Why does this immigration issue obsess me so? My personal experience from living in New York is that immigrants enhance our neighborhoods, our common life. Like President Bush, I admire those who've braved death and deportation to make a better life for themselves and their families. I also realize that other Americans experience the vast increase in illegal immigration differently. As President Bush pointed out (perhaps for the first time): "Illegal immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals. It strains state and local budgets and brings crime to our communities." This is true, even though, as he also said, "The vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith, and lead responsible lives."
I think the answer is the fundamental dishonesty of the debate.
The Senate bill, as it stands, contains a vast unacknowledged increase in legal immigration disguised as a guest worker bill. "Guest workers" under the Senate version would mostly have a right to convert to legal immigrant status after a number of years. Legal immigrants are automatically eligible for citizenship status. Meanwhile, each legal immigrant obtains new rights to bring spouses, children, and even parents to the United States under current law.
A new analysis by the Heritage Foundation suggests that the net result of the Senate provision would be a vast increase in legal immigration, to the tune of 103 million new legal immigrants over the next 20 years. This is in itself hard to fathom. We are good at assimilating immigrants, but surely there is a limit: When one out of three Americans is a legal immigrant, that is likely to swamp our existing institutions and national identity. But of course, legal immigration is not the whole story. Every enclave of legal immigrants becomes an informal haven for relatives and friends who come illegally.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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