence, then the use of a final amnesty to avoid the tearing apart of families who entered under the understood reality of the old rules would be absolutely appropriate and just. As for "guest-worker" programs, I can't imagine how the INS would actually be able to enforce the required periodic return to the home country that is a part of all such proposals. They haven't done an effective job in the current environment. The only feasible approach would be the creation of a national identity card and the requirement that all employers be able to show copies of their workers' cards or face serious criminal penalties. The usual civil liberties objections to such required "paper", best said with a German accent, will make that solution difficult to achieve.

Any legislation that doesn't include national identity cards will be nothing more that a faux solution to the problem. Civil liberty advocates would best be advised to surrender on this issue and focus their energies on preventing and ferreting out truly anti-liberty uses of the ID cards by the government. Such cards are not an inevitable slippery slope.