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A Question To The Far Left And The Far Right: When Did "Fence" And "Amnesty" Become Four Letter Words

by Robert Gittelson

As long as the political poles on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform draw lines in the sand and refuse to budge on their key issues, the topic of legislation is basically a non-starter. The left is dead set against the border fence, and the right is dead set against legalizing our undocumented population, so we have a stalemate. The only true answer that will accomplish a positive and lasting result for our nation, is for both of these factions to agree to the compromise of enacting both the border fence and the legalization of our undocumented immigrants. However, neither side is willing to make the first move, out of lack of trust and lack of good faith. I'm reminded of the schoolyard method of settlement; Okay, on, two, three, trade!

As a wholehearted yet realistic advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, I do support the border fence, or some sort of impenetrable barrier, and a complete coast-to-coast one at that. My view stems from pragmatism. I feel that in a perfect world, Mexico and Central America could support their own citizens, and the free market forces of supply and demand could dictate the free flow of immigration. Unfortunately, that world doesn't yet exist, and if we are to reach a bargain between right and left on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform, then we will have to be able to effectively control the southern border.

Furthermore, it is my strongly considered opinion that the legalization of our undocumented population would yield many rarely discussed benefits that will prove to be solidly, significantly, and decidedly desirable for the "compassionate conservative" right wing base. The trick will be to educate those conservatives as to the true positive and demonstrably conservative ramifications of the legalization of these millions of people on our society and our economy, and the inherent dangers upon our society and economy, should we fail to do so.

I liken the flow of immigration to the flow of water; it always seeks it's own level. If the quality of life were just as good in Mexico as in the United States, there would be no need for Mexicans to come to the United States. Perhaps our citizen population should bear some responsibility for the happy accident of being born here, which is why it is our moral duty to help those less fortunate to metaphorically get a leg up. That is why I am a strong supporter of increasing our quotas of legal immigration.

As to the issue of the border fence, it is politically unfortunate that due to the dwindling remaining tenure of our current administration, they feel compelled to finish at least the small amount of border fence that they committed to, but they are doing so at the breakneck speed of political expediency, and the rule of law be damned. It is difficult to condone the concept of setting aside some 30 laws, in order to expeditiously move forward on building the fence. All legal challenges should have their day in court, but that is a concept that has eluded this administration consistently, and from the get go. They have fumbled the entire issue of comprehensive immigration reform, along with a host of important issues, but that doesn't mean that they were wrong to support the fence, just inept in it's execution.

The fence or wall will eventually be built, but to do so without significantly increasing the limits on legal immigration and family reunification, not to mention temporary work visas, as well as legalizing our current undocumented population, would be a travesty and a tragedy. The wall is an important component of the puzzle that will be comprehensive immigration reform. However, the most important component of the comprehensive plan will be the legalization of the undocumented already here.

The central ideology that is driving the right wing conservative branch of the Republican Party to espouse their argument that any legalization of undocumented immigrants would amount to "amnesty," is that in this case, legalizing the 12,000,000 to 20,000,000 would be an unacceptable impediment toward the furtherance of their political agenda, which is, of course, to regain control of congress. They feel that this issue plays to the political base of their party, and riles them up. It is their calculation that they will benefit more from this issue with their core voters then they will lose to the broader and more moderate center.

What are the right wing's arguments against "amnesty," and why or how are they vulnerable to counter argument? (Note: It is ironic, and possibly worth noting, that the right is currently making political hay by praising the new Iraqi "Amnesty" law that gives limited amnesty to imprisoned Sunni's, and this "amnesty" is considered by McCain, Cheney, Bush, et. al. as a key sign of political progress toward the reconciliation of Iraq). The following conservative arguments are key:

1) America's security and safety in a post 9/11 World: The legalization of some 20,000,000 predominately young and healthy people would allow the military to selectively increase recruitment, meaning more and better soldiers, and supply and demand would dictate that they would have to offer less recruitment bonuses while shoring up our depleted military. Conversely, sending these people back to predominately third world Latin America via deportation or attrition would serve to increase the leftist pressure on those countries, particularly Mexico. The last thing that conservatives would want to do is to bolster the influence of leftists such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela on our southern border. In just the past few years, Guatemala, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Uruguay, have all elected leftist leaders. If we were to inundate the remaining fragile democracies with some 20,000,000 starving refugees, it would lead to massive political instability in our region of the world.

