- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox will meet this week to flesh out an agreement that ostensibly relates to economics but whose implications will affect generations of Americans not even born yet.
They are scheduled to negotiate a program that would open the door for illegal immigrants to become residents, and perhaps citizens, of the United States.
Unless Congress or President Bush makes changes, about 2 million of the people now known as "illegals" will become "guest workers."
The meeting this week is intended to formalize the agreement that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft arranged last month with their Mexican counterparts. The president has said he will make a policy announcement soon.
"The program will rest on a carefully worked-out partnership between the sending and receiving countries, one that recognizes also the contributions that undocumented Mexicans are making in the United States and that brings together willing workers and willing employers," Mr. Powell said after the Aug. 9 meeting in Washington.
Employment is certainly the most immediate concern for the over 1 million illegal immigrants who cross the border each year.
But underlying the agreement is a more sensitive issue. Namely, what ethnic groups will define Americans?
So far, Americans have been defined by a white majority with smaller groups of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and others.
However, the white majority is projected to disappear in the middle part of the century as other populations outpace them through births and immigration. Initially, it will be replaced by a hodgepodge of several ethnic groups, none with a clear majority.
However, with the nation's fastest growth rate, Hispanics — including illegal immigrants from Central America — seem to have speeded up an answer to the question: Which ethnic group is most likely to replace the white majority?
The Hispanic population grew by 58 percent in the 1990s, raising their numbers to about 35 million, according to 2000 census figures. The white population grew 3.4 percent, the black population grew 16.2 percent and the Asian population grew 52.4 percent. Hispanics listed in the census count often include mixed-race people who can be white or black.
The National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy organization, used the census data to recommend an "American Agenda" for the government that includes spending on education, job skills and health care to raise the standard of living for Hispanics.
"This analysis shows that the future of the nation is tied to the outcomes of its Hispanic communities," said Raul Yzaguirre, the council's president. "Now, one in eight Americans is of Hispanic origin, and Latinos are as likely to be found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as they are in San Antonio, Texas."
But other groups feel intimidated by the Hispanic population's rapid increase, especially from illegal immigration. One of them is Project USA, an organization that advocates slowing the immigration rate.
"Because of immigration, the United States is currently growing at a faster rate than China," the group said in a statement. Because of immigration, within the lifetime of an American child our population will double."
Project USA also warned against immigration policies intended to avoid offending Hispanic and Asian-American voters, saying they are "sure to condemn our young to a future of intensifying ethnic conflict."
The Southern border's human tide has resulted in more than 3 million illegal immigrants from Mexico alone. The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates the total illegal immigrant population living in the United States at 6 million to 9 million.
Telling them to stay out has failed miserably. The INS expects to arrest about 1.2 million illegal immigrants at the U.S. border this year … and still they come.

Employers share blame
Employers are fueling the trend as much as the clandestine border crossings, INS officials said.
"Employers are required to make a good-faith effort to verify the employment eligibility of any new hire," said INS spokesman Bill Strassberger. "Many employers do make a good effort at it. But there are many unscrupulous employers out there who will make a good-faith effort with a wink to verify employment eligibility. They want to have cheap labor."
In the Washington area, illegal immigrants are found most often among construction workers and restaurant employees, he said. On Maryland's Eastern Shore, they often are used for agricultural harvesting.
A Caucasian construction supervisor on the New York Avenue rehabilitation project, who asked not to be identified, questioned the ethics of employers who hire illegal immigrants.
"There are laws against it," the worker said. "It's not proper. It's going to make competition more difficult for those who are playing by the rules."
The immigrants also have supporters among rank-and-file Americans. Among them are labor organizations such as the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, a federation of labor unions. As union membership has dwindled in recent years, labor organizations have changed their immigration stance and looked to the newcomers, who often fill blue-collar jobs, to shore up their ranks.
The Service Employees International Union held a press conference in Washington on Aug. 21 to support immigrants' rights. The AFL-CIO says penalties against employers who hire illegal immigrants should be eliminated and replaced with rules that punish exploitation of the workers more severely.
"In the work forces where the organizing is going on, there also are a lot of immigrants," said AFL-CIO spokeswoman Peggy Taylor. "It's an adaptation to the changes in our work force."

