Monday, May 1, 2006

What of this Immigration Reform Brouhaha?

Well, I figure it's about time that I get around to saying something about this. My delay is certainly not from a lack of things to say. If anything, it's from an overabundance of things to say. This has led to a bit of paralysis, as it's been difficult to try to distill my thoughts down to a blog-entry-sized object. (I think most of my entries are probably too long anyway, and this one has the potential to be a monster.) As today's the day of the "Great American Boycott" and protests in the streets, I might as well take this opportunity to yammer along with everyone else. Here goes:

On the maternal side of my family, my mother is a first-generation native-born American. On the paternal side, my father is either first- or second-generation (depending on which of his parents is counted as the precedent setter in such matters). So what that means is that I come from immigrants, and not from all that long ago. Three of my four grandparents were born in foreign lands. It is of absolutely no consequence to me whether they all came here legally or not. The truth of the matter is that I have no idea whether any of them were illegals or not. I'm sure it would be a simple matter of making a quick phone call to my parents to find out. But I think it's important to go on record as saying that what follows are my opinions on the debate, untainted by that knowledge. . . . And to furthermore go on record as promising you, gentle reader, that if/when I find the answer to that question, it stands no chance of influencing how much I appreciate their sacrifices or how glad I am that they made their journeys. Nor does the answer hold any transformative power over any opinions I am about to express in the following paragraphs.

These people who are saying "a person can't be illegal" are making an absurd point. Likewise, the senators (McCain, Kennedy, etc., . . .) who keep saying "I wouldn't call it amnesty". Blah, blah, blah.

If they want to argue semantics, they make no headway.

Don't want me to say "illegal alien"? How about "criminal trespasser?" Does that have a nicer ring to it? I don't think so. Frankly, I think "illegal alien" has a much softer tone to it. It's nice and gentle. Not quite so hostile. And so I find it to be a preferable term. That doesn't make it any more accurate in its description. Either way, coming here illegally is a crime.

Don't want me to say "amnesty"? Try coming up with a bill that says something other than [paraphrasing here:] consequence-free environment. If a person's first act on American soil is to commit a crime by stepping onto American soil, then that person is a criminal. Period. Just like I'm a criminal because sometimes I speed. Now, that's an entirely separate issue from whether it's a felony or a misdemeanor that I'm committing. The point is that when I break the law, I accept that there are potential consequences. I live in a society that says, "If you speed, you might get fined. You might get points added to your record, the cumulative value of which might eventually make it illegal for you to operate a motor vehicle at all." I accept that. And I weigh the value of that risk against the value of committing the crime. I expect that when I get caught, there will be consequences (and I do make a conscious effort to keep within the posted speed limit). I don't expect a cop to let me off with a warning, and I have enough of a conscience that I will refuse (on principle) to contest any speeding ticket if I was, in fact, speeding.

This is the dance of the criminal, no? Weighing the risk against the reward and deciding whether it's worth it? This is anarchy. It's how the world works. And it keeps most of the people within generally accepted societal norms most of the time. That's the best we can hope to do.

Depending on the severity of the punishment (which is largely dictated by how much the society abhors the act (or at least that's how it should be)), fewer people step outside of the major boundaries than step outside of the minor ones. If we, as a society, say "if you've broken this law, then we won't make any effort at all to take you to task for it"--which is exactly what the McCain/Kennedy bill proposes to say--then we, as a society, are offering amnesty to criminals. It really is that simple. Exactly that simple. No more, no less. Period.

It doesn't depend on "what the definition of is is". (And while I'm here, I might as well go back an administration to say this: If she came into contact with your naughty bits or if you came into contact with her naughty bits, and if that contact was for the purpose of either procreation (which it apparently wasn't) or to provide at least one of you with physical pleasure (which it apparently was), then YES, OF COURSE it was sex!!!! That there has ever been anyone who stood on the other side of the fence on that issue is an astonishing bit of evidence that our society is way on the wrong side of the mountain, and not on its way up.)

