The reason that immigration is the most difficult issue in a generation to solve is because the American people are schizophrenic about it. On the one hand the vast majority of Americans cite illegal immigration as one of the most pressing problems in our nation. At the same time, big majorities (between 65 and 75 percent depending on what survey you are reading) believe that we should provide those here illegally (who are working and crime free) with ability to stay here under some legal status. And almost 60% believe that illegal aliens should be able to gain citizenship after those who are trying to do so legally have done so.
The New York Times and CBS News did a poll of 1,125 adults between May18-23. Some interesting findings:
More than 70% believe illegal immigration weakens our economy by driving wages down. But more than 65 percent agree with a guest worker program with more than 50% believing that those guest workers should be able to become citizens (that is beyond what even the Senate immigration bill does).
57 percent think that recent immigrants have been a benefit to the country, but 35% said in the long term immigration would be bad for the country while only 28% said it would benefit us. (Presumably the rest had no opinion or thought there would be no change)
In the most dramatic example of our schizophrenic nature, a full 82% said that the federal government should do more to address illegal immigration but only 15% favored fences as the main control tool.
25% believe we should have a completely open border and 25% believe we should completely seal the border (the question I have is why there is a 10% difference between those who want to seal the border and those who think a fence is the main component to do so.)
I suppose it is only human nature that we are of two minds on this issue. It is easy to rail against illegal immigration (as I do on a regular basis) when I think of it in terms of an ephemeral group of “them.” However, when you put a human face to it, things begin to get more complicated. I experienced this first-hand when I had a rare opportunity to accompany some border patrol agents on duty (I have a buddy who wears the green uniform) and they interdicted a group of illegals. I have to admit, it was an adrenaline rush to be so close to the action and to see the agents work quickly to get the two dozen illegals corralled (they gave a feeble attempt to run, but figured they couldn’t outrun the SUV’s we were driving. The agents lined them up and one-by-one searched them for weapons and asked various questions.
I got a chance to ask some of the illegals questions through one of the agents who was fluent in Spanish. There was a mother with a young girl. They apparently did not have any connection to the rest of the people with whom they were wandering the desert south of Tucson. According to what she told the agent, there was no husband and she could not find work to support her and her 9-year-old daughter. I have to admit, the “tough guy” attitude I was displaying began to fade. When the mother pulled her daughter’s backpack out of her own backpack, I was startled to immediately recognize it as the identical Strawberry Shortcake backpack that my 8 year-old daughter owns. She then rifled through the pack looking for something, which she eventually found and handed to the agent. He handed it to me explaining that it was the daughter’s most recent report card – she was a straight A student. By that time I was darn near tears as I thought about what I was witnessing: a single mother with a straight-A student daughter was literally risking their lives to walk across the desert on the hope that she could find work. As I looked at the little girl I visualized my own daughter, trying the fathom whether it was an incredible act of love that this mother would embark on such a dangerous journey or completely insane. It struck me that love can be strong enough for us to do irrational things. At that moment I concluded that if I was in her shoes, I’d probably do the same exact thing. By this time I was such an emotional wreck that I walked away and sat in the truck, I couldn’t handle the impact this experience was having on me.
Since then I have drawn some conclusions.
1 – Our border patrol agents are heroes. To face that kind of circumstance day in and day out has to take a toll. And yet they put the boots on every day and get out there protecting our border.
2 – We have a seriously broken system.
3 – I don’t know the best way to solve it. Clearly we can not tolerate the continued lawless flow of illegals. At the same time, as Reagan said, we are the “shining city on a hill” and to get here legally takes literally decades. I generally support a fence, and using advanced technology to supplement. I also think that we are woefully short of manpower on the border. And, I think we need some sort of guest worker program. As to what to do about those here already? I tend to the subscribe to the “attrition” theory that if we strengthen employer sanctions for those who employ illegals and make sure non-citizens are not getting welfare and other government benefits some of them will go back.
4 – I thank God every day that I was blessed enough to be born in this great country, a place that offers so much opportunity that people risk their lives every day to get here. Quite different than the experiences of people risking their lives to get OUT of a country – think Eastern Europe during the Soviet rule.
The bottom line is that something needs to change. Unfortunately, as long as we as a nation remain schizophrenic on this issue, I don’t think we’ll solve it anytime soon.
In the meantime, I occasionally wonder what happened to that little girl, the straight-A student. I replay it all over in my mind, watching her getting in the back of that border patrol truck and watching it drive away, headed to Nogales to drop her off on the other side of the border.
Then I look at my daughter… and it makes me want to cry.