Herald Journal Columns
April 3, 2006, Herald Journal

Illegal and unequal


The phrase, “all men are created equal,” is a cornerstone of our nation’s philosophy.

Tom Jefferson first used it in 1776, in his opening to the Declaration of Independence.

Abe Lincoln used the phrase throughout the 1850s, and it was a key element in his Gettysburg Address.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. incorporated the phrase into his famous, “I have a dream” speech.

Throughout our history, this phrase has been used to illustrate one of the key concepts of American thought.

Today, however, some would twist that concept to resemble something more like the version George Orwell used in his brilliant 1945 satirical novel, “Animal Farm.”

Orwell said, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

This seems to be the way some view the immigration problem in our country.

Some business interests would like us to believe that they cannot run their businesses without the availability of cheap immigrant labor to provide a sub-class of workers without legal standing, who will not demand higher wages, benefits, or better working conditions.

Plantation owners in the South made a similar argument prior to the start of the Civil War.

We did not accept this rationalization then, and we should not accept it now.

This line of thinking is unconscionable within the context of the philosophy on which this country was built.

How can we allow a population of nearly 12 million illegal immigrants to live within our borders, and still proclaim the equality of all men?

Extremists on both sides of the issue have used emotional and inflammatory language to try to further their causes.

Those opposed to immigration have advocated building a wall and shipping all undocumented workers back to where they came from.

Pro immigrant groups favor granting amnesty to those who are already here.

We are a nation of immigrants, and the constitution provides us with certain unalienable rights.

But these rights apply to citizens, and citizens also have responsibilities.

Throughout our history, immigrants have worked hard to learn the language, hold down jobs, pay taxes, and be productive members of their communities.

Anyone who wishes to follow that model should be given the opportunity to do so.

On the other hand, to grant wholesale amnesty to those who have entered our country illegally would not only be a horrible precedent for the future, but an insult to the hard-working immigrants who have legally entered the country and helped to build the nation.

The immigrants of the past wanted to be part of this country, they did not expect the country to change to accommodate them.

And what message would granting amnesty to illegal immigrants send to the millions of people who are playing by the rules, and waiting in their home countries for legal entry into the US?

Asking immigrants to meet certain basic standards does not mean that they need to abandon the culture of their former country. Diversity has helped make this country what it is.

But there are responsibilities that should be mandatory.

Having a minimum language requirement, for example, is not unreasonable. It is practical, and the right thing to do.

To function and succeed in this country, it is necessary to speak English.

What is the cost of printing all of our government forms and publications in multiple languages? What is the cost of injuries that result from people who cannot read simple instructions or road signs?

The cost of health care in this country is growing astronomically. How much of that cost is the result of hospitals and clinics providing care for people who are illegally in the country and cannot afford health care?

Who benefits from having an entire segment of the population that is in the country illegally?

Business interests clearly benefit because it provides cheap labor.

But what about the rest of society? It contradicts the basic philosophy that our country was built on, and entails hidden costs which we all must pay.

What about the illegal immigrants themselves?

Conditions here may be far better than in the countries from which they came, but is being exploited by employers, working long hours for minimal pay, and living in constant fear of discovery and deportation really part of the American dream?

Clearly, the system is broken, and we need to fix it.

Political rhetoric and emotional positioning will not get the job done.

One of the more absurd proposals that has been put forward involves a “guest worker program” that would ask illegal immigrants to sign up for a program that would grant them temporary status to allow them to work in this country for three to six years. At the end of this time, they would need to return to their former country before applying for US citizenship.

It seems unlikely that people will be lining up to sign up for this program anytime soon.

Protests have been staged around the country demanding immigrant rights.

But, there is a basic contradiction in the position of those who claim they love this county and are not criminals, yet continue to avoid legal status, thereby avoiding the responsibilities of citizenship.

We cannot afford, nor should we accept the continuation of an undocumented, illegal population.

In the interest of national security, our borders need to be secure. We need to know who is entering the country and why.

Part of the solution lies with those who directly benefit from illegal immigration.

Penalties for businesses that employ undocumented workers should be sufficient to make the practice unprofitable.

There must be a path for those who wish to legally become citizens, and consequences for those who wish to live outside the system.

All workers and citizens should be treated equally. Our constitution promises it, and our conscience should demand it.

But in order to ensure equality, we all need to play by the same rules.

As long as we continue to condone the influx and employment of undocumented immigrants, the exploitation and abuse will continue.

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