A dose of reality on immigration

Pub date May 2, 2006
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL The massive immigrant rallies, marches, and work boycotts on May 1 may have been an inconvenience to some, and the sight of tens of thousands of undocumented workers demonstrating in the streets may have offended a few politicians, but that’s true with all great social movements. And there’s little doubt that this is a new, great social movement.

The point of the May Day actions was to demonstrate the economic importance of immigrants and to send a not so subtle message to Congress that punitive, regressive immigration "reforms" won’t be tolerated quietly. The legislators in Washington, DC, can debate the finer details of amnesties and guest-worker programs, and the activists can argue over political tactics, but there are a few key points that should never get lost.

Immigration can’t be addressed with fences, border patrols, and felony prosecutions. As long as economic conditions in places like Mexico and Central America (and political conditions in dozens of other places) are dismal, people will try to come to the United States and they will always find ways of getting here.

The overwhelming majority of those immigrants contribute mightily to the nation’s economy and to the fabric of society. The waves of immigration over the years have always made this a better country.

The laws that criminalize undocumented immigrants are cruel, sometimes deadly, and immensely expensive. They’re also a complete failure, and always will be.

The only way to really address this issue is to get beyond the rhetoric and face some facts:

The reason most immigrants come to the United States is economic necessity. If we want fewer people from Mexico crossing the border, then we can help them make a decent living where they are. Imagine what $277 billion (the amount the United States has spent to date on the war in Iraq) would do for economic development in neighboring countries.

Big corporations love "free trade” agreements, but in the United States those deals only allow money and goods, not people, to move freely. In Europe, people can move too but to make that possible, the wealthier nations of the European Union have poured billions of dollars into the less developed areas.

There’s no way to get rid of the 12 million people who are living illegally in the United States, and even talking about it is a terrible idea. Offering them all citizenship, today, would solve a whole lot more problems that it would create. People who don’t fear deportation can fight abusive landlords, take sick kids to clinics, join labor unions, vote, and refuse to accept economic, political, and social abuse.

And that’s better for everyone. SFBG