Immigration (people moving to the US from other countries) is a hot topic now because the State of Arizona passed a new immigration law. Current law in the U S regarding immigration is a real mess and has been for far too long. The main problem is persons coming from mainly Hispanic countries (Mexico, Honduras, etc.) without permission from the U S Government and then accepting work in the U S. Some points in the issue and my observations are:
- A lot of the persons come from Mexico by illegally crossing the border into one of the 4 border states: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. My wife and I are birders and we made one trip to the Rio Grande region near McAllen, TX and another trip to Arizona where we went close to the border south of Douglas, AZ. In both places it seemed quite easy to cross the border at the time we visited, around 1990. On a third trip to southern California in the same time period, we went right up to the steel fence just north of Tijuana, Mexico. It was late afternoon and we saw border patrol personnel driving along the fence on the U S side and occasionally someone peeking through the fence from the Mexican side. It appeared that some Mexicans were preparing for a border crossing after dark. On the Texas trip we drove up along the Rio Grande as far as Falcon Dam. I remember stopping at one border crossing where a bridge went over the river and the bridge had a border control station. At this point the river was very narrow and shallow, and women and children were swimming in the river and picnicking on the Mexican side. At that time there seemed little to keep a person from walking out on the U S side, entering Texas. I do not know if the people swimming were Mexicans or Texans. There were no fences of any kind in this region.
- Every winter we look at birds at the Everglades National Park near Homestead, Florida, south of Miami. This is an area where large amounts of produce (squash, beans, tomatoes, etc) are grown. Groups of farm workers arrive every morning, mainly in their own cars, to harvest or cultivate the crops. Nearly all of the workers appear to be Hispanic. I have no idea what percentage are U S citizens, legal immigrants and illegal immigrants, but I suspect many are illegal (undocumented per the common euphemism). They seem to work very hard, know how to do the stoop labor work, and cause little problems locally. The area just north and west of Homestead has a lot of nurseries and growers of ornamental trees and shrubs and they seem to have mainly Hispanic workers.
- The U S has a problem with some persons who follow the Islamic faith wanting to enter the U S to do some act of terrorism. Muslims come from many parts of the globe and do not all look alike. Very few of them are a problem for the U S and many are major contributors to American business and industry.
- Persons who have the facial features of a Muslim (Arab, Afghan, Pakistani, Indian, Indonesian, etc.) or a hispanic person rightly object to being "racially profiled" and expected to offer proof of their citizenship or legal immigration status when North-European looking persons (English, German, etc) are allowed to pass unchallenged. They should object, but we do need some way to keep terrorists out of the country and a way to control immigration.
- I can think of only one foolproof way and that is for every person in the U S to have an identity card which contains fingerprints, a face photo and retina scan information. This means all U S citizens, all legal immigrants, foreign diplomats and government officials and all visitors (including all tourists). This is not so hard to do. When a tourist arrives in the U S for the first time, he/she is photographed, asked to put his fingers on a glass plate with a camera under it to record his fingerprints and he must look into a retina scanning device. Information from the tourists passport is entered and an identity card issued with all pertinent data. Once he has the identity card, each time he wants to board a flight or cross the border, he presents his card, puts his fingers on the glass and looks into a retina scanner. In seconds, the machine will determine if this is the same person that obtained the card originally. If a person's fingers are damaged in a fire or accidentally amputated (or suffered severe macular degeneration), some extra red tape will be needed, but this could have been done before the day of the flight or border crossing. It would be great if most countries would adopt the same format for ID cards. If some country already has this system, we should think hard about adopting it for the U S.
- OK, let's say we have adopted a universal ID system for everyone who wants to enter the U S. Now what do you do when you catch a person who lacks the universal ID or the ID he offers does not match his biometric data when he tries to enter the country? If the person is at a border crossing, of course you do not permit him to enter the country. If the person has already crossed the border illegally and you catch him near the border, you arrest him, get his fingerprints and any ID he might be carrying, then take him to an official border crossing and make him cross back to his own country. Of course, this only applies to Mexico and Canada. If the person is from some other country, you send him back home by airplane or boat. You do not keep him in the U S for more than a few days.
- A big part of the problem is the large number of immigrants who have been in the country for some time and are working or are being supported by relatives who are working. The problem here is with employers who want to hire illegal immigrants because they can get away with paying them less and they can impose harsher work rules than they could on citizens. Our members of Congress have failed to take any practical measures because they get donations from these employers and also because they fear losing the votes of legal Hispanics voters. The solution to the problem is for everyone to have the biometric ID card I discuss above. When a person applies for a job, he must present his ID card to the employer and the employer (if he hires the person) must relay the card information to the Social Security Administration. Now we know who is working and where they are working. Of course, if the employer hires someone (in the country legally or not) and does not check his biometric ID or does not report it to Social Security, he needs to be fined maybe $5000/day per worker.
Reform of immigration needs to include a total revision of quotas for various countries. Mexico needs a bigger quota as well as China (based on the size of its population). Preference in admitting new immigrants should be based on what the immigrant has to offer for the US (all the legal citizens of the US). Relatives of prior legal immigrants should get no preference. Persons with skills we need should be given preference (scientists, engineers, agricultural workers, etc).
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