Opinion

Commentary

Why Amnesty Now?

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
Emma Lazarus

It is unfortunate to stand witness as America becomes deeply polarized over the debate about legal and illegal immigration. Opponents of illegal immigrants argue that: 'Some immigrants have committed felonies by entering our country illegally. They violated laws passed by the Congress of the United States. The court system must determine punishment. We must sentence them by deportation, even jail. Since they are in this country illegally, they have no constitutional or democratic rights, and cannot become citizens. If new legislation is enacted, it must contain punitive measures against them — like longer waiting-lines and severe fines.' However, something is still missing from this idea: reality.

If we want to create compromise immigration legislation, we will have to get back to basics:

America is a nation of immigrants. Immigration is at the core of our society. We should offer support to the 12 million people who have already successfully integrated into the system. Getting rid of 12 million people is not only an unrealistic task, it also raises a lingering question — who or what are we going to replace them with? In other words, how can we put them within the legal framework if in the short term we offer nothing more than a huge fear of punishment — like jail time, severe fines, and 11 years of waiting in line? New legislation has to be realistic and attractive enough so that these 12 million people may voluntarily move from the shadows without any fear. Otherwise, any news laws passed regarding this issue, as with previous attempts, will be another great disappointment which will create a deeper social crisis and more backlash.

Those immigrants are not living in a different world. They have already blended into our society and are already part of its texture. Whether the opposition likes it or not, it has been a de facto part of our reality for a long time. They pay taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare deductions. They successfully produce for us, and they are our customers, too.

We are now an aging population. Immigration has become the magic cure for this demographic dilemma. It is now the locomotive of the American system, driving our power and prosperity. We need to accept immigrants for our own economic survival. It is a fact that we need these immigrants now more than ever.

Freedom and hope are America's greatest strengths. During the late nineties, Germany needed direct access to the latest technology expertise. Their solution was a 'German Green Card,' which excluded Indian immigrants from eligibility for citizenship. The program was doomed, and within a couple of years was cancelled. In a 2005 essay, Fareed Zakaria summed up the futility of getting a German Green Card, after remonstrating with an official: "I argued against the program because it never, under any circumstances, translated into German citizenship. The U.S. Green Card, by contrast, is an almost automatic path to becoming an American citizen. The official dismissed my objection. So Germany was asking bright young professionals to leave their country, culture and families; move thousands of miles away; learn a new language; and work in a strange land without any prospect of ever being part of their new home." None of the societies or states in human history has come close to the American model, not even Europe. America has always handled immigration better than anyone else.

Bureaucracy and reality are two conflicting forces. In the past two decades, we have wasted our time by creating unfair, ineffectual immigration bills that only worsened the problem. Now we have a bigger dilemma — our bureaucracy cannot implement a effective solution to deliver on basic human needs. Thus, our bureaucracy acts against the best interests of society, and is fundamentally un-American.

As a new era dawns in American history, our biggest challenge is to confront and resolve the negative effects of our immigration legislation. Unfortunately, both parties are chasing their own agendas and are exploiting the problem for political gain. That approach has aggravated the situation. Yet immigrants are not simply numbers or statistics; they are real human beings with real needs. They are the core of the nation. After much heated debate and deadlocks on the Senate floor, only 22 percent of poll interviewees (Bendixen & Associates, 2006) said the Republicans are doing a good job on the immigration issue. The Democrat approval rate is a little higher, at 38 percent.

We do not need a silver bullet to solve the problem; we already have a 200-year-old solution, tested by humans: The Great American Style. We have this style in our immense spirit, and in our founding values — Liberty and Justice

Freedom is our foundation. During the last 200 years, America has created a free society that no other nation has yet matched. Political freedom, religious freedom, free markets, free trade — in short, freedom for all. Our economic policies also were built on the same foundation with the same core — capitalism. We presented ourselves to the world as a winner by having democracy and capitalism. The opposition may like it or not, but free labor markets are an irreplaceable part of our free economy.

A strong American economy produces a massive labor demand from workforce supplier countries. Under capitalist principles, labor flows into the United States' market to respond to this strong labor demand. That is why we mostly have kept welcoming new immigrants for the last 200 years. We built and developed our system on free markets, in contrast to communism, socialism, and the 'old European' style. We measured our success by the volume of immigrants and their integration into the system, not by stopping them. This is a basic mechanism that we have always been proud of; it has nothing to do with immigrants on a personal level.

