Editor’s Note: For years, I avoided writing about this subject, because I’m so conflicted about it. But two things got me going. First was a letter to the editor in my local paper, which matter-of-factly stated that someone’s position on illegal immigration couldn’t possibly be worth listening to, because it was the same as the position held by Tom Tancredo, who is a “racist.” I rarely agree with anything Tom Tancredo (who’s pretty far to the right) says, but I’ve never heard him say anything I would categorize as racist.

Second, on a Sunday morning talk show debate on the Arizona immigration legislation, George Will (whom I admire inordinately as a conservative voice of reason) asked Al Sharpton (whom I don’t admire at all, because he’s a troublemaker and a demagogue, with no credibility or integrity) to name a single action that would reduce illegal immigration that he would approve of. Sharpton parried the question, and worked very hard to avoid answering it, dancing around in a way that was embarrassing. Finally, in frustration, Mr. Will had the last word: “Let the record show that Mr. Sharpton could come up with no measures he could approve for reducing illegal immigration.” I have the uncomfortable feeling that many people on what’s normally my end of the political spectrum feel the same way ... and I’m not happy about it.

Illegal Immigration: It’s Not That Simple


Many liberals are angry about Arizona’s controversial immigration legislation, because they’d prefer doing nothing about illegal aliens. Some don’t even consider immigration a problem.

Many on the Right feel we should do something; however, business conservatives like cheap labor, and libertarian/tea-party Republicans hate giving government additional powers. GOP ambivalence was reflected in the lack of progress during the Bush years.

I’m center-left and — despite right-wing propaganda — unashamed when called a liberal. But I don’t share the Left’s anger about the Arizona statutes. Like most Americans —who tentatively approve of the legislation (51% to 39% in the Gallup poll) — I’m more angry about the mess that caused it.

But I’m also ambivalent, which is why, in more than 12 years writing editorials, I’ve had virtually nothing to say on the subject. I have no solutions, because every position on this issue seems to come with an “on the other hand.”

I’m annoyed that President Obama canceled military exercises along the Mexican border (which might have temporarily reduced the flow) because they “send the wrong message.” To whom do they send this message? Illegal aliens? The Mexican government, which does nothing to keep its citizens from fleeing the country’s poverty and corruption, while it guards its own southern border to keep Guatemalans out of Mexico?

Many Americans would like to seal our southern border. But, on the other hand, we’d need an awfully long fence, and we’d never be able to maintain and man it.

Many Americans wish immigrants living here illegally could be rounded up and sent home. But, on the other hand, there are 20 million of them and not enough buses. And, as with building and manning a border fence, our bankrupt nation simply can’t afford it.

I’m annoyed that my wife had to wait for hours in an emergency room, because it was crowded with uninsured, undocumented families using it as a pediatric ward. It’s also depressing that a nearby Westchester hospital has gone bankrupt from the lack of insured (i.e., paying) patients. And many citizens are angry about their skyrocketing property taxes, which are used to fund ESL classes in our public schools for students living here illegally.

But, on the other hand, I understand why they’ve come here. If you lived in Mexico or Guatemala, wouldn’t you want a better life for your family? But does this mean Americans are obliged to foot the bill? Are we responsible for taking care of every poor person in the hemisphere?

I’m angry about women who come here illegally to give birth in American hospitals, on the American taxpayers’ dime, creating “anchor babies” who have the rights of American citizens, even though the presence of either parent violates our laws. It’s unlikely this abuse of the 14th Amendment was what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they crafted our Bill of Rights.

A criminal commits illegal acts, but political correctness often prevents the use of such a harsh word to describe the people involved. Of course, it’s understandable that poor people would use our constitutional loopholes to better themselves at our expense. However, can we at least use the word to describe American citizens who abet illegal acts, such as businessmen who knowingly hire illegal aliens at slave wages, while millions of American citizens are collecting unemployment?

In some circles, a casualty of the immigration debate has been free speech. Liberal efforts to replace the phrase “illegal alien” with the politically correct and euphemistic “undocumented immigrant” are distasteful, but even worse is the unfair misuse and overuse of the epithet “racist,” which is often used to silence dissenting views.

Is the exercise of national sovereignty over the borders of one’s own country a racist aspiration, or is it part of what defines the concept of a “nation”? In an age of terrorism, is it racist to expect our government to determine who belongs here and who doesn’t? And are Arizonans racists for trying to enforce laws against illegal immigration already on the federal books, but which the federal government can’t or won’t enforce?

Immigration is a terribly complex issue that needs discussion, and demonizing the opposition cripples productive debate. Many liberals can’t even mention ex-congressman and illegal immigration opponent Tom Tancredo without calling him a racist. And the assertion that policing the Mexican border is inherently racist (because no one wants to do the same for Canada) makes no sense at all, absent a flood of Canadian illegal aliens.

Arizona’s statutes will spawn test cases and constitutional challenges. Some are already questioning whether the phrase “reasonable suspicion” is unconstitutional and invites racial profiling, even though the Bill of Rights itself includes the phrase “unreasonable search and seizure.” Presumably, the framers believed government officials could distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable.

In an interview, Mr. Tancredo stated that anger on the Left against legislation to reduce illegal immigration rises in proportion to the likelihood such statutes will be effective. I’d like to think this is just right-wing hyperbole. But, on the other hand, if it’s true, that’s no way to solve our problems or run a country.

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