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Dear Editor:

Your Editor's Comments of January 23 were on the mark. A new solution is needed for the immigration problem.

Unskilled foreign workers with little education but with a desire to work, find it practically impossible to enter this country legally. Undocumented immigrants do break a civil law. Restrictionists find this completely unforgivable. Their solution is to return these lawbreakers to their country of origin where under our present laws they must wait from three to ten years after which time they are counseled to once again attempt the impossible.

Many of these undocumented immigrants have spent years working in this country. They have paid their taxes, established homes, given birth to children and have led good productive lives.

Considerate and compassionate citizens in our country appreciate these accomplishments and believe that such accomplishments should mitigate the punishment for breaking a civil law.

President Bush seems to believe the same. He was quoted on CNN.COM as saying that he believes that when we find a willing employer and a willing employee, that the two should be matched. He said nothing of punishment.

Which is the better solution?

In Victor Hugo's epic novel Les Miserables, the protagonist, Jean Valjean, is imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread (because he was hungry). Parole and a new life found him still relentlessly pursued by Inspector Javert as a criminal who had once broken the law. Javert believed in the letter of the law without exception. He found no place in his heart for humanity and mercy. Sound familiar?

Somewhere I read that almost 750 years ago Thomas Aquinas drew the distinction between acts that were "mala probihida" (bad because they were prohibited) and those that were "mala in se" (bad in themselves). I read that violations of some of our arcane and bizarre immigration laws may be "mala prohibida" but not "mala in se," and that such violations do not reflect on an immigrant's character or honesty. They are not criminals.

I, myself, have broken the law. In the little village where I live when at times I have observed no traffic in either direction on the main street, I have crossed over in the middle of the block rather than walk to the legal crossover. We have a local law against "jay-walking." I have broken the law. Did I commit a crime? Am I a criminal? Should I admit my guilt, be punished and perhaps suffer a 3/10-year bar from my village?

Where is our humanity and mercy? Resolving the plight of some three million undocumented Mexican workers will better their lives and it will also affect their families and descendants for time eternal. It would cost us nothing personally other than a little compassion on our part.

Many of the undocumented workers, who belong to the same parish as I, have been in this country for five years or more. They have married and have children born here. They bring their babies to the church to be baptized and become Christians. These children are natural born citizens. It is their birthright. If the restrictionists would have all undocumented immigrants deported, what would they do with the children who are American citizens by birth?

How many readers can quote the inscription on the Statue of Liberty? Maybe we should reflect on such things once in a while. There may be too many "Inspector Javerts" in the world today.

Richard E. Baer, DVM