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WILLIAMS: A conversation on comprehensive immigration reform
Question of the Day
This is a conversation on comprehensive immigration reform in which columnist Armstrong Williams asks questions of Mike Cutler, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and an adviser to the American Council for Immigration Reform on issues concerning immigration issues that relate to national security.
Q. Many people at the highest levels of government and industry have taken a cynical and duplicitous approach to illegal immigration. In a way, it's symbolic of the approach most average Americans have taken. We rely on immigrant labor to fill jobs that Americans won't do as a result of the meager wages and perhaps undesirable working conditions, while complaining about the side effects — over-exhausted social services, ever-multiplying crime rates, and a grave cultural dilution in the Border States. Do you believe that Comprehensive Immigration Reform would solve these problems or make them worse?
A. There are several components to your question, so let's get started by dispelling the notion that the U.S. has just four "border states." Whenever the immigration issue is discussed, the focus of the conversation usually turns to the border that is supposed to separate the U.S. and Mexico. Make no mistake about it, that border is an important component to the immigration system, but it is only one component. Whenever I am asked about the need to build a fence on the border, I respond by saying that the fence on that border is comparable to a wing on an airplane. Without the wing, the airplane will not fly, however, a wing by itself goes nowhere. In my view, there are actually 50 border states. Any state that has an international airport or access to America's coastline has to be considered as much a border state as are those states that lie along America's northern and southern borders.
The southwest border has to be secured. That border is very unique and is the only place on our planet where the First World collides with the Third World. That border poses a threat to national security and all of the challenges that illegal immigration creates for America and Americans, but fixing the immigration system will require far more than a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In point of fact, an estimated 40 percent of the illegal aliens in the U.S. did not run over our borders and enter the country without inspection. Rather, they were lawfully admitted into the U.S., and then in one way or another, violated the terms of their admission by remaining after their authorized period expired, accepting illegal employment, failing to attend schools for which they were admitted to attend, or otherwise failing to abide their terms of admission.
You are absolutely right that illegal aliens are hired because they work for substandard wages and under substandard conditions. As an agent, I was outraged and often sickened by the conditions I found illegal aliens living and working in. Exploitation is disgusting. But it is vital to understand that the often-cited phrase, "Illegal aliens do the work Americans won't do" is not about the lack of American workers to do the work and do it well. It is about slashing wages, and in many instances, ignoring health and safety regulations.
Q. Do you agree with the premise that it's not a challenge identifying the illegal immigrants in any number of neighborhoods, as they essentially stick out like that of a sore thumb. These aliens are the only people who will gladly and cost-effectively tend to your lawn, babysit your children, and run some of your favorite quick-stop restaurants. Illegal immigration in many ways is the simplest form of outsourcing for certain nonexportable jobs.
Up until now, the focus has been on curbing the supply. The approaches have ranged from the purely illogical — like trying to erect a Great Wall of America along the Mexican border — to the downright diabolical — like private citizens forming vigilante groups and terrorizing brown people who may or may not be illegal immigrants. The recent Arizona law that revokes the business licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants is the first real measure focused on the demand side.
A: I actually worked with the law firm that was retained by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to defend her and her state when they were sued by the Department of Justice over their immigration law, SB 1070. I have been involved with immigration ever since I began my career with the former INS when I was sworn in as an Immigration Inspector in October 1971.
While the immigration system was not up to its challenges for many decades, it is only within the past couple of years that the willful neglect reached a level where certain state and local political leaders such as Ms. Brewer and Mayor Lou Barletta of Hazleton, Pa., sought to address skyrocketing violent crimes involving transnational gangs and narcotics by enacting laws and ordinances that essentially paralleled federal immigration laws that Washington blithely refused to enforce.
It is true that the majority of illegal aliens in the U.S. are from Latin America. This is a function of geography. As I noted earlier, the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexico border is under extreme pressure from desperate aliens, and not only from Latin America, but from countries around the world including "Special Interest Countries" — that is to say, countries that sponsor terrorism. However, there are millions of illegal aliens who are not from Latin America but come from virtually every country on the planet. Focusing on Latinos as being the sole ethnicity of illegal aliens does create terrible problems for the entire Latino community. Stereotyping is a form of racism. Statements by journalists and politicians linking immigration reform to the mythical "Latino vote" are dangerous and wrong-headed.
It is outrageous that Latinos or other ethnic or religious groups are expected to vote and hence, think and act monolithically is nothing short of bigotry. Think about the discussions on television about the "black vote," the "Jewish vote." If police engage in dreaded "profiling" they generally take many other factors into account that involve behavior and situational factors. Yet the same journalists who would assail "police profiling" have no qualms about talking about the "Latino vote."
Additionally, there are many millions of Americans of Latino ethnicity whose roots in America go back generations and whose family members and descendants served with great valor in our armed forces. Yet because of the issue of the "Latino vote" these Americans may face discrimination because of their last name or brown skin. This is truly un-American.
• Armstrong Williams is the author of the book "Reawakening Virtues." Join him from 4-5 a.m. and 6-7 p.m. daily on Sirius/XM Power 128. Become a fan on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.
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