Ironically, the opposition argues against the value of these 12 million people, but at the same time accepts the need for 400,000 new immigrants annually. In fact, we will need 900,000 (not 400,000) new immigrants annually to meet our labor needs, even if we keep all of the 12 million already illegally in the United States today. When the 70 million baby boomers have left the work force, there will be only two workers for every retiree (it was 40 workers in 1940). This is a huge demand for labor that is coming shortly. From this perspective, the proposed Guest Worker Program is not a brilliant idea. Every temporary employee will take back his pension plan and social security benefits when he leaves. It would not help our social security system at all.

When the argument touches the human aspect, the debate always involves ethics and values, too. Without engaging in any of those mainstream arguments, since when is making the provision of medical treatment to an illegal immigrant a legally punishable crime one of our 'values?' Whose value is criminalizing the good Samaritan? The opposition is making very sharp and extreme points, but there is not much ethical support at its center.

A short time ago, evangelical leaders joined Sen. Edward Kennedy and called for new legislation that would give illegal immigrants 'a pathway to dignity and respect.' Religious ethics do not support the opposition's extremist ideas.

Our Constitution does not support a society with classes. There are no class distinctions (like immigrant-nonimmigrant, legal-illegal, citizen-non citizen) in the Constitution of the United States. Executive, legislative and judicial powers do not support the opposition's sharp statements, either.

Sadly, it seems the opposition's only supporters are those with an old ideology, one contaminated by our own long-submerged nationalism. We are witnessing another deja vu — a McCarthyism style of political demagoguery.

Crimes and their punishment are always addressed by laws and legislations, not by individuals. We created this system with its many distinctions: legal and illegal immigrants; non-immigrants; temporary stays; stay-over statutes; and so many others. Immigrants did not create any of these laws. We let them in the United States without availing them of any proper regulatory steps to become citizens. We did not want to disturb the status quo of our immigration policies. We simply ignored them for decades by allowing no-solution dead ends. We developed bad habits on immigration issues in the past.

We always had enough time to pass legislation to protect our products. On the contrary, we never had enough time to pass effective legislation to protect the people who are producing those products for us — our illegal immigrants. We accused them of being criminals as we bought the cheap products they made for us. Now it is a confusing question of what the crime really is. If there is a crime here, I am afraid both sides have some responsibility for it.

We also accuse them of bringing crime to our society. Robert J. Sampson of Harvard says otherwise. His research (2006) clearly shows us, again, that immigrants lower the crime rate in our society. He calls it the Immigrant Paradox.

Of course, none of us sent a personal invitation to any immigrant's home to say, 'Come and work for America.' We did it by asking for cheaper products, cheaper services, a better life, the American dream, our survival, our retirement, continued economic growth, and ever more customers. What is wrong with that? Perhaps nothing. But it is wrong to try to punish those people for fulfilling our needs. It is wrong to make them pay for our ill-conceived immigration bills. It is wrong to put bananas in our ears and play the blame game for our decades-long mistakes. I agree that life would be much easier for all Americans if workers with no rights could provide us some of these services and products freely. If we could keep their money and time, and if we could punish and deport them anytime we wanted, with no regrets, then it would be called slavery — something we abolished long ago.

Nobody should hide behind this unfair, ineffectual, old immigration legislation. The opposition, especially, has to see the same pattern in their current argument that created this legislation. Luckily, nothing is irreversible.

It is our responsibility to pass compromise immigration legislation to create a legal immigrant pool. We can fix our mistakes and open the way for our otherwise clouded future. Those 12 million people have done everything we asked. They have integrated successfully into our system, they are supplying our needs, they pay their taxes, Social Security and Medicare deductions, they are producing, they are our customers, and they are helping us to create a better America. With them, our economy and our system are stronger.

We now have an opportunity to pull those illegal immigrants into the country's legal framework and document them through attractive new immigration legislation. It is our duty for America and ourselves to give them what they already deserve for helping us.

That is why we need to grant amnesty now.

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