U.S. Immigration Policy is Riddled with Contradictions

By Cynthia Tucker, Atlanta Journal Constitution, published by HispanicVista.com, February 18, 2005
also published as We don't really oppose illegals, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 20, 2005

Last Wednesday, intelligence officials may have handed anti-immigration zealots the ammunition they needed. In a wide-ranging analysis of terrorist threats, CIA chief Porter Goss and other ranking intelligence officers warned Congress that al-Qaida operatives may try to sneak in through Mexico.

...Xenophobes in Congress and state legislatures will no doubt use the warning as an excuse to turn up the pressure on Latinos who are in the United States illegally. Indeed, despite President Bush's talk of less-punitive immigration reform, Republican lawmakers have already started to tighten the screws.

This month, citing security concerns, House Republicans rammed through a bill that would prohibit states from issuing standard driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.... The bill also makes it easier for immigrants seeking political asylum to be expelled.

... the GOP-controlled Georgia Legislature may consider legislation that would restrict illegal immigrants in a number of ways -- prohibiting not only driver's licenses, but also food stamps, college classes and work on state-funded projects. State Sen. Chip Rogers, a Republican from a small town near Atlanta, said the laws he has proposed are not intended to discriminate.

...To deal effectively with illegal immigration, the GOP would have to crack down on its major patron: business. If a few business executives went to prison for violating federal law, fewer would risk hiring illegal workers. And if Latino workers knew they'd be unlikely to find jobs here, fewer would endanger life and limb trying to get in.

But the fact is that the United States has never had a consistent policy of punishing employers...

In 1998, for example, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents raided several farms in south Georgia, rounding up illegal workers who were harvesting highly prized Vidalia onions. It took only two days for four Georgia congressmen to complain to the INS about "a lack of regard for farmers." The four are still in office: GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss Republican Congressmen Jack Kingston and Charlie Norwood and Democratic Congressman Sanford Bishop. The INS got the message and backed down.

Despite lip service about national security, standard practice hasn't changed much since 9/11. Businesses still depend on unauthorized workers... to build houses, landscape lawns, clean office buildings and wash dishes in restaurants. After all, businesses like employees who work hard for low wages and are unlikely to complain about brutish conditions.

The hypocrisy doesn't end with big-league farmers or business executives, either. It extends right down to the homeowners who are only too happy to pay Mexican laborers low wages to mow their lawns or clean their houses....

In addition to national security, there are several good reasons to try to get a handle on illegal immigration. For one thing, illegal immigrants tend to drive down wages for legal laborers. For another, it's exploitative to use undocumented workers for their cheap labor while refusing to give them benefits. It violates America's sense of itself as a land of fair play.

But if the xenophobes get their way, we're going to keep right on doing it.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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