Steve Chapman

The enemies of the Senate reform plan often sound as though they have a much better solution. But the alternative is not some magic formula that will rid the nation of those residing here without legal permission. It's merely to consign them to inferior status, forever. It's the status quo.

What's wrong with that? Just about everything. It means 11 million people, including 1.7 million brought here as children (the "dreamers"), will go on living among us without the protections of the law.

As a result, they are more likely to be underpaid, more apt to work off the books, more vulnerable to crime and less likely to pay the taxes they owe. There's not much upside for any of us.

If the concern is that undocumented foreigners will impose a fiscal burden, it makes sense to get them out in the open -- where they will remit taxes like other legal workers. They can already get free emergency medical care, and their kids can attend public schools. It's not as though the current situation is a fiscal bargain.

One of those young dreamers who is barred from going to college or joining the military is more likely to become a public burden than one who is free to pursue her vocational ambitions. A youngster whose parents are deported may not be able to get the education to be a productive citizen.

If the concern is that unauthorized immigrants drive down the wages of American workers, it likewise makes no sense to keep them in the underground economy, where unscrupulous employers can pay them less than a normal market wage. Once they can work legally, their wages are likely to rise, reducing any downward pressure on earnings.

No one relishes the task of finding useful ways to address the longstanding results of illegal immigration, but they require attention. Congress can make an omelet, or it can try to unscramble the eggs.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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