To the Contrary

Nation must address immigration issue now

Immigration reform is the most serious issue facing our country today. As recently as this morning, I was listening to a talk show host on the local radio station criticize senators (including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham) for supporting the immigration reform bill now being debated. After a few minutes, it was obvious neither he nor his listeners understood this bill. I was amazed to see that the York County Republican Party chairman was critical of Sen. Graham for supporting this bill. Instead, they should praise him for being willing to take a stand on an issue as divisive as immigration.

Several of our Southern senators have come out against this bill. Their argument is that the bill is being fast-tracked through the Senate. Apparently, they are not aware that immigration has been heavily debated for over 10 years. It is easy to legislate according to popular opinion, but it does not help solve the problem.

The first problem is the definition of an "illegal" immigrant. The truth is a so-called "illegal" immigrant in this country is actually an immigrant who does not possess the proper documents. They are "undocumented," not "illegal" immigrants. It is against the law for me to hire an undocumented worker; it is not against the law to hire an "illegal" immigrant. Many undocumented immigrants enter this country through work, student and other visas and then stay after their visas expire. It is my belief that as many as half of our undocumented immigrants have entered our country this way. Unfortunately, there is not enough information available to say for sure.

The major focus today is on immigration from Mexico. We have all seen news reports of Mexican citizens sneaking across the border in the middle of the night. We hear the horror stories of people dying in the desert trying to get into our country. As long as the economic disparity between the United States and Mexico exists, people will still try to enter our country without proper documentation.

Our elected officials' response to this problem is to build a wall along our border with Mexico. Amazingly, this was right before the 2006 elections. Interestingly enough, they still haven't approved enough money for this project. Since it is no longer an election year, it does not appear to be a major issue anymore. Maybe they will fund it during the next election year.

Because most of the undocumented Mexicans entering the U.S. over the past 40 years were working as migrant workers in agriculture, the federal agencies responsible knew the necessity of these workers and looked the other way. As one senator asked a group he was speaking to, "How many in this room are raising their children to pick lettuce in California"?

More recently, these workers have moved into many of the entry-level jobs that Americans don't want to do. Go to any construction site in York County, and you will see what I mean. From dish-washers to hotel maids, wallboard finishers to bricklayers and landscapers, they have become an integral part of our economy.

Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 that requires all employers to have prospective employees complete an Employment Eligibility Verification Form, also known as the I-9. This was to ensure that all employees had documents to show that they could legally work in the United States. There are pages and pages of documents that employers are required to accept as proof of work eligibility. Employers face fines and jail time for not having proper paperwork for workers, not for hiring "illegals." This act has been amended several times over the years, but it is still difficult to comply with the law without violating federal statues on discrimination.

All of our employees at Rolling Hills Nursery pay taxes. We deduct federal and state income taxes as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. On a regular basis, I have people ask me if I know someone who would be willing to do some work around their house for cash. These same people are the ones who publicly say we should deport the "illegals." They are contributing to the problem, not helping to solve it. I have had several native-born Americans call about a job and ask if I would pay them in cash so they could continue to collect unemployment benefits.

The current immigration reform bill before the Senate is a bipartisan effort. While I am not happy with all aspects of this bill, we have to start somewhere. Any meaningful reform bill must contain four basic parts.

Border security

There is no point in deporting undocumented immigrants when they can turn around and come back the next day. Until we control our borders, nothing else matters. This goes not just for Mexico but also for Canada. This is a must to make our homeland secure. In the current bill, border security must be accomplished before the other aspects of the bill take place.

Guest worker programs

Every industrialized nation in the world has guest worker programs. American businesses as well as our government bring in professionals every day. Agriculture, in particular, must have access to temporary workers. Guest worker programs are the only way to meet the demand for workers. Millions of dollars of vegetables and fruits have rotted in the fields the last two years due to a shortage of workers to harvest the crops. Talk about national security, how secure would we be if we had to import all of our food from other countries.

Fraudulent documents

There must be stronger penalties against Americans who supply the undocumented workers with fraudulent documents. A few years ago, I had an employee who told me I could go to York and, for $1,500, I could get a Social Security Card, Permanent Resident Alien Card (Green Card), and a state driver's license. The current bill puts too much of the enforcement burden on employers. We are not in business of enforcing federal immigration law.

Documented status

I saved the most controversial for last. The favorite word I have heard on talk radio and from our junior senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint, is that this bill provides amnesty for people who came into this country illegally.

My contention is that most Mexican immigrants came into this country "undocumented" with the blessing of the United States government. Until 9-11, security along our border with Mexico was nonexistent. The Border Patrol was underfunded and under-staffed for decades, and Washington ignored the problem. Not only Mexican immigrants but also anyone else wishing to enter our country could come through Mexico with ease. Security was tighter on the Mexican side of the border than it was on our side.

It is commonly stated that there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in our country today. The bottom line is we don't know. I have heard estimates as high as 18 million, and one group says that as many as 80 percent of the immigrants in our country do not have proper documents. Until we know for sure, we can not address the problem. The only way to get control of the situation is some type of registration, and those who think they will voluntarily leave our country and apply through "legal" channels are dreaming.

It is time for our elected officials to step up to the plate. Sen. Graham has worked extremely hard to come up with the current bill. If Sen. DeMint and his "conservative allies" have a better idea, now is the time to speak up.

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