Thursday, November 08, 2007

Immigration law reform needs some plain sense
By Darlene Casella

Congress has again failed to pass an immigration bill. The extreme right thinks that building a fence will secure the borders and solve the immigration problem. The extreme left thinks that we should have open borders and give everyone a path to citizenship. Opposite sides of this issue are both dead wrong. We need immigrant workers, and they should have legal access to jobs. They should be not granted citizenship, free education or unlimited medical benefits. Serious and comprehensive reform is required.

Groups like the Heritage Foundation report astounding figures regarding the cost of illegal immigration. Their goal is to prevent amnesty. Preventing amnesty is not a solution to the immigration issue. U.S. policy should reduce illegal immigration, secure our borders, and strengthen our economy. Enforcement without reform is doomed to fail. Even Cesar Chavez was against illegal immigration, for secure borders. We must change the law to accommodate our need for foreign labor and their need to earn wages.

We need immigrant workers. Unemployment is a low 4.5 percent. We have the oldest workforce in our history. Less than 10 percent of Americans are unskilled, without a high school diploma. There are not enough American workers to pick lettuce under the hot sun, or scrub floors and toilets at night. Jobs are created. We cannot fill them. Immigrants fill the void. Our economy would be crippled and prices would jump enormously if these laborers were removed from our economy.

Legal access to work does not mean citizenship, or free education, or unlimited medical care. It means legal worker status. A formal guest worker program would provide a comprehensive method for workers to enter the U.S. As it is now, workers cross the borders illegally, some die excruciating deaths in the attempt. When they get here, they stay because of the risks of re-entry.

With a reformed worker access system, workers would come here, earn money and return home on a regular basis. Workers with legal status would not be forced to bring their loved ones on the treacherous journey to America. They would not need to pay criminals to smuggle them across the border. They would not risk death in dangerous crossings. They could return home any time, to see and provide for their families. Illegal workers currently living in the U.S. could apply for legal worker status. It would not be a path to citizenship, but it would give rights to be here, and legal access to jobs. One path to citizenship that is currently available to illegal immigrants is to join the U.S. military. That should not change.

We have no program in which guest laborers can come, even on a temporary basis. With no legal means to hire immigrant workers; many U.S. corporations are moving south of the border. That includes local agribusiness that makes up a huge percent of the economic vitality in the Coachella Valley and Riverside, Imperial and San Diego counties. Losing these businesses will have drastic affects on our local economy.

The federal government has bungled immigration policies for decades. The latest Congress put heavy burdens on business, with fines and penalties for hiring illegal workers. Congress has enacted irrational and brutish implementation. Officials raid business and round up illegals whose crime is working. Tempers flare between the "seal our borders" right; and the "make everyone a citizen" left. To further their ineffective bungling, Congress enacts more wrongheaded legislation. Put common sense into immigration law.

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