What to do about immigration?

Former Boulder mayor, Robert Greenlee, wrote a new column this week on Boulder’s Immigration Advisory Committee. Greenlee is one of those “white buffalo” Republicans I referred to in a previous post. He actually got elected to office here some years ago, and served on Boulder’s City Council for 16 years. Impressive, for this town.

I’m not going to talk about the committee, since I don’t know much about it, and I’m confused by its mission since Greenlee says they don’t appear to be talking about immigration issues at all, but the same issues that the City Council sometimes focuses on. He says he wishes the IAC would focus on real immigration issues, such as the impact of illegal immigration on the community and the city’s budget, and bilingual education.

Like Denver, Boulder is what’s called a “sanctuary city”. The police are not allowed to ask about the immigration status of anyone they encounter. The basic mindset is that immigration issues are the federal government’s problem, not ours. We deal with everyone equally. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is dysfunctional anyway, from what I hear. It’s even more difficult for them to do their job with local officials not cooperating with them, since they’re more likely to have direct contact with illegal aliens.

Greenlee advocates doing away with our sanctuary city status. I can sympathize with arguments on both sides of this. I feel that people coming into our country should respect our immigration laws. However, I see the wisdom of the sanctuary policy. The reason for it is that it makes the community safer. With the policy in place, illegal aliens can feel comfortable coming forward and talking to police about criminal activity in their community, without the feeling that they will be investigated and deported if they do so. The argument goes that this helps reduce violent crime. If the policy was not in place, illegal aliens would refuse to talk to police, making their jobs harder.

The overall feeling that I’m guessing most people have is that illegal immigration has more benefits than costs. Most illegals come here to do honest work for honest pay, because they can live a better life here. Who can object to that? In light of this point of view, these people’s immigration status seems more like a speeding violation. A minor infraction. Some even see it as a form of civil disobedience, because the law is wrong/unworkable. I don’t know that I know any illegals, but I’ve met some Latino workers. They seem to value hard work. They’re willing to accept wages that many would consider a bargain. Overall I’d say they’re nice folks. So I don’t have anything personal against them.

The jobs/economy argument I think is a non-starter. There’s a significant minority of people in this country who are very worried about the impact of illegal immigration on their ability to compete for jobs and higher wages. People have tried acting politically to stop illegal immigration for this reason, and the efforts have always failed. I think that most people either don’t know enough about the issue to care, or do know about it, but still don’t care. I used to be one of those who was worried about that, but I’ve gotten over it. Not because I make lots of money now and I’m sitting pretty, but because I’ve come to see it as a form of trade. They trade their labor for money, and I see trade as a good thing, no matter what form it takes. In my opinion, this is not the same thing as our “free trade” agreements. That’s a whole other topic.

As a trend, I have some concerns about illegal immigration. I think it’s safe to say that a  disproportionately high number of illegals use free services that are either provided by the government, or are provided for free by businesses, such as hospitals. More recently there have been movements to try and address those problems, such as a statewide campaign waged recently called Defend Colorado Now. This political group came together for the cause of keeping illegal aliens from benefiting from many government services. The idea being that since they’re not here legally anyway, they should not be an undue drain on state funded resources. State tax revenues fell dramatically in 2002 and thereafter.

The criminal element

There is a dangerous criminal element that is involved in bringing illegals across the border, the “coyotes.” They’re involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking (slavery and sex trades), corruption, murder, etc. Some illegal aliens who appear to be here just for the work are also involved with the manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine, which is plaguing the West, and spreading across the country. Particularly in the border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, this criminal element is well known and feared by the U.S. citizens who live there. There have been frequent reports, though they’re not widely publicized, of U.S. border agents being shot at by these gangs, and the Mexican Army, which is apparently in cahoots with these criminals. This aspect of illegal immigration often gets ignored, because it’s seen as just a cover for racism or protectionism. Some argue that people are more afraid of these criminals because of their different skin color, that we have the same types of criminals here, and just as many of them. That may be so, but criminality must be confronted all the same, and if the criminals are largely succeeding in their aims, despite our efforts, then something about our approach to the problem has to change.

There is an aspect to this problem that makes it not so simple to draw an analogy to criminals in this country. If a U.S. citizen or legal alien commits a crime here, our government has jurisdiction to go after them, detain, and try them. We had an experience last year of an illegal alien in Denver shooting a police officer dead, and then escaping across the Mexican border within a couple days. We had to wrangle with the Mexican government to get the suspect extradited so he could be tried here, and they made us promise we would not pursue the death penalty. This is not the kind of treatment a U.S. citizen would get for the same crime. Even if a U.S. citizen escaped across the Mexican border for doing the same thing, I doubt the Mexican government would have the same sort of qualms about turning them over to us, if they could find them.

