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Illegal Immigrants?

By Felipe P. Manteiga
Immigrant.
Casting migration in simple polarized terms like "legal" and "illegal," discusses the form, but not the substance, of a political decision that will shape America in the 21st. Century.

Society, guided by institutions reflecting its power structure and political processes determines what is “legal" or "illegal" through its institutions Once upon a time, citizens could own disenfranchised slaves and treat them as commodities, not human beings. A group in the US imposed its view on slavery on another large segment of our population--and slavery became illegal. And disappeared. Today, some would like to keep marijuana illegal even when a large group of senior citizens and many in the medical profession would like chemotherapy patients to benefit from its effects. The American voter, reflecting the will of society, has decided to keep criminalized or "illegal" its use. In the 2004 elections, Ohio voters supported the Wall Mart model vs the American Blue Collar worker model. The citizens want to keep legal measures enacted to protect those foreign goods and services regardless of job loss or depressed middle class income.

Legal or illegal reflects a societal decision. Immigrants are "illegal" because we, as a nation, want to label them as such. As I travel through the US, community leaders present diverse views on migration. These grass root leaders worry that the proposed bill will create havoc in our farm economy, our hospitality industry, and our construction sector. Some argue that specific industries, primarily those requiring low skilled workers(e.g. nursing homes, hospitals) will be more affected than others (e.g., Silicon Valle has found legal mechanism to bring skilled migrants).

As a matter of fact, the effectiveness of any migration legislation should be monitored and evaluated by the number of farms collapsing, lost agricultural and agribusiness export markets, nursing homes closing (or number of seniors dying faster), and the closing down of small and medium hotels, restaurants and cleaning firms or increased costs and prices in better capitalized ones (e.g., stressed bottom lines pay less taxes and reduce retained earning, the engine of economic growth). On the upswing, the tracking of legislative effectiveness should identify changes in salaries, State tax revenues, and costs of providing State and county services.

Another concern creeps in from an unexpected angle. The baby boomers quickly approach their own retirement age. Without a new wave of small investors and consumers, who will buy stocks as we liquidate them to supplement our annuities? or real state as "empty nesters" downsize, or our farms as seasoned farmers fade away and their children prefer the city lights?

Of course, the issue of national values, an ideological one, shapes the debate and its outcome. After all, values determined the legality of slavery, legitimatized the political incorrectness of suffragettes, approved hated new family modalities (e.g., divorce) and the end of the imposition of a "good" on the population, the "dry" period. Family, religion, education and media, and civil society nurture those values. As a Christian I have always admired a great tradition in our nation, a great innovation by the Founding Fathers: the separation of Church and State (my experience in countries that mix them, like many in the Middle East, have only increased my admiration).

No question: our flexible Constitution must be respected by all, independent of any religious beliefs. A wise way to preserve such delicate balance between religious believes and civic or legal responsibilities seeks to avoid direct clashes with crucial values--specially when those values emerge from both religious and civic attitudes in the paradigm of "majority rules, minority rights". This bill, however, will create significant stress in the social fabric: will I incur a sin of omission to abide by this law? Or will I risk jail because no human being will be left to die, nor to suffer unfair imprisonment, nor to go without basic help in food and clothing if I can help her within the limited scope of my modest resources? Will I give a helping hand to a pregnant young mother or let her child die due to lack of food and medicine, a child that cannot yet choose? Shouldn't we, as Americans, reject, as a threat to our national core values, the "institutionalization" of a permanently disenfranchised under-class without voting rights, no legal protection, teeming masses vulnerable to organized crime and sordid interests?.

The debate must be refocused. To hide behind the "legal" or "illegal" binary hurts our country and, very directly, our own personal welfare. American leaders, hopefully including some unbiased and knowledgeable thinkers, should engage the migration “theme