MARSHALL, Minn. — Last spring, the immigration question came to Minnesota. Many immigrant advocates wanted to let illegal immigrants have driver’s licenses and in-state tuitions (and, I guess, much more after that). And on the national level, the push is on now to pressure the Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform that will legalize all those who came here illegally.
Being an immigrant myself, I have a stake in this issue since I do believe that immigration is good for America, that immigrants contribute a lot to American prosperity, and that, with the education system failing to properly teach kids math and science which results in fewer and fewer Americans earning their degrees in those fields, highly educated immigrants are essential for the future. Immigrants, by the nature of the very act of immigration that brought them here, are hard-working people with above-average level of initiative and motivation. But the law is the law and fair is fair.
First, let’s talk about terms. Many people abhor the very term “illegal immigrant” claiming that it makes it sound like these people are criminals while, their reasoning goes, they violated only civil law, not criminal law. Well, according to the dictionary, an illegal act is any act violating the law, whether criminal or civil. Therefore, the term is absolutely correct and reflects what these people did: They came to (or stayed in) the United States illegally. These people are not illegal as persons, as some people are trying to imply in fighting the term, but as immigrants in this country; their existence in America is indeed illegal — meaning not authorized by law.
Being an illegal immigrant is not a law violation that is to be proven in court because the mere lack of official immigration papers confers the illegal status. Even though sometimes judges allow an illegal immigrant to stay, it is actually just an act of mercy or pardon, not an admission of the lack of law violation. So even if being in America without proper documentation may not be a crime, as some people contend, coming here without documents necessarily means that a crime has been committed.
It matters how they came to the U.S.
Of course, new law proponents are trying to emphasize that illegal immigrants are like everybody else who came to America for a better life, just like all other immigrants. That cannot be true since they came here illegally, and that is what should matter. As for wanting a better life, it is not an excuse for a crime. Tax evaders want to keep more money to have better lives, too, but they are routinely sent to jails.
Many supporters of the new law also claim that since illegal immigrants will have to pay fines before obtaining legal status, the term “amnesty” is not appropriate. However, even if paying fines can be considered a punishment, no lawbreaker is ever allowed to benefit from the crime (for example, keep shoplifted items), while in this case illegal immigrants, after being punished, will keep the loot, so to speak, by being allowed to stay.
Now we can get to the general fairness issue. I came here legally, and so did most immigrants. So why should people who broke the law be rewarded for doing that by being granted the same rights and privileges that legal immigrants had to work and wait for provided they qualified or won the lottery? And, yes, this should apply to children of illegal immigrants as well (and should apply even to those who were born in America and are technically American citizens). There is not a law in the world allowing children of those who committed the crime to benefit from their parent’s crime. Bernie Madoff’s children cannot get the money he stole, and the thief’s children can’t keep stolen property even if they did not know where it came from.
Specific attempts to make some activities by illegal immigrants legal do not make sense either. People living abroad and wanting to send their children to college in America will be paying out-of-state if not out-of-country tuition in any college. It seems utterly unfair to let people who got into this country illegally use taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize their children’s college degree. These people do not deserve any special privileges. If anything, let’s subsidize deserving foreigners who would come here legally.
Also misguided: driver’s licenses
The argument to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants is equally misguided. The rationale that they are on the roads already and have to drive in order to get to work is weird, to say the least. Quite a few people who lost their licenses or never held a driver’s license are still driving and are doing so because they hold a job. However, by doing so they violate the law and granting those people their licenses would not most likely be supported. The suggestion to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants is no different.
Of course, the greatest question is how illegal immigrants got their jobs in the first place. All employers require a Social Security number before hiring anyone. Even if seeking employment on its own is not a crime, giving a false Social Security number is. Sure, some of them work for cash, but then they are guilty of not paying taxes.
Actually, one has to provide a Social Security number and/or driver’s license for almost anything we do in America nowadays. And this takes me back to the term illegal. In real life it is practically impossible to exist in modern society without any documentation. Considering that illegal immigrants don’t have proper documents, most of them must have some fake papers to get by which is a crime by any definition (Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas had a fake green card).
While an argument can be made that legalizing illegal immigrants may bring economic benefits to the country because of the labor force demands, granting them citizenship has nothing to do with the economy (and fairness). In fact, all illegal immigrants presumably came here for work and a better life, not for social benefits or voting rights. They should be satisfied with a legal status and the right to work and should not be upset if an immigration bill does not include a path to citizenship. And that brings an obvious question: Why are some people so wound up about this provision?
We do need reform
Yes, we do need immigration reform. It should include mandatory e-verify for all employers, securing borders, properly documenting all legal visitors so they do not overstay their visas, figuring out how to deal with labor shortage in some fields (wait, what labor shortage – don’t we have record high unemployment and the number of people on government support has skyrocketed?), making sure that we allow the best and brightest to come to America legally, and maybe a few other things such as requiring a photo ID for voting and making English the country’s official language. What it should not include is allowing people who are here illegally to stay; that is both morally and economically wrong.
Ilya Gutman is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who now lives and works in Marshall, Minn.
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