2) Our domestic as well as international financial standing in the World economy: Studies have shown that undocumented immigrants generally perform complimentary, rather then competing work tasks, leading to real wage increases of some 4% to our citizen population. By increasing our production capacity through low wage immigrants, we are much more able to compete against foreign competition. Considering our staggering trade deficit, without these 20,000,000 workers, we would have a much more troubling trade imbalance. You might ask the farmers and small business owners in Arizona and Colorado how their state's anti-illegal immigrant restrictionist laws have worked out for their states? They are the two states that passed such harsh legislation that it effectively depleted their workforce to the point that they are now considering state mandated "Guest Worker" programs with Mexico to try to help their farmers, ranchers, and small businesses stay in business, (thus exacerbating a problem that they created in the first place through ill-conceived legislation).

3) The "cost of social services" to illegal immigrants: Contrary to right wing rhetoric, when one considers the direct tax revenue of illegal immigrants, (the vast majority pay taxes), and then also add in the indirect revenue - taxes from their employing business, their employer's personal taxes, their co-workers that have a job as a direct result of their presence, the companies that do business with their company - and also the multiplicative effect of their domestic spending on the overall economy, the net revenue is many times larger then the cost in social services of the illegal immigrants.

4) The unwillingness of illegal immigrants to assimilate into mainstream American society: Perhaps if they didn't feel socially and legally ostracized by the citizen population, they would be more comfortable assimilating - after all, all of our ancestors managed to assimilate, it just takes a generation or two. It wouldn't hurt for us, as a nation, to make an effort to help by offering the "right hand of good fellowship". To help them step out of the shadows means economically as well as socially.

5) The perceived negative impact of illegal immigrants on our education system, and social services: There is nothing about this argument that isn't improved through legalization of the undocumented population. If we insist, as part of the legalization, that they learn English, then it will improve our workforce and education system, because the parents could help their kids with their studies. If we were to legalize these people, they wouldn't put an undo strain on our emergency rooms, because they would be insurable. Also, by insuring these people, they would be healthier overall, require less medical care. Also, by legalizing them, they could be counted in our census, thus insuring that the correct apportionment of tax dollars gets distributed to the correct areas where funds are needed. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need as many workers as we can get to feed money into our Social Security system. As our population continues to age, the old system is in imbalance, and even raising taxes wouldn't fix the problem. We need more young workers paying into the system, and since we won't make enough babies ourselves, we need to import workers, plain and simple.

It might also be important to note that from a conservative perspective on humanitarian aid to Latin America, it is much more beneficial to our economy to have ex-patriot Latinos earn the money that is being remitted back to Latin America, then for us to simply give these nations aid or loans. It makes sense that if your neighbor needs money, it's better to have them mow your lawn that to give them a straight handout. You get your lawn mowed, and they feel good about earning the money. It's time for us, as a nation, to look within ourselves to see if we are being good neighbors? While some would rightly argue that good fences make good neighbors, I would suggest that ultimately good neighbors make good neighbors.

In order for our nation to make progress toward a resolution to our immigration crisis, both sides are going to have to work together as bi-partisan proponents for effective change to reach a compromise. It will be a proud day for the United States when we can openly welcome our undocumented immigrants as equals, and work and live with them inclusively as fellow Americans. Equally, I look forward to the day, hopefully within my lifetime, when Americans can look to the world economy and security, and see widespread prosperity and peace. It is then, but not now, when Americans will be able to say to their future President, "Mr. President, tear down that wall!"

About The Author

Robert Gittelson has been a garment manufacturer in the Los Angeles area for over 25 years. His wife, Patricia Gittelson, is an immigration attorney with offices in Van Nuys and Oxnard, California. Robert also works closely with Patricia on the administrative side of her immigration practice. Throughout his career, Mr. Gittelson has developed practical, first hand experience in dealing with the immigration issues that are challenging our country today.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.