Congress is finally in the ballgame on immigration

Posted: Mar 29, 2006 12:05 AM

On March 26, hundreds of thousands of people flooded onto Los Angeles' streets to protest a bill currently passing through Congress. The House version of the bill strengthens legal consequences for those associated with illegal immigration: Knowingly assisting, encouraging, directing or inducing illegal immigrants to cross the border would be punishable by no less than three and no more than 20 years in prison, and/or a fine; knowingly hiring more than 10 illegal immigrants would be punishable by no more than five years in prison, and/or a fine; illegal immigration would be a felony; new border patrol agents would be trained; funding would be provided to construct a fence along one-third of the U.S./Mexico border.

Protests regarding the bill aren't restricted to Los Angeles. Tens of thousands have turned out in Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee. Some of those voices aren't particularly civil; certain signs at the Los Angeles rally read "THIS IS STOLEN LAND" and "If you think I'm 'illegal' because I'm a Mexican learn the true history because this is my homeland." Meanwhile, politicians in California are already assisting, encouraging, directing and inducing illegal immigration by pandering to the crowds. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke to the gigantic Los Angeles protest; Rowena Lagrosa, Executive Officer of Educational Services for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), issued a letter asking that students stay on campus, but pledging that if they chose to ditch school to protest, taxpayer-funded buses would transport the students.

These protestors are just the tip of the iceberg. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are currently about 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. The problem of illegal immigration is reaching the breaking point. Only now, several decades too late, has Congress decided to act.

But better late than never. The stated purpose of the controversial bill is to curb terrorism. September 11 surely awakened us to the dangers of nonexistent border control, but most Americans are worried about illegal immigration for two very different reasons: First, illegal immigrants are more likely now than ever to take jobs that used to belong to citizens; second, illegal immigrants are more likely now than ever to remain apart from the vast American melting pot. Neither of these reasons bears any resemblance to the accusations of xenophobia the left loves to hurl at those who wish to stop illegal immigration. Americans are not xenophobic – they're prudent.

Let's take the economic problem first. According to the most recent Pew study, 94 percent of male illegal immigrants are employed, as well as 54 percent of female illegal immigrants (female illegal immigrants are less likely to be employed because they generally are married and have young children). Illegal immigrants now compose 24 percent of those working in farming, 17 percent of those working in cleaning, 14 percent of those working in construction, 12 percent of those working in food preparation and 9 percent of those working in production. They are working at wages below the legal minimum. Were illegal immigrants to disappear tomorrow, prices in all of the above industries would rise, some businesses would shut down and other businesses would move abroad.

On the other hand, the Center for Immigration Studies has shown that illegal immigrant households create a federal net fiscal deficit of $2,700 per household, since they generate little tax revenue but take advantage of basic government services. Granting amnesty would hike that deficit to $7,700 per household. The question for Americans is whether they are willing to pay more at the supermarket or see their favorite restaurant shut down in order to prevent illegal immigration.

Then there's the more difficult social problem. America cannot survive as an agglomeration of different ethnic groups who refuse to engage in common American culture. Thankfully, many illegal immigrants share basic American values already: They are family oriented and religious. They do not, however, speak English. More importantly, their children do not speak English -- one University of Southern California study showed that 94 percent of LAUSD students learned English as a second language. It is no wonder that California perennially ranks among the worst states in terms of educational achievement. Speaking the vernacular is a vital element in identification with America. It is no wonder that American flags were burned as protestors chanted in Spanish during the recent Los Angeles rallies.

After decades of political platitudes about illegal immigration, the current bill before Congress gives Americans a choice. Enforcing our borders will entail costs to all Americans. Are those costs worth bearing? One thing is certain: The costs of inaction are far greater.