Immigration Reform is a Family Issue

March 31, 2006

The House came up with a heinous immigration reform bill, H.R. 4437, which labels undocumented residents and the people who help them as felons. In response, protests are erupting from coast to coast, and children are playing a high-profile role in these demonstrations, as well they should. These kids have a lot to lose, particularly those who were born in this country to illegal immigrant parents.

Teenagers are staging walk-outs in high schools across the country. Yesterday, in Bakersfield, CA, several thousand high school students walked out of class to join a rally in front of the courthouse. The thread below the article gives a snapshot of the “debate.” Some comments:

people dint know how the us will be with out imigrants. the whole state of california will be screwed. think of it this way who will pick the fruts that you eat, and every thing else the imigrants do. when i go work in th fields with my parents in the summer i don`t see you AMERICANS work were we are. the only thing you are good for is beeing lazy. when i go work there the only AMERICANS i see are the supervisors. and what do they do? NOTHING!!! they just sit in their trucks and pass by checking if every one is doing their job. for me that is lazyness.

I don’t want to pay out of my pocket for your sorry butts. Just because you hop a fence… no…. just because you BREAK THE DAMN LAW! I have to support you and your children? Get bent. I don’t mind mexicans… at ALL. End of story. ONCE AGAIN! what i CARE about… is PAYING for someone doing something illegal. I’m mad whether you’re mexican, austrailian, singaporian, what the hell ever. But we don’t have a problem with australians… do we? we dont have a prolbem with singaporians, do we? NO!! it doesn’t matter your RACE… GET THAT THROUGH YOUR THICK SKULL. It’s morally wrong. You’re mexican? GREAT! COME ON IN… DO it the LEGAL! way…

So, in a nutshell, the people who support the House’s sweeping, punitive bill view illegal immigrants as criminals who are a financial burden to them because their tax dollars pay for public schools, welfare, and health services for the poor.

This view of the immigrants doesn’t square at all with how these youth view their families, which tend to be extremely hard-working. They also are very aware of their contributions to the economy, particularly in jobs that Americans won’t do.

Now that the House has floated a turd of a bill, it’s in the Senate’s hands to come up with something better. Dianne Feinstein, who used to be somewhat hawkish when it came to immigration, is taking the lead and humanizing the issue. This surprised me:

I have had farmer after farmer, grower after grower tell me they cannot farm, they cannot grow without this workforce.

I didn’t believe it, so I got in touch with 58 — we have 58 counties — 58 welfare departments and asked them to post notices saying: Please, there are jobs in agriculture. Here is where to come. Here is to what expect. Guess what. Not a single person responded anywhere in the 58 counties of California.

That was pretty convincing evidence to me that Americans don’t choose to do this work. It is the undocumented workforce who has been the mainstay of American agriculture, whether through the H-2A program coming cyclically or whether it is through a large contingent of undocumented workers who remain in this country year after year and do this work.

Most importantly, Feinstein ended her speech on the Senate Floor by talking about three families for which she passed private bills to put their deportations on hold. In each case, it was clear that the children would pay the steepest price for the failings of our immigration policy. And yet it is the desire to provide a better life for their children that drives so many parents to immigrate in the first place. A policy that rips families apart is a bad one.