Monday, May 29, 2006

It's Not Over Yet

As a resident of Southern California, I generally think of the illegal immigration issue in terms of location. The three states bordering Mexico (California, Arizona, Texas) seem to have the most direct contact with immigrants from Latin America for obvious reasons: the immigrants have to pass through these states. However, I've been shortsighted because many immigrants (legal and illegal) move on to other parts of the country, like Minnesota, for example. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has an interesting editorial today on the issue because the issue affects that state.

Following a multipart series on the issue published in the paper, the editorial draws on some of the conclusions:

Who knew that an obscure town in southern Mexico has built a sister-city relationship, invisible and mostly illegal, with Minneapolis? Or that remittance payments from migrant workers have become an important channel of foreign aid, enabling poor Mexican villages to build hospitals and buy fire trucks? Or that roughly one-third of undocumented migrants have no desire to become U.S. citizens, but merely want to return home as soon as they've accumulated a stake of capital?

It's no coincidence that Legislative Auditor James Nobles, in an important contribution to Minnesotans' understanding of immigration, reached much the same conclusion in a report issued Thursday. Immigrants, he concluded, probably do threaten the wages of some American workers, especially those with low skills, but on balance they represent a net gain to the Minnesota economy. Migrant families, documented and undocumented, do place strains on local schools and hospitals, but over the long run they probably pay more in taxes than they consume in public services.

The issue is now in conference to try to reconcile the differences in the House Bill (which would build a wall, make felons out of the illegals and any who aid them, and would deport all twelve million or so) and the Senate Bill (which would build a wall, but which would set up an extremely complicated and formidable path to citizenship for the twelve million already here, most of whom will probably not qualify). Neither bill at this point seems to have any connection to the reality of the situation, and especially to the causes of the flow of migrant workers to this country:

In an integrated global economy, is it any wonder that ambitious people in poor countries would try to find their fortunes in richer societies, even if it means risking their lives, leaving their families -- and breaking the law? The challenge of immigration reform is not to seal off the flow, but to make sure that people can answer those economic imperatives in a fashion that is safe, fair and legal.

Until Congress recognizes this basic economic reality, and the economic reality that the nation's economy depends to a great extent on these migrant workers, no Immigration Reform bill of any merit will emerge. At this point, it doesn't look like this Congress is capable of the job.

This is just one more reason why the November elections are so very important.


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