DENVER - As with most hotly contested debates, the political fight over who has a "right" to be in America will be partly about who controls the language; not Spanish vs. English, but honesty vs. political correctness.
The "boycott" and demonstrations by people of Hispanic origin and others for "immigrant rights" and the blurring of distinctions between those who are obeying the law and those who are not are important elements in the rhetorical and image war.
Supporters of the boycott characterized last Monday as "A Day Without Immigrants". In fact, it was about whether people who break American laws - either by sneaking in over the U.S. border, or by not renewing their expired visas and work permits, which temporarily allowed them to come here - have a right to stay.
In Denver, where police estimated 75,000 marched, Melanie Lugo was quoted as saying, "We are the backbone of what America is, legal or illegal, it doesn't matter." It matters a great deal, because a nation that cannot, or will not, control its borders is a nation that will no longer be able to retain its character and reason for being.
The Denver Post interviewed Casey Kool, 22, a Dutch citizen, who is applying for U.S. citizenship. "So many people are cutting (in) the line," said Kool, who is three years into his efforts to gain citizenship. He hopes to become a commercial airline pilot. Kool said he has spent $10,000 in legal fees so far in his quest. "Obviously, the United States is a land of immigrants," he said, "but everyone should take a number and do it the legal way." That is the attitude that appeals to most Americans, but not to "immigration rights" activists.
Leftist groups see this invasion (defined as "to encroach upon" in contrast to immigration, defined as "to enter and usually become established") as a source of new votes for their causes, which have not fared well with the present population. "Today we march, tomorrow we vote" was a sign seen in Denver and elsewhere. That sign exposed the primary motivation of the leftists.
I travel frequently to the United Kingdom. The stamp the immigration officer puts on my passport says, "Leave to enter for six months. Employment and recourse to public funds prohibited." I can't hold a job and I can't apply for welfare or other benefits paid for by the heavily taxed citizens of the UK. But I am told by the "immigrants rights" crowd in my own country that not only should I welcome illegal aliens here, I should willingly pay for the education of their children in public schools, their emergency medical care and any additional benefits they might require. Does this make sense? Why aren't they working to improve their lot and economy in their native countries instead of piggybacking on what we have already built here?
One of the fictions masquerading as fact is that these illegals do work Americans don't want to do. There is not a shortage of American workers. But there is a shortage of American employers willing to pay competitive wages. The jobs many illegals take are jobs Americans used to do, but too many won't do them now because they pay less than they used to. Illegals have demonstrated they will work for less than American citizens. Many employers, seeking to improve their profit margins, are willing to let them.
This is one of the changes real immigration reform must address. Permanent low wages create a new underclass with no hope of advancement. Between the exporting of jobs to China and India and the importing of low-skilled workers at low wages, we are competing against our long-term interests. America is more than an economy. It is supposed to be "one nation." By continuing to allow illegals to enter the United States, or to stay on expired permits and visas, we risk ceasing to become one nation. When that happens, we will no longer be united.
Words have meaning. This debate is about who we are. This is the United States of America. We speak English. Citizens must obey the laws. Anyone who comes here should do the same.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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