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Monday, May 01, 2006

How to Turn a Humanitarian Issue into a Radical Cause

If you are a "left winger" or a "right winger," it's easy. For the extreme left, most things already are radical causes; but the extreme right also manages to turn many issues into radical causes. Let me give you an example.

Immigration. Need I say more? On the left, we have those who would open the borders to all, with no paperwork. Radicalism demands naivete, that we assume that anyone who crosses a border illegally has good reasons. Never will they be terrorists or drug dealers, and anyone who implies that some of them might be is a right wing reactionary who wants to kill Mexican and Iraqi babies. There can't possibly be a middle ground, where moderates stand.

The right, however, manages to do its share, also, to turn immigration into a hot-button radical cause, by its reactionary opposition to people with varying shades of skin color. By assuming that anyone who crosses illegally must have criminal motives, merely by virtue of having crossed illegally, the "right" also manages to knee-jerk this issue into the radical realms of unrealistic thinking. In the process, those who think that "Americans" inherently have greater worthiness of human rights tend to cause otherwise moderate people to start waxing leftward.

Today, we see a good example of that. The right has controlled our immigration thinking for so long that our primary way of handling it is first, to close the borders to all but those who don't have any significant need to cross, and second, to attempt to catch any who cross without permission. As a reaction, the left decries any efforts at limiting or monitoring immigration, and urges a shut down of the American economy to prove a point.

Once again, we make the mistake of "siding" with one political ideology or another. Too many Americans are thinking with the right or the left, with the conservative or the liberal, instead of asking what is sensible and humanitarian. I've got a clue for you: conservative and liberal, though each is sometimes right, are both really about choosing loyalties to a "side," not about figuring out what is right. Neither really addresses the issue with both the logic that good sense requires and the the compassion that grace requires. To achieve that, we have to think outside the boxes that have been constructed by partisan political ideologies.

Both sides have a point. The conservative view is right to acknowledge that people with criminal motives are crossing the borders, and must be stopped. The liberal view is right to acknowledge that people are entitled to human rights, regardless of where fate placed their births. And both sides are right to ask what the economic implications of illegal immigration are.

But some points rarely get made, and the conservatives in particular need to think about some facts that they've previously ignored. For one, we need to examine what illegal aliens put into and take from the "system."

We know that either a social security number or a green card is required to obtain work in this country. With the law being enforced more strongly than in times past, even the illegal worker is required to present a number in order to work. In many, if not most, cases of illegal workers, they provide some random social security number, because without putting some number, they can't be hired. So taxes and other deductions are removed from their pay, just like any other worker's pay. The only difference is that they don't file tax returns and get credited for what they've paid. They don't get their tax money back in April, and they don't get the earned income tax credit. So when we hear that they don't pay taxes, but receive welfare and all sorts of other benefits, it just isn't true. They pay taxes, but they don't pay them on their own accounts. They also pay sales tax, gas tax, car registration, and other fees that we don't call taxes but which really are.

A second point that conservatives need to consider when proposing policies regards education. I still remember when Pete Wilson pushed a bill in California that, among other things, denied public education to the children of illegal immigrants. I lived in Texas at the time, but still followed much of the news from my native California, and I could not understand the shortsightedness of such a foolish policy. For me it wasn't about loyalty to the Republicans or the Democrats, it was simply logic. Education isn't something we provide to individual children because their parents' taxpayer status makes them worthy! It's a service we provide because it makes stronger, healthier community, state, and nation. When children receive a good education, they are better able to contribute to the intellectual and economic achievements of the country when they reach adulthood. They are better able to make a living, and far, far less likely to live in poverty or require state assistance as adults to pay for food, housing, or medical expenses. By denying these children an education, we compound the economic disadvantage they already have, increasing the likelihood that the state will have to contribute to their livelihood later. If we are truly concerned about the financial impact of illegal immigration, regardless of whatever other steps we take, we need to offer the best education we can to all who are within our borders.

The third, and perhaps farthest reaching, point we must consider is what kind of cultural identity America has and wants to engender. The United States was built upon such ideals as the "Puritan work ethic." Our country was founded upon ideals of equality, hard work, and ingenuity. Our history begins, and moves forward, with people who felt a strong need to improve their world. Who is more likely to keep this spirit alive within our borders than those who make the hard journey, often on foot, to a new country, to work -- any honest work? These are the kind of immigrants who embody what keeps the United States a world leader. These are the kind of immigrants who would embody the spirit of true American patriotism, if the conservative "patriots" would stop driving them into the arms of leftist antipatriots, with efforts to keep them from working, learning, or doing anything to rise above poverty and ignorance.

If we would open our borders much more liberally to those with a genuine work ethic, and those with sincere and honest reasons for wishing to be in the United States, we would be morally entitled to take the very harshest measures to stop illegal immigration. If we would offer education as an assistance, both to permanent immigrants and those who wish to return to Mexico, we would see immigrants contributing positively to our economy, and we would see the Mexican situation improve to such a degree that far fewer Mexicans would feel the need to come to the United States to improve their lot.

I tend to identify with the conservative thought line on most political issues; but when I consider how the conservative powers have handled immigration in the past, I am ashamed of both the lack of human compassion and the lack of logical analysis that have dictated policy. Knee-jerk opposition to immigration has not solved anything except for driving immigrants, both legal and illegal, into the arms of knee-jerk liberals. It has led to the kind of anger that promoted a day of walking out of work and school to protest.

I do not recommend walking out, or "joining" any liberal movement. I can't endorse any political party that thinks lightly of helping illegal immigrants get rights with one hand, while encouraging them to abandon their faith and slaughter their babies with the other. Rather, I urge the conservatives of this nation to rethink their attitudes about immigration and immigrants. If we resent that immigrants tend to join with liberal thinking, we must ask ourselves who drove them in that direction in the first place.