Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another Angle on Immigration

I heard an inspirational speaker once talking about the introduction of ramps for the handicapped into public places - banks, shopping malls, airports. The expense was enormous and because of this, many able-bodied folks shook their heads as they passed the construction, thinking of all the other things the money could be spent on.

But as the ramps were completed, he observed all manner of people using them. Many able-bodied folks apparently found the ramps preferable to the stairs --- gentle, less taxing. No rules restricted the use of the ramps, so anyone who wanted to could angle up or down the way, stress free. And of course, those who couldn’t use the stairs before now gained unfettered access to a myriad of services previously held at bay. Everybody benefitted.

Thus, the speaker inspired us to help those in need, even if only for the selfish reason that we would benefit from our own largesse. Stinginess so rarely pays.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service says that to be a legal immigrant into our country, you must enter with a passport and/or a visitor’s visa or a work visa. That’s it. That’s the difference between legal and illegal.

It seems funny that so many come into the United States from Mexico without one of those two documents, a passport or a visa. I think what it means is that many Mexican citizens do not have passports or visas. And, they don’t have the basic information or the means to acquire them. That makes them illegal. That is their crime.

Most Mexican immigrants come here to work. And they do work. We have nearly eight million undocumented immigrants employed in our country now. With numbers like those, deportation is unrealistic, as is prosecution. And in truth, these folks are not true criminals, but rather our neighbors and friends, our colleagues and helpers. Like most everyone around us, they are hard-working, honest people seeking better lives for their families. They abide by our laws; improve their lives and ours by making every day contributions as we do.

When I was a high school principal, the Mexican Consulate apprised me of more than 400 adults in my community, many of them parents of students at my school, who had no identification at all. No driver’s license, nothing. The Consulate came to my school on a Saturday and set up remote communication with Mexico City, enabling those who had birth certificates to acquire their matricula cards, a form of identification that banks across the United States accept for establishing checking and savings accounts. Certainly, a matricula card would be a key component in the process of acquiring a passport or visa. Evidently, in Mexico, a person can move into adulthood without such a thing.

I wonder if, as a part of our response to illegal immigration, we could assist Mexican citizens working in our country in gaining their matricula cards, their passports, and visas. That is to say, instead to trying to keep our fingers plugged into the porous dikes of our borders, instead of building fences and walls, instead of investing in razor wire and weapons, maybe we could consider working with the concept instead of against it.

What might be our benefit in such a scenario?

Millions of dollars now spent on border patrol might be reduced or redirected. The time, manpower, and money expended at and between the portals along the Mexican-American border could be focused on those we truly want to keep out, the real criminals. It’s the drug dealers and thieves, looking to disappear into our country, and to ply their unlawful lifestyles here, that we truly want to identify, apprehend, keep out, or deport. They represent a tiny portion of those crossing the border.

The rest pay sales tax on their purchases, but not income tax because of their lack of documentation. Maybe if we assisted with their documents, we would benefit in tax revenues collected from another eight million employees.

I know it’s not simple. The issue is complex, multi-faceted, and has years of neglect adding to its recalcitrance, not to mention the attendant, boiling emotion. Folks will shake their heads at the expense of such a process. But whatever package of policies we ultimately combine to create immigration reform, we should consider building bridges and ramps, not only fences and walls.