The human side of illegal immigration

border-crossingThe angry revolt on the right about the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill” would never have happened had Congress not squandered its credibility with its previous, half-hearted “reforms.” But if Congress is two-faced about meaningful immigration reform, it only reflects the attitudes of our nation at large.

Conservatives — read Republicans — are huge beneficiaries of a large and compliant low-wage labor force. They operate a great many of the small businesses that prosper on the sweat of illegals, and they all benefit — we all benefit — from a plentiful and cheap supply of goods and services.

Which is why Republicans in Congress can’t be certain whether to listen to the “seal the border” Republicans, or the “don’t penalize employers” Republicans, or the “keep strawberries cheap” Republicans. Conservatives do not have clean hands on this issue.

According to a 2005 study by the Pew Hispanic Center, 65% of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants are employed, primarily in farming (24% of the total labor force), cleaning (17%), construction trades (14%) and food preparation (12%).

Mexicans continue to line up for the chance to risk their lives crossing the Arizona desert because there are jobs here. They earn a King’s fortune cleaning toilets, washing clothes, mowing lawns, serving food, picking vegetables, paving roads, painting and roofing and sheet-rocking houses.

While they are here, they live crowded together in shared apartments. They keep a low profile, which means they rarely seek medical help when ill and rarely file a complaint when cheated or abused. They pay income taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes and Social Security taxes without receiving any of the benefits of citizenship.

Our hands are dirty. Conservative pundits may loudly complain about a porous border, but they are happy to reap the benefits of low prices made possible by a cheap labor force.

We invited these people here. If it were not so, we would refuse on principle to use any of the products and services they provide. We would clean our own hotel rooms, purchase our food from small, family growers, hire the neighbor kid to mow the grass and choose the highest bidder to repaint the house.

Our hands are dirty. Which means we all have a responsibility to treat this underclass of expatriate men and women — and their children — with dignity, kindness, decency, and respect.

You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. — Exodus 23:9, NLT

A democratic nation has the right to establish its own laws and policies. It has the right to seal its borders. However, a Christian political ethic will not become so focused on policy and law and rights that it fails to treat the human beings — God’s children — who are at the business-end of those laws with the respect they are due.

However we resolve our immigration problems, we must love the foreigners among us.

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  1. TheRightThing says

    So what should we say to all the people who have waited, and followed the letter of the law, and came to the Country legally. Oh, wait, I see the problem, this process could take Years, and those that are here illegally don’t want to wait. When they get here, what jobs to they take…. Hmmm, let’s see they stand on a street corner waiting to be picked up for day labor, oh landscaping (what, they don’t have grass in the Country where they originally come from), Harvest workers (picking produce… Again, no farms back home), and oh yes, dishwashing…. To the Politicians who are fighting so hard to make this bill a law, I will support you on one huge condition. I want you to invite them to come live with you, in your house; go to school with your children; and adopt english as the “Official – one and only” language of the United States of America. Forget this Spanish stuff….

  2. Demonizing the general public, although wrongfully apathetic, that has lost control of a government gone mad is the usual tactic of bleeding-heart liberals and conservatives who are themselves unworthy of the intellectual time of day.

    I really like the emotional argument about the children of illegal alien parents who came here…illegally. You know what? Those parents came here knowing full well that they were breaking the law. When breaking any law, there’s always the risk of discovery and punishment. Deportation is the usual result of capture if one is an illegal alien. That can also rightfull involve their offspring. We’re told that those children will suffer in their parent’s native country.

    Well, HELLO! They took the gamble, had some kids, and we’re the bad Americans for enforcing the law those people chose to break? Why is there no outrage over those parent’s responsibility for their own actions? Emotional argumentation against the obvious always works in the minds of dupes who refuse to acknowledge the obvious.

  3. You’ve got it right, Charlie. These are real people with real needs. We may succeed in keeping them from crossing illegally into our country, but that wouldn’t solve anybody’s problem — not theirs, and not ours either. I think that opinion is growing that the root of the current problem, from the “supply” side, is the corruption, poverty, and lack of opportunity (these being integrally related) in their home countries. Until these conditions change, the pressure to emigrate to the U.S. to find a decent job with a decent income will never subside, and no fence will hold it back. There are things we could do to improve this situation, especially in Latin America. But, as you say, the other side of us is very happy to take advantage of the lower costs that illegal immigration brings to us.

    I’m not in favor of illegal immigration. I know a pastor in southern Mexico who preaches against it to his congregation. He knows about the legality issue. He also knows the tremendous social costs at home that emigration brings. Are we going to help or just reinforce the edges of our personal country?

    It has been rightly pointed out that if the average American could trade the job he is doing in his home country for the same job in Canada at ten times the wages, there is nothing that would keep him at home. In that case it wouldn’t be a case of necessity, as it is for so many in southern Mexico, for example, but rather just a response to the disparity.

    By the way, if TheRightThing actually knew the people he is writing about, he would be delighted to have them living in his neighborhood and sending their children to the schools his own kids attend. I’d be willing to bet that they’d be a good influence on his kids. I don’t know about having them live in my own house. Does any American want to have another family, even of his own choosing, living long-term with him in his house? And what does the language thing have to do with it? Hurts you if other people prefer to communicate in a different language? No one’s making you punch “Spanish” at your ATM machine. But you might learn something if you did.

    Charlie, you’ve got to fix this comments window. I have to choose between reading an impossibly-small font or else constantly scrolling back and forth.

  4. TheRightThing (aka. Murray) and Blademan (aka. Fred),

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, yes, “illegal” immigrants have broken the law. Talk about stating the obvious. It isn’t an observation that moves us towards a solution, is it?

    As long as they are permitted to hold jobs, however, it is pretty clear that our government has 2 opposite policies regarding illegals:


    arrest and deport illegals caught on the way to finding jobs;


    look the other way and forget about illegals who find jobs and work to support the American economy.

    There would be no illegals if we created a worker program to supply American businesses with unskilled labor and legal rights for Mexican laborers who want to work here. I’ve written about the Bracero program that fed America during WWII here.

    So the question I’d ask the right is this: Is this Conservative opposition to meaningful immigration reform mere xenophobia, or is there some willingness to drop the flaming rhetoric and create a legal structure that matches up an unskilled labor force in Mexico with American employers who need workers? What do you think?

  5. You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. — Exodus 23:9, NLT

    Somewhat more recently, we came here from Europe and displaced (that is as kindly as I can put it) the native American indians.

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