Linda Chavez

Sooner or later, the GOP will come to grips with the fact that beating up on illegal immigrants won't solve anything. We do have an illegal immigrant problem in this country, and it needs to be addressed. But the only way to solve it is to combine vigorous border enforcement with a comprehensive overhaul of legal immigration laws.

States like Arizona and, more recently, Alabama are discovering that forcing out illegal immigrants creates more problems than it solves. Illegal immigrants don't come to the United States because we have generous welfare programs -- or even to give birth to U.S. citizens. They come because there are jobs that employers have a hard time filling, even when the unemployment rate is 9 percent or more.

Many of those jobs are in agriculture. Picking fruits and vegetables is backbreaking work. When Alabama passed its tough anti-illegal immigrant law earlier this year, many of the illegal immigrants -- and their legal family members -- fled the state. Despite aggressive efforts to replace those workers, farmers found that there were few takers. And even those who showed up for work didn't last long. As a result, crops rotted in the field. The economic fallout will hurt all Alabamans, not just the illegal aliens who fled.

A few more defeats like Russell Pearce's and maybe Republicans in Congress will smarten up and consider real solutions to the illegal immigrant problem. We need a new legal immigration structure that recognizes the shortage at both the upper and lower skill sets. If we fix our legal immigration, our illegal immigration problem will solve itself.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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