Fresh views needed in debate on immigration

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President Bush will conclude his two-day trip to the south and southwest today as he continues his efforts to keep immigration law reform on the national agenda. But unlike Social Security reform, this particular issue might have some legs, and as with anything that this president manages to get his hands on, we should all brace for impact.

As has been reported again and again, the contentious debate over immigration law in the United States has threatened party bonds within the GOP, forcing pro-business policymakers and lobbyists bent on cheap labor to confront their counterparts on the “deep right” who want to see the borders tightened. Tighter border security is needed to curb historically lax rules on immigration, the deep right contends. The pro-business folks, on the other hand, have a greater appreciation for U.S. labor needs, despite whatever personal attitudes they might have for or against a more free-flowing U.S.-Mexico border.

After years of non-movement on this issue in Congress, President Bush is moving forward with his own framework for a plan, which includes both a guest worker program for undocumented immigrants and tighter border security. It’s a way of pleasing both sides of the Republican Party, and a seemingly smart move politically, at minimum. The logistics to launch such a two-faced program will take years, but “progress” is progress.

I’m not sure where I lie on this issue, and I’m not alone.

While I appreciate the benefits of an unfiltered border as a liberally thinking idealist, many people like me are still tugged at by the confident head-nod of immigration’s conservative side, which seems to make a convincing point that a free flow of immigration without order is harmful to the U.S. labor force and social services in some major way.

At a time when every American “entitlement” program is already under threat, I’m inclined to think we don’t have any social services left to spare, especially for people who don’t legally have the right to be here. When Democrats like me go off on tangents about the seemingly unceasing need to fund and fund and fund social programs like health care and public education, the GOP has quite a mismanagement curveball to throw back in their faces: immigration’s abuses of that system. That’ll become exceptionally important in 2006.

But it’s important to be human, too, and to acknowledge U.S. history as a wonderful product of hard-working immigrants. To draw the line and say no more only because Republicans consider boosting entitlement spending some sort of crime because it involves something crazy called “new government revenue” is more than silly – it’s insincere. What if these new Americans paid taxes, too, and funded the very programs they threaten?

The millions of human beings now in the United States legally and illegally who have entered the country because of lax border rules need clarification on what American law really is in this area. Years of shady policy have made it unclear as to what immigrants are really lawfully able to obtain and pursue in life, which is an unfair burden to place on any person, U.S. citizen or not. As the Los Angeles Times reported yet again this past weekend, contradictory and confusing laws within and between states have sent mixed signals to immigrants and potential immigrants: “Please come here. Or not. If you want. Maybe.”

But seeing as the impetus for the White House’s immigration plan is to fix disparity between border security concerns and the very real need to fill a gap in the U.S. labor market, it is possible that this tug of war will produce even more confusion in its remedy. The important questions of what to do with people who are already here once that “remedy” is introduced is one of many glaring holes in this early plan. Also, what will happen to the various homegrown anti-immigration movements once more logical and lawful solutions present themselves? The Minutemen aren’t likely to just give up their efforts on a promise.

Perhaps the GOP is simply incapable to solving this problem on its own. California’s Proposition 187 – in short, a 1994 loss of social services of undocumented immigrants that was eventually given the boot by state courts – is a testament to this inability.

Like an abortion debate that only involves white Christian men in their 60s, we need to open the discussion up to include more voices to properly understand what’s at stake.

Instead of how seeing how the various factions of the Republican Party will be pleased by any given plan, which is what’s going on now, it certainly would be a marvel to actually consider the people being affected by these laws, and not just the U.S. labor market.

But is any president or Congress – Republican or Democrat – capable of that?

As the tide seemingly turns toward the Minutemen craze and the possibility of erecting walls between Mexico and the United States, perhaps what the compassionate American has to bank on is the fact that maybe before the next goofy plan is erected, the Latino voting bloc will become so strong that any plan developed will match the needs of every side of the debate, and not just the pro-business backward-thinking GOP.

Ryan Denham can be reached at editor@csun.edu.