Smart Borders

All future postings from blogger Matthew Webster will now appear on:

http://smartborders.wordpress.com

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We do not need illegal immigrants…

     Talk to any economist or realist, and they will assuredly agree that immigrant labor has made our country what it is and sustains our current economy. Controlling all other variables, if our nation were to cease all immigration or deport all 12 million illegal immigrants, our economy would plummet, our businesses bankrupt, our social security system crumple. We need immigrants; to deny this is to deny America.

     However, we do not need illegal immigrants. There are two ways to supply our businesses and nation with the necessary masses of low-skilled, low-paid workers. One way is our current system of hiring illegal immigrants at a fraction of the cost or employing those on worker visas. This works for us, but at the sake of suspending millions of people’s rights and welfare. Additionally, it perpetuates the influx of illegal immigrants into our nation.

      There is another way, however. If the United States opens up its doors to immigrants in a graduated fashion and allows its current extralegal immigrants to apply for citizenship, we will be inviting a replenishable, legal, documented workforce of higher caliber at still basement wages. Legal immigrants are still highly underpaid for their expertise, and their discounted labor costs will add to our economy; the prime difference, however, is that legal immigrants have the potential and the hope to progress. Contrary to illegal immigrants, newly immigrated citizens can one day hope to work out of low-paying jobs, to unionize, to receive education, to raise a family, to save money, to utilize health-care, to pay taxes and insurance.

Newly immigrated citizens are upwardly mobile individuals starting out on the bottom rung of capitalism; illegal immigrants, however, are locked in the basement of an America which espouses equality. To perpetuate our current stagnation on the immigration issue is to condemn millions of would-be Americans to an inescapable catch-22, caught between the economic necessity of American wages and the absence of human rights bestowed upon our legal citizens. Our nation does not need illegal immigrants, but it does need those people who are on the other side of our current immigration laws and quotas to possess the means for citizenship and become productive, publicly active citizens and workers. We must radically rethink and restructure our immigration laws to legalize hard-working Americalmosts.

Badges of Citizenship

     At the end of the first movie to feature color photography, a certain “cowardly” lion gets a badge of courage and feels filled with bravery. Anyone watching The Wizard of Oz, though, realizes that he has become courageous throughout the entire movie, and that this ceremony is little more than fanfare to celebrate who he already is.

     Working in a high school on the Mexican-American border, I am surrounded by students caught in the immigration process. For one, he waited ten years to finally get approved and win the lottery for citizenship this past December. Another student has already been told by the United States government that he is a desirable applicant but must wait until he wins his place as one of the measly 26,000 Mexicans allowed to legally enter our country each year. And then there’s your high-honors student, involved in extracurriculars and volunteering, who is anxiously waiting to hear whether her September application for citizenship has been accepted.

     Those opposed to granting even partial amnesty to extralegal immigrants in the United States are missing a vital point. Providing illegal residents a means and a hope for legalization does not change who they are intrinsically any more than the Cowardly Lion’s badge made him courageous. For these people it would be a means to greater opportunity, yes, but opportunities for which their studies and work ethic were already prepared. Students who have successfully exited ESL programs, families who are working together to stay off welfare, individuals who are paying taxes through their employer’s reduced wages – all of these people will simply be validated, legalized, and given the means to contribute further to our community.

     An “earned” amnesty initiative would assure that only people who are already acting like responsible citizens would be granted citizenship. The vast majority of the 12 million extralegal immigrants are precisely these sorts of individuals and families, American in everything but name. A piece of paper does not change their morality, their ethics, their talents, their life, their liberty, or their pursuit of happiness – a piece of paper simply ensures that they can fully participate in our democracy and are afforded the rights citizens take for granted. The small percentage of immigrants who do not work towards an earned amnesty are the types of individuals who should be the focus of aggressive national security measures; these measures become feasible only when the number of “lawbreakers” is converted to a manageable number.

     Our country’s cities, restaurants, schools, fields, factories, and economy are buoyed by 12 million individuals who contribute their talents and ideas to our nation of immigrants. The best way to secure our borders, to effectively budget social security and welfare, to maximize worker output, and o encourage each American to strive for his/her very best is to enable some form of earned amnesty in an effort affirm the decision so many immigrants have already made – to work, to study, to be active in the community, to be American.

