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Path to immigration’s solution

Alex Miller

Like abortion and capital punishment, immigration reform appears to be one of those things we’ll have to agree to disagree on. But does that mean nothing can be done about the current untenable situation? Millions of people live in the country illegally. We respond by wringing our hands over the burdens they bring, while hiring them to mow our lawns and clean our condos.From those who want to erect a new Great Wall between San Diego and the Gulf of Mexico to others advocating a more lenient guest-worker program and everything in between, there’s only one real solution being pursued with any zeal: mucking along with the status quo. There are a number of reasons for that, one of which is that the Tom Tancredos on one extreme end are drowning out any moderate voices in the middle.But we need that middle, that place of reason. Does anyone really believe we’re going to get to the point where we build an enormous wall or fence along the entire Mexico-U.S. border? Or that we’re going to establish some kind of Gestapo force to identify, condemn and deport every last person in the country illegally? Moral arguments aside, the business community – from the lettuce farms of California to the construction sites of Vail – will never stand for wholesale deportation of its labor force.On the other hand, those who distill the whole argument down to the simple fact of an immigrant’s illegal status have a point. When Americans decide to move to France or New Zealand – or Mexico – they certainly expect to do so under the laws of those countries. They would be quite surprised to discover officials simply looking the other way as they stayed indefinitely, partook of national benefits, and sent a good portion of their income back to the U.S.The size of the illegal immigrant population suggests, though, that coming to the U.S. without authorization is not seen as such a big deal – unless we’re to conclude that every single one of these people is “bad.” People are people, and they have been migrating toward greener pastures for millennia. The fault lies as much with the U.S. and its enabling of the problem as it does Mexico itself, which is obviously not taking care of its people. Simply screeching about the illegality does nothing to address the problem and plenty to vilify people who only want a better life, or simply more money. Any “real Americans” out there not willing to sympathize with that desire?Moderates on the issue make a good case for creating a better work visa program – something that would allow immigrants to come and stay here legally for several years. That way, they could be tracked, taxed and nudged out when their time’s up. Obviously, this would need to be accompanied by a much better system of people management. But it would stop short of building a wall. As it stands now, much of the illegal traffic is due to the absence of a realistic guest-worker program, one that goes beyond the needs of those here only seasonally. Some see this as an “amnesty” of sorts, and reject it on the grounds that it rewards those acting illegally. But do we want to begin to solve the problem or just be “right?” If it’s a true set of solutions we want, we need to set aside the emotion, focus on the facts and put forth ideas that both make sense from a policy standpoint and that are sensitive to the needs of the very real human beings arriving in our communities.Our opinion pages teem these days with comments from people who sound filled with hate. From water coolers and bar stools to state legislatures to the halls of Congress in Washington, the language of intolerance and even racism trumps all else. We can already hear the angry responses to this opinion, maybe even from both sides. People of any nation should not be allowed to enter or stay in the U.S. illegally. But walls, martial law or fear are not the tools that will best address the problem.In our polarized nation, every important issue is painted in black or white, right or wrong, with scarce room in the gray middle for reason and discussion. Maybe it’s time to set that emotionally charged, childish approach aside and talk about something as important as immigration policy from the vantage of logic, reason and – dare we say it? – compassion. Nah! Let’s just fight. A.M.Assistant Managing Editor Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.com. He developed and edited the Daily’s recent series on illegal immigration with Swift sister papers throughout Colorado.


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