Looking back on my life, many of the longest-lasting relationships I have had (not counting family) have largely been with people who were born outside of this country. And it's probably fair to say that I consider several of them to be among my best friends--the people who, in large part, have meant the most to me over the years.

There are a few points that should be noted here:

1) I didn't travel abroad to meet them. They came here (from Nicaragua, from Vietnam, from Korea, from Canada, etc., . . .).

2) I never asked any of them whether they came here legally. That's not my business. I wasn't employing them. Instead, I was sharing my path in life, to one degree or another, with them. I got to know them as people. And that's what enriched me along the way.

3) My assumption upon meeting people is to trust that they are not up to no good. My assumption as regards foreigners: If you've come here, you've come here legally.

I like to believe the best in people unless/until given reason to believe otherwise. Maybe that's just my nature or maybe it's something in the American mindset. (Note: I really hope it's the latter. I like to think this trust and appreciation for what others can bring to the table is a shared American experience. I like to think it's among the best qualities that we, as a people, can aspire to exhibit.)

4) If I were hiring these people, you bet I would consider it my responsibility to get the appropriate documentation as evidence that it's legal for me to hire them (and legal for them to be hired). That's among the responsibilities of a business owner. Follow the laws of the land.

I'm a white guy. (My wife told me a few weeks ago that I'm the whitest guy she knows, which frankly disturbed me a bit.) I don't have a foreign accent. I speak like someone who has spent his entire life here. I walk the streets as if I am entitled by birthright to walk the streets (as opposed to acting like I'm afraid I will be exposed as an interloper). I mention these last few points to demonstrate one thing: If you were to meet me in person, you would have absolutely no reason to believe anything other than that I am a citizen. And yet, I have never received a "pass" on the citizenship paperwork issue when getting hired for a job. My expectation is that if I had been unable to provide that documentation, I would have been turned away. That's how this system is supposed to work.

Illegal immigrants are criminals, by definition. The question for employers then becomes: Will you choose to join them in that classification or will you do what the law says you are supposed to do? And the question for our society becomes: Will you condone these crimes or not?

And that's really where this current debate stands.

It's sort of like an inverted ex post facto, no? For me, there's where the real fascinating point of the whole brouhaha lies.

Fourth: (And this is where I am most passionate about this issue. . .) I can't for the life of me figure out why we haven't established an official national language!* I believe we should. (Actually, I believe previous generations should have done so long ago, but given that it hasn't happened yet, isn't it about time?)

We've come a long way in fighting discrimination. An employer can't legally discriminate on the basis of skin color or religion or sex (or, I'm happy to be able to report, here in New Hampshire (although this state is sadly in the small minority) on the basis of sexual orientation). I think we're a stronger and better country because we've outlawed these kinds of institutional discrimination. There is absolutely no reason why any of these forms of discrimination would benefit us.

But there is one area where I can unhappily forsee our trajectory going. If we reach it, we've gone too far: I don't ever want to wake up knowing that employers in this country are required to hire people who can't communicate in English because it violates some wrong-minded anti-discrimination law. I firmly believe that we need a common tongue for our nation to continue to thrive. We need to be able to communicate with each other. Where that ability breaks down, so does our nation.

I guess I've gone on long enough for tonight. And I haven't even touched on the notion of what we symbolize to the rest of the world:
[Are we widely considered to be the land of opportunity or is that phrase meaningful only to our own national self-identity? How and why has (or hasn't) this meme spread throughout the globe? Shouldn't we be combatting it, not by restricting the opportunity here, but by promoting opportunity elsewhere? Couldn't making the rest of the world feel less downtrodden help to decrease anti-American sentiment? Wouldn't that help our national security more in the long term than would building a wall?]

Oh well, maybe another day. For now, I'm hungry. It's time to fix myself a meal.

* To be more accurate, I would have us establish two official languages: English and American Sign Language.

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