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Path to Citizenship, or Ship to Nowhere?

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The Senate, in what they tell us is a bipartisan plan for immigration reform, cloaked its partisan nature behind something they euphemistically call "a path to citizenship." That would certainly be a step in the right direction, if only it were true. The fault is that it's not an immigration reform plan at all, but a targeted program, aimed at Mexican undocumented workers, asking them to "register with the government' and then trust the Senate to put a program in place. Good luck with that, Senators Schumer and Rubiio.

If that sounds like a rush-job to get something--anything--out of committee a day ahead of the President's announcement of his own plan, you wouldn't be far from right. But God is in the details and there are no details. According to the Jan 28th Reuters news item, the committee

""agreed on a framework for immigration reform that would provide a "path to citizenship" for those in the United States illegally but only after measures are put in place to secure borders and track undocumented immigrants." 

Hmm, so let's play that one out. To begin with, undocumented is a soft word for illegal and, of the estimated 12 million such people in the country, two-thirds of them are Mexican and two-thirds of that group entered before 2000. The keyword here is people. The undocumented have lives and children, work to do and bills to pay, worry over their futures and that of their kids and are rightfully frightened into keeping a very low profile. Think about that for a moment, when you look at your own child's latest artwork brought home from school, proudly taped to the fridge and see if it stacks up against your personal image of the American Dream. You and I and everyone in this country, with the exception of Native-American Indians, came here from somewhere else and our parents or grandparents struggled. They were simply people as well. Senator Schumer's grandfather was a Polish immigrant, Marco Rubio's father a migrant from Cuba. How short the memory of their sons. Both my grandfathers were English, both grandmothers German.

Yet these Mexican would-be immigrants find themselves in a no-man's land we styled for them, paying taxes and contributing $6-7 billion annually to Social Security, as well as supporting the economy by spending nearly all their income right here in America. That's the good news. The bad news is that, because we have no easy green card availability for Mexicans, 40% or so are forced to work "black.' That isn't good for them or us, tax-wise or otherwise. Essentially, the Senate's proposed path to citizenship is a ship to nowhere, with no confirmed destination or even a port of call.

There are so many issues contested here, so much fog and rhetoric, with truth in small doses on both sides. Experts say a significant number of illegals would come for seasonal work and return to Mexico, if only they were able. That suggests the unlimited availability of green cards might obviate the need for a shaming wall between America and Mexico. We denigrate walls elsewhere and build them here. The ghost of Ronald Reagan begs, Mr. Obama, tear down this wall.

Opening rather than closing, we might more easily understand who is here and what they are doing, as well as making their welcome tax and social contributions equitable on both sides of the border. A legal green card would, after an appropriate period, allow the traditional and more normal "path to citizenship' enjoyed by Senator Schumer's and Rubio's forebears. I can hear the grumbling in the background as I write this:

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"Freeman, you're from Montana. Come down here to Arizona and understand the problems of illegals dying in our deserts, breaking into our homes and flooding our social services. Then maybe you'll have a different attitude. Citizens here are fed up with it."

Fair enough, so far as my not living in a border state. But I would suggest that orderly green card access at the Arizona border would prevent Mexican workers being fleeced $2,000 to be smuggled in and then abandoned, penniless and waterless, in Arizona deserts. I think legality would pass many of those migrants peacefully through Arizona on a bus, with tickets in their hands and money in their pockets to work in Colorado, Illinois and perhaps even Montana. Seems to me that arriving legally, they might not collapse at the doors to Arizona hospitals and survive in over-crowded, largely illegal housing, too broke and abused to move on or back. So they're frozen in place, desperate and fearful. That fearful and desperate place, without a logical solution, will continue to be Arizona and Arizonans will not stay fed up for long. The next stage will be vigilantism and, American or Mexican, no one wants to go there.

"Measures to secure borders and track undocumented immigrants' seem counter-productive and unnecessary, had the Senate offered an immigration reform based on reality rather than politics, fear and exclusion. One can hardly imagine Mexicans, already living an imposed shadow-life, lining up to put their own and their children's future on the line, with no guarantees other than the vague promise of a path to citizenship. That's a guarantee of darkness, with no more than the promise of a flashlight. Certainly Grandpa Schumer and Father Rubio would have flinched at that and yet, look at what has become of their offspring--Senators both.

That was once and still can be the American way--work hard and assimilate, with the promise of a future in a land of opportunity, rather than a signature on the dotted-line to board a ship to nowhere.

www.jim-freeman.com

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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
 

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