Part Teacher, Part Mentor

     It is the fate of all educators to come across those students who put teacherly ideals to the test. For first-year teachers wanted to make a genuine difference in every child’s life, it can be frustrating and job-ending to realize that not every student is going to make significant gains in the classroom that year. Students who come but once a week, or who are tardy more often than not, or who transfer late in the year, or who are so far behind they cannot realistically pass their grade-level’s state test – all of these students can be overwhelming when one is truly working day in and day out to teach one’s subject.

      And then there are those students, the ones we we educators do not miss when they are gone. Those students, the children that sleep on a good day and cause ruckus and insurrection in a normal period. Such students seem unfazed by discipline, straight talks, or exciting lesson plans. No matter how many calls home or referrals or verbal warnings or praises or rewards or motivations, these students seem bound and determined to get nothing from our classes.

      Yet that is where we teachers sell ourselves short by measuring our success by a book or a test. At the end of the day, we are equal parts mentor and instructor, role model and educator. And that is how Kourtney (name changed) taught me a lesson. Be it grammar or ghost story, Kourtney just didn’t seem interested in anything more than chatting it up with her friends or attracting the eyes of a male passerby. As a ninth-grader, she had all the emotional maturity of a 2nd grader. I struggled to not give her the negative attention she seemed to crave, but it is tough when students like her offer so little opportunity for positive praise.

      Kourtney had a 20% and seemed to be proud of it. But even though she had missed every major assignment in our six-week grading period, she still faithfully came to every volunteer activity we held. She seemed to come alive helping other people, in a way that she did not in the class. She was curious and almost empathetic. Kourtney seemed more mature outside the classroom (maybe a 4th grader), and she genuinely seemed interested in serving our community.

     That was my epiphany – perhaps it was not my job to teach Kourtney run-on sentences and vocabulary words this year. Maybe my job was not teach her to recognize fragment sentences but help her piece together the fragments of her broken home as she reached out in service to others. If I can just show her the positive power of service as laid out in the Bible, in Martin Luther King, Jr., and college handbooks, maybe I could be a teacher who began to make a difference. I felt a peace, not the peace in giving up on a child but the serenity of realizing one’s role in another person’s life.

Published in: on November 4, 2007 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Criminalization

Much dialogue on marijuana in the last few decades has centered around the large rates of incarceration and the exorbitant cost of imprisonment. According to estimates in Eric Schlosser’s book Reefer Madness, some 20,000 inmates are currently imprisoned primarily for a marijuana charge. Proponents for legalization have a valid point when they argue that if marijuana were no longer criminalized, it would save the United States millions of dollars in lost labor and imprisonment fees.

What is more bizarre, then, is that very few politicians or advocates have spoken loudly or clearly on the topic of immigrant criminalization. With more than 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the United States, this number defies all logical enforcement and flouts our underfunded prisons.

There are essentially two types of bad legislation. Some failed legislation are good laws badly enforced, as in the case of the Emancipation Proclamation or school desegregation in the South. Both of these were good laws which lacked a concerted effort at universal, uniform enforcement. While some states succeeded in integrating students of all ethnicities, many states found loopholes and ways to thwart real enforcement.

The other sort of bad legislation are bad laws impossible to enforce. Prohibition, as laid forth in the 18th Amendment, was a good moral choice but bad legislation. State-mandated alcohol abstinence was impossible to enforce; it succeeded in little more than feeding mob activity and criminalizing thousands of people who up to this point had been law-abiding citizens.

Our current immigration system in the United States would fit into the latter category. With over 12 million illegalized citizens, it is fiscally and theoretically impossible to punish, discipline, fine, imprison, or detain every extralegal immigrant in the U.S. Its enforcement is impossible, but that has not stopped us from pouring $6.7 billion dollars into border security for 2007. Border security received more than a 3% raise from 2006, while education funds remained essentially the same and emergency funds were cut by 2%, even in the wake of the Katrina fiasco. With all these increased border security measures, the cost to apprehend a single illegal immigrant crossing the border has risen from $300 in 1992 to $1700 in 2002. And we still have over 12 million undocumented immigrants.

The only immigration reform which has been approved in the past few years has been in bulking up our border security. However, that is missing the crux of this situation – this is ultimately self-defeating, prohibitively expensive, and impossible to enforce.

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his outspoken speeched against Vietnam, stated that, “Justice is indivisible.” To have a law on the books which is unjust and not being enforced is to shake the very bastions upon which our justice system stands. Ultimately we must join with King in agreeing that, “no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.” While amnesty will not solve everything, offering a feasible path towards citizenship for potential illegal immigrants as well as undocumented workers currently residing in the U.S. will begin to address this article of failed legislation and this pock upon our moral countenance.