News - Strength in numbers
Migrant masses are no threat to America
Given the latent hysteria about little brown people with funny names living in our midst, Mexican President Vicente Fox's push to "regularize" his nationals working in our country — always controversial — now appears to be on life support. That's not only a shame, but it's also an indication that we're about to take away the wrong lesson from the recent tragic terror attacks.
We spend a lot of time and resources in this country trying to keep out those who want to come here to work, better themselves and, in the process, contribute to the vitality of our economy. Like waves of migrants before them, their determined quest to come here is a reflection of the strength of America — not a threat to it. At the same time, the Immigration and Naturalization Service doesn't have the resources to track down thousands of people who come here on student or tourist visas, then disappear into our society — a loophole big enough to pilot a jet through.
What we need is a system of border control in which non-citizens who come here are documented when they cross the border, screened against databases of known evildoers and then monitored to make sure they are in compliance with our laws. If they work hard and keep their noses clean, then we ought to welcome them and celebrate their contributions, eventually giving them citizenship. If they don't, we should ship them home. But we have a hard time doing either if we can't keep track of them. And that is exactly the problem our current system creates.
To think of it another way, consider what happens when lawmakers set an unrealistically low 55-mph speed limit on a smooth multi-lane freeway. Faced with an illogical edict impeding their progress, people become lawbreakers en masse. Catching them becomes an overwhelming, frustrating task.
The United States is the world's most economically dynamic nation, offering unmatched opportunity and freedom that have drawn people here for centuries. But rather than embrace this resource as a strength, we throw up artificial barriers and force those who want to share in the American Dream to hike across broiling deserts and hover in the legal shadows. As a result, we have millions of people in this country that we know nothing about. And we spend so much time trying to hold back this proverbial ocean with a spoon that we don't have the wherewithal to monitor migrants let in legally.
Establishing a more orderly process for migrants — based on the philosophy of letting in the maximum number our economy can bear while also giving them maximum scrutiny — would reduce the incentive to flout immigration laws. Would terrorists and other disreputable fools find ways around the law? Certainly. But the fewer people we have breaking the law, the easier it will be for us to catch those who do.
Overhauling immigration laws would require overcoming the xenophobic wing of the Republican Party. We saw a demonstration of how difficult this is when President Bush backed away from his initial embrace of Fox's "regularization" after the yahoos started to howl.
The GOP is missing the boat if it allows itself to be guided by an anti-immigrant fringe. Those coming here have enough of a confident entrepreneurial spirit to leave behind everything they know and strike out for a better life. In many migrant communities, values of faith and family also are strong.
In short, these new Americans are, by nature, potential conservative voters, not people looking for a liberal nanny state to care for them. But if Republicans indulge in immigrant-bashing rhetoric, as they did in California during the 1990s, they'll push Hispanic voters straight into the arms of the Democrats.
Hispanic voters' hostility to the GOP in California has created a situation where a Republican running statewide can't get elected. By contrast, in Texas, where Bush and other GOP leaders exhibited common sense on migration issues, Republicans capture enough Hispanic support to hold every single post elected statewide.
In Georgia, the Hispanic population is less than 6 percent. But new migrants are congregating in close-in, older suburbs that are now mostly Republican. The GOP must hold on to these areas if it wants to gain control of the Legislature, and it will have to pull decent vote totals from them to win future statewide races.
So here, as across the country, embracing migration is good politics and good for the economy. It also could be a plus — not a minus — for our security.
Richard Shumate is a writer and Internet consultant living in Sandy Springs.??