MS-13, a gang that started in Central America, has come up through our border. From the reports I’ve heard about it, it’s the most violent gang we’ve ever seen.

I don’t agree that we should have an open border with Mexico, where just anyone and everyone can come across as they please. I do think there is a potential threat from Islamic terrorists through this border. Not that the threat is indigenous to Central or South America. But what’s to stop Al Qaeda from sending operatives to that region, and then up through our open, largely unguarded border?

Mexico is not as well developed as the U.S., and it has many problems that we do not have, though citizens who live on the U.S. side of the border have been seeing them here, because the problems are being exported. Mexico as a country is not an equal to us, as I’d say Canada is. I don’t think it’s racist to say this, nor is it ethnocentric. I think this can be said just from the objective facts about the sophistication of its social structures, level of corruption, and criminality.

I think a guest worker program is in order, and I agree with the idea of the “path to citizenship” for illegal aliens who are already here. Bill O’Reilly said it well: The reason to have this is that the government has been complicit in the problem. It’s looked the other way once illegals have gotten across the border, and it’s looked the other way when employers have hired them.

First, however, the border needs to be secured. The criminal elements from Mexico must be curtailed. Second, there must be some robust way of establishing identity. The problem with too many official identity documents today is they are easy to forge. Employers and public officials must have an easy way to verify documentation with official databases. The current system is a laughing stock. It’s difficult to get documents verified. Third, there must be sanctions against employers who hire undocumented illegals.

Creating our orderly processes of migration without these measures will be no solution. It will be “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” as it were. I mean this only in the sense that it will not change the problem as it currently exists. The Senate proposal basically asks illegals to be on the honor system. I think that’s trusting them too much. Many illegals already have forged documentation. What’s to prevent them from forging more?

The issue of English

From everything I’ve heard, bilingual education as it has been done has been a failure. As any foreign language teacher will tell you, the fastest way to learn a foreign language is to go to that country, and learn and speak the language. You will learn the language quickly out of necessity. In light of this, English immersion in the schools, or at least emphasizing fluency in English is the best policy. It will be hard for foreign students at first, and certainly there should be ESL assistance for them, but teaching academic subjects in Spanish, not pushing English fluency, catering to the Latino students’ first language is not helping them. If they are going to stay here and integrate, they need to learn the language. Children learn a language best when they are young. It’s harder once they get older. If they do not learn English, they will be consigned to a life of poverty in this country. So many opportunities will be denied to them. Some attribute this to cultural arrogance, but most people in this country are not bilingual. Expecting them to be so is just wishful magical thinking. Some say that in Europe, it’s common for people to know multiple languages, but I think this comes out of necessity. The European economy has developed to the point that they have found it necessary to have a level of integration with each other, culturally, linguistically, and economically. Based on their historical legacy, it’s actually to one’s advantage to be multilingual. You open yourself up to more economic opportunities. This is not the case in America. Most Americans speak English and no other language, mainly because they’ve had no incentive, economic or political, to do so. It’s not as if the Western part of the country speaks French, the Midwest speaks Albanian, and the Eastern U.S. speaks English. If that were the case, for example, and we all had the same standard of living we do today, there would be an incentive for Americans to know more than just English.

Some hate this sort of thinking. They value multiculturalism, with the belief that all cultures are equal and none are inherently better or worse, regardless of language, religion, or cultural heritage. They fight against what they see as America’s cultural hubris. They like the idea of changing America into a bilingual and bicultural nation, even though a lot of people will be hurt in the process, mostly the immigrants who come here. In my opinion, it’s the thinking of fantasy land.

Companies have made efforts to be bilingual, and if they want to pursue that, that’s fine. They have the right to pursue as many customers as they want. I think however that government should for the most part have English as the official language. It’s more efficient, though there might be reasons for exceptions in the border states, since they have a disproportionately large Latino population.

This isn’t to say that foreign language courses should be abandoned in public schools. Learning about other cultures is valuable, and is a legitimate part of education. For most people, any foreign language they learn atrophies, since they never get a chance to exercise it in daily life. It’s rather like learning history. Most people never have a reason to value it either, so knowledge of that atrophies as well.

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