The grand debate |

The grand debate

A group of friends were recently discussing the suddenly hot topic of illegal immigration; the conversation went something like this:

A middle-aged man named Tom began the discussion, “Boy am I glad to see that the Congress is finally addressing the immigration issue. I mean something’s gotta be done; illegal aliens are destroying the social fabric of our country, overloading the system and creating a permanent underclass.”

His friend Carol responded, “C’mon Tom, aren’t you being a bit of an alarmist about this? The inexpensive labor immigrants provide doesn’t harm us, it keeps the cost of goods and services down, and that benefits everyone.”

Dick, who was standing next to Carol interjected, “That’s not entirely accurate, Carol. In the grand scheme of things, by artificially keeping labor costs down, we are unwittingly eliminating the need for capital investment in much of our infrastructure. And capital investment along with increasing wages has historically created a broad middle class in this country ” and that’s what really keeps America strong.”

Carol thought about this and opined, “Come on fellas, this is much ado about nothing. We should just allow those who are already here to stay, along with their families, of course. After all, we are a compassionate society that has welcomed immigrants for more than 200 years. Besides, they pay taxes.”

Harry, still in his mid-20s and the youngest of the group contended, “I admire your compassion, Carol, but your tax argument doesn’t hold water.”

Carol: “How’s that?”

Harry: Well, perhaps you weren’t aware that collectively all the taxes paid by illegal immigrants make up less than a third of what it costs local, state and the federal government to support them with the additional services they necessitate. Heck, yesterday I read that the state of California spent more than $8 billion in just one year to accommodate non-English speaking kids in its schools.”

Carol: “That may be, Harry, but it’s morally wrong to deny services to illegal immigrants.”

Harry: “No one is talking about denying services, but you’ve got to understand that it’s not right to expect the rest of us to pick up the tab. And speaking of morality, is it morally right to allow illegal immigrants to live here without consequences when we know it only encourages an entire subculture to expect benefits and services they neither pay for nor are entitled to?”

Alice, the eldest and most “worldly” of the group interjected, “Harry, don’t forget that in one form or another we are all children of immigrants. Immigration has been and continues to be an important component of America’s economy and social fabric.”

Harry: “Alice, add the word LEGAL to your statement and I’ll agree with you. LEGAL immigrants built this country, that’s why I don’t like the message our current policy sends to the people who played by the rules, and waited years for the chance to live and work here … It’s not fair to them.

Besides, the message it sends to all the “would be” illegal immigrants is, ‘Just get yourself across the border and you’re home free.’ Hey, I’m a compassionate guy, but those are messages I don’t think we should be sending, that’s why I like the Senate plan for Z visas and controlling the border.”

Ted, who had been thus far silent, though listening intently, added, “You’re right Harry, this isn’t about compassion. This is about the rule of law, because when a nation does not enforce its laws, including immigration laws, it invites abuse of all laws.

It’s high time we treated our immigration laws like laws instead of guidelines to be followed. There is a right way and a wrong way to enter this county and if this new plan focuses on establishing a “right way” that addresses the 12 million illegal immigrants already here, then I say it’s about time.”

Carol, now feeling a bit put-upon, intoned, “Yeah, but the proposed bill also includes building a 370-mile wall; isn’t that like Berlin?”

Ted: “Carol, your analogy is misleading; the Berlin Wall kept people IN against their will. This is about keeping people who don’t belong here out!

And if it takes a wall to stop people from entering this country illegally, I’m all for it.”

Linda, who also had been silent thus far said, “Ted is absolutely right, but let’s not forget that America is also the land of opportunity … and I believe in second chances, and that’s what this proposed bill does ” it gives people a second chance.

I like the idea of giving people here illegally the opportunity to start over with a clean slate IF they follow the rules. However, they must also understand there are no shortcuts. If these new Z visas allow people to earn citizenship over time I think the bill should pass provided, of course, that the government actually secures the border and punishes employers who violate the new law with stiff penalties.”

Ted: “Ya know Linda, I understand your position, but what I don’t like is the fact that the way the new bill is written, the minute these Z visas are issued, 12 million people who are here illegally instantly become eligible for more than 60 different federal welfare programs ” programs they have neither paid for nor earned the right to use, and that’s gonna cost this country billions!”

The debate continued well into the night.

Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at

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