Opinion Columns & Blogs

Boomers key to immigration

Sometimes our leaders get flummoxed by what looks like a crisis when a simple solution is staring them in the face -- if only they would look.

Take this immigration thing, for instance:

Some lawmakers think the solution to 12 million or so undocumented immigrants is to erect our own version of the Great Wall of China, round 'em up and incarcerate them, and impose punitive fines on any employer that hires illegal immigrants.

None of those solutions makes sense. We don't have enough prisons to handle our citizen/criminals, and nobody wants to see his taxes raised so we can build more to house 12 million immigrant/criminals.

Ironically, much of the resistance to President Bush's proposed immigration reform comes from his core supporters, baby boomers.

Some on the other side say opponents of the Bush plan are hypocrites for failing to acknowledge how they personally have benefited from illegal immigration.

Boomers who have moved to retirement areas in recent years have paid less for their new houses because they were built with the sweat of illegal immigrants. If an illegal immigrant didn't frame their house or plumb it, chances are the roof was laid, the driveway paved or the yard landscaped by individuals lacking proof they were in this country legally.

If so, it hardly seems fair to kick these immigrants out of the country and not penalize the people who continue to benefit from their illegal status.

My solution

Herein lies my solution: The U.S. should enter a pact with any willing South American, Central American or Caribbean country, committing to a one-for-one swap. We allow one immigrant to enter -- or remain -- in the United States for every baby boomer who emigrates to the immigrant's home county.

What's the rationale?

What do boomers want? They want to retire to a warm climate where the cost of living is lower and their dollar would stretch further.

Mexico -- to cite one possibility -- would be ideal. The typical baby boomer couple could bump up their living standard by selling the home place and moving south of the border. Not only could they afford more house for less money, but they also could hire a cook, gardener and pool boy for the equivalent of pin money.

And because the pittance they were paying would represent a big wage increase for local people, more Mexicans could afford not to emigrate, which, in turn, eventually would reduce the illegal immigrant population in the U.S.

What about those boomers who are unable or unwilling to emigrate? What's in it for them?

Well, for every one of their fellow baby boomers who chooses to move out of the country, one immigrant would be allowed in. That would increase the work force of maids, cooks, gardeners eligible for hire by stay-at-home boomers.

Better yet, they could do so with a clear conscience. This would lower their blood pressure because they no longer would worry about INS agents sweeping in and arresting Pedro before he had a chance to finish the roof or clean the pool.

I realize my plan won't satisfy everyone. Some opponents of immigration reform say the issue is social or cultural. "These people aren't like us. They don't speak English, they eat yucky food and their music is so sensual ..."

Even these seemingly thorny issues can be solved by applying some old-fashioned American ingenuity.

Think about it: The baby boom generation soon will start hitting retirement age. Once boomers get bored with golf and need an excuse to get out of the house, they could volunteer to teach English as a second language at a nearby school. The cleverer and more industrious boomers could take Spanish lessons, which then would qualify them to serve as volunteers at hospitals or other agencies that help immigrants.

This would have an added bonus because the boomers could share their experiences with their newfound friends, explaining to them the virtues of hard work, careful portfolio management and a proper follow through on their golf swing.

If that doesn't get immigrants to leave, nothing will.