July 19, 2007

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if good fences made good neighbors? I donít know where that saying got started, but there are plenty of folks that apparently disagree.

Common sense would tell us, that if you want to keep someone away from your property, you build a fence around it. But a fence doesnít signify total isolation. Add a gate and the property owner has taken charge of the right to choose to admit visitors or turn away unwanted guests.

Why canít this simple concept be instilled in a much bigger setting? I understand that a 2,000 mile fence along the border between the United States and Mexico is going to cost a pretty penny, but since when have legislators backed away from spending our hard-earned money? Especially when you can wave the banner of national security.

However, we have those who are concerned that a fence sends the wrong message. I guess I am dense. What message donít we want to send? Our borders are legally closed. There are laws that regulate who can and cannot enter the United States. But these laws are not, or cannot be enforced. So put up a fence, regulate the gate and be done with this problem. Or will we?

An estimated one million foreign-born individuals enter the United States each year. Currently 11.5 percent of the nationís workforce is foreign born. Of the estimated 30 million immigrants in the United States approximately 8 to 9 million are here illegally.

I know, Iím heartless (I hear that a lot in response to my editorials.) The vast majority of illegal immigrants are simply trying to earn a living to support their families and to find a better way of life.

Are illegal immigrants refugees from their homeland or are they entrepreneurs that see a chance to make a better living?

They arenít hurting anyone because they are just doing work that we Americans refuse to do. I disagree. They are hurting legal residents that would do the job for a higher wage. However, companies that can get by cheaper by hiring illegal immigrants, are doing so with little concern for the law and a much longer look at the growing bottom line.

Illegal immigrants, according to the Center of Immigration Studies, are filling an estimated 35 percent of unskilled labor positions in the United States.

I feel sorry for these folks. I feel sorry that our country is allowing them to be exploited, all the while saying that they are only doing jobs that legal United States citizens will not perform.

Iím not opposed to foreign-born individuals pursuing the American dream of a better way of life. I just donít want to see it done at the expense of each and every one of us taxpayers simply because there is a profit to be made.

This system reminds me of the indentured servants who came to America, selling themselves into virtual slavery for a prescribed time period, as payment for their travel expenses.

Illegal immigrants are being preyed upon by American businesses that are taking advantage of this cheap labor pool, breaking the law in the name of making more money.

While I think that a border fence makes sense as far as national security is concerned, I donít believe the immigration issue will be resolved until lawmakers address the root of the problem. Border patrol is a key component of this law enforcement, but even more invaluable will be the legal efforts to enforce immigration laws in the workplace. If you want to stop illegal immigration, arrest the businesses that knowingly employ illegals. Figure out how much a company was saving by underpaying illegal immigrants to perform the work, and fine the company that much. Take away the windfall profits being made on these peoplesí backs, and I suspect there will be less of a problem.

These businesses arenít purchasing servants right off the boat from Africa like was done hundreds of years ago before the slave trade was outlawed. Nor are they facing public outcry for relocating their business overseas or even spending the money to outsource the work to foreign markets with cheap labor. They are taking advantage of a poor neighbor, leaving a trail of bread crumbs from the porous border right to their doorsteps. Ignorance is the defense in the rare occasion when law enforcement cracks down on these operations, as the profiteers blame the employees for using false identification and other measures to trick them into believing they are here in the United States legally.

So if we are worried about sending the wrong message to Mexico and the world by building a border fence, maybe we should simply put up barriers around the businesses that are hiring these folks. Make the employees of these establishments pass through a security gate to get to work, and only allow entrance to those who can prove legal citizenship. A few weeks without any workers showing up to pick lettuce, man the textile mill, can the fruit or whatever, and I suspect these businesses will remedy the problem.

Is that too radical? How dare I suggest that these employers abide by the law and enter a level playing field with competitors that choose to play by the rules.

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