Escondido and others have it wrong on immigration

Posted: Nov 19, 2006 12:01 AM
Escondido and others have it wrong on immigration

SAN DIEGO -- Warning: This column takes issue with a half-baked "solution," and thus will likely elicit angry letters accusing the author of "supporting illegal immigration." And since the author is Mexican-American, some readers may charge that he is "trying to bring over relatives." There are those who claim the in-vogue idea of municipalities banning landlords from renting to illegal immigrants is cruel, inhumane and heavy-handed. But, for me, the real problem with such bans is that they're dishonest, misdirected, and destined to fail.

Dishonest because these measures -- approved by officials in Escondido, Calif., Hazleton, Pa., and, last week, Farmers Branch, Texas -- feed this notion of an invasion, as if the good people of City X or Town Y were minding their own business and, suddenly, off in the distance, comes an army of Mexican immigrants. It couldn't be that these "good people" are hiring illegal immigrants or excusing those who hire them.

Get it right. This is a self-inflicted wound. Illegal immigrants aren't invading. They've been invited. I used to live near Farmers Branch, and now I live near Escondido. I've had it with folks in these places playing dumb as to how their cities got to this point, as if they haven't been riding this tiger for the last decade while enjoying a robust economy and the comforts provided by cheap immigrant labor.

In fact, while the city councils in Escondido and Hazleton put in place fines for employers, officials in Farmers Branch tabled such a provision. What? The Farmers Branch City Council spoke so eloquently about fending off the scourge of illegal immigration, but then gave employers a free ride. Que paso? Employers aren't as easy to pick on as illegal immigrants -- not if you're a politician in North Texas who has to raise money to further your political aspirations.

Misdirected because these measures try to enforce immigration law by targeting landlords who rent to folks who turn out to be illegal immigrants. I'll be darned if I can figure how squeezing landlords helps enhance border security. If people have a problem with illegal immigration, let them target it head-on -- not nibble around the edges with housing bans.

I'm also at a loss to understand how another provision of these loco ordinances -- declaring English the official language of cities and towns -- helps curb illegal immigration. What it does is make plain that, for many Americans, this debate is about cultural displacement -- the fear that, with Spanish becoming more prevalent, those who speak English will become less relevant. Immigration restrictionists hate being called racists, and they resent those who confuse legal and illegal immigrants. So what do they do? They support efforts to make English the official language of City X or Town Y. And thus they promote racism and the blurring of the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants.

Official English laws are anti-foreigner, plain and simple. And, it doesn't matter if the foreigner in question came legally or illegally. All that matters is that they speak a language other than English. Similar laws in the late 19th century were aimed at German immigrants. The fact that those immigrants came legally did little to quell the passions of the nativists of that era.

Destined to fail because landlords, renters and employers are not likely to change their ways so easily. Renters who live in mixed families where some members are illegal and others have documents may simply start registering apartments under the name of those who are in the country legally. Those who do leave a town because of a ban may simply move to a neighboring town, which won't do much to curb illegal immigration. Meanwhile, landlords and employers determined not to lose money may just get sneakier and take their chances at not getting caught, since enforcement will be erratic at best. In the end, voters in City X or Town Y will be left with only a feel-good impression that they took a stand against illegal immigration. Nothing of substance will have been accomplished.

These vengeful local communities got one thing right. They are the problem, and they can and should be part of the solution. But this approach creates more problems than it solves.

Now let me have it. "Supporting illegal immigration." Blah, blah. "Trying to bring over relatives." Blah, blah.