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Immigration's cost

By Kimberley Jane Wilson
web posted March 8, 2004

"You know, what we need to do is to round 'em all up and ship 'em out of here!"

I was at a small party held in a friend's home and somehow the conversation turned to illegal immigration. The man who spoke was tall and had to lean down in order to look me in the eye as he talked and I inwardly cringed as each puff of beer breath blasted my way. The two other people who were standing with us nodded in agreement.

The conversation moved on to other things but I kept thinking about what the man had said. Illegal immigration has become one of the hottest of the hot button topics. Start talking about it and people will either get angry because they feel that the country is being overwhelmed, and that working class Americans are being betrayed or they get sentimental because to them the word immigrant still means Great grandpa Joe arriving at Ellis Island from the Old Country with just the clothes on his back and a dream in his heart.

Think what you like about the guy at the party but he's not alone in his feelings. Quietly, more and more Americans have come to the conclusion that something needs to be done about this country's immigration situation. Feeling this way doesn't make these people xenophobic, bigoted or hard hearted. We're in the middle of a not so sweet economy. A lot of people are out of work or are wondering how safe their jobs really are. They're nervous and getting angry.

The industries that employ illegal immigrants may be saving money but American taxpayers certainly aren't. Cheap labor has a price that we all have to pay. Depending on whose figures you are using there are 8 to 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. Most, particularly those from Mexico live in poverty or near poverty. It costs billions to provide them with emergency room health care, education for their school aged children and to incarcerate those who turn to violent crimes. On top of this immigration, both legal and illegal has depressed the wages of black and white unskilled workers who were already struggling.

In January, President Bush unveiled a temporary guest worker program. It's filled with good intentions and seeks to please as many groups as possible. Of course we all know where the road paved with good intentions leads and in trying to please everyone the plan has so far proved to be about as popular as a kid with measles at a birthday party.

Boiled down to its core, the White House program is little more than an amnesty proposal and that is what has infuriated so many people but it is an effort, a halting, flawed one, but an effort still, to find a humane way of dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants who are already here and -- let's be honest about this, have no intention of leaving.

You may wonder why we should bother to deal with them at all. You may even be thinking along the same lines as the guy at my friend's party. Well forget it. Mass deportation is just not going to happen. It has a distinctly ugly Old Europe feel to it and would require Nazi style tactics to make it work. So, here we are with a problem that needs to be solved. The White House plan may not be the solution but we can't allow our leaders to go back to sitting around pretending that the problem does not exist.

(c) 2004 Kimberley Jane Wilson

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