Language gap
Immigration trends are reflected heavily in a recent U.S. Census Bureau report that found nearly one in five Americans does not speak English at home. Immigrants created most of the U.S. population growth of the last decade, a period in which their numbers grew more than any previous 10-year period. Hispanics make up 12.5 percent of the U.S. population.
In Washington, almost 18,000 residents said they speak little or no English. Maryland has 107,000 people with limited English skills. Virginia has 125,000. Most of the immigrants in both states live in the Washington suburbs.
The D.C. public school system now translates its announcements into five languages to accommodate the children and parents of immigrants. Their most common place of origin is Latin America.
English-as-a-second language students represent 6.8 percent of the 136,600 students in the Montgomery County schools. "Teaching English-as-a-second language is one of the greatest challenges this school system faces as the number of immigrant and non-English speaking students increases," said Brian Porter, Montgomery County schools' spokesman. "It's not only language services, it's also social services and help for parents and families for accessing the services the schools provide."

Economics fuels trend
Immigration specialists say illegal border crossings will remain a problem as long as the economic equation between the United States and Latin America or other countries remains imbalanced.
About 40 percent of the Mexican population lives in poverty. By getting a job in the United States, they can earn as much in one hour as they earn in a full day in Mexico, often about $5.
Diplomats working on proposals follow the reasoning that control over illegal immigration that weeds out the undesirables is better than turning the border into a battleground. They hope the proposal scheduled for discussion between the U.S. and Mexican presidents strikes that balance.
The proposal to be discussed by the U.S. and Mexican presidents would allow an expanded pool of migrants, employed in service industries like hotels and restaurants, to apply for temporary work permits, with the possibility of earning permanent residency. Some of the illegal Mexicans already in the United States could earn permanent residency if they can certify they had been living and working here for a specified time and had been paying income taxes.
Guest worker status means foreigners can live in the United States temporarily, while they hold jobs approved by the government. However, when the term of the temporary status ends or they get fired from their jobs, they must leave.
The United States already has a guest worker program, but it applies primarily to the agricultural jobs filled by migrant laborers or to workers with high-level technical skills who qualify for H-1B visas.
The agreement reached Aug. 9 would expand the program to give residency to as many as 2 million Mexican guest workers in a variety of service jobs. The president endorsed the idea almost immediately.

Suspicion greets immigrants
But the open arms of the Bush administration are doing nothing to soothe anti-immigrant feelings welling up in some predominantly white areas.
The anti-immigrant movement is led by groups like Project USA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). In April and May, FAIR ran a half-million dollar radio and print advertising campaign in 10 states, cautioning against any new agreements to expand Mexican immigration.
Some citizens have taken their anti-immigrant feelings into their own hands. In April, an employer in Burnsville, Minn., was convicted of attacking a Salvadoran worker for speaking Spanish in his office.
In Noel, Mo., a Hispanic family, newly arrived to work at a local chicken processing plant, awoke July 17 to find signs marked with "KKK," ethnic slurs and death threats outside their company housing.
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke came to Siler City, N.C., last year to speak out against the immigrants attracted to the area to work at a poultry plant.

Few options
Short of a large-scale roundup and forced expulsions, options for dealing with the immigrants are few. One alternative would be a general amnesty for the illegal immigrants already in the United States. In essence, amnesty means that the federal government would declare all illegals to be legal.
President Reagan allowed such an amnesty for about 3 million illegal residents in 1986.
Many have since become citizens, prompting complaints in Congress about such an indiscriminate reward for so many illegal aliens.
Mr. Bush has said he would not support a similar amnesty again.
Some of the stiffest antagonism against amnesty comes from congressional conservatives. They say amnesty acts as an incentive for more illegal immigration and rewards people who broke U.S. immigration law.
It also could burden the United States with an undesirable group of rejects from other countries.
About 7 million Mexican immigrants have applied for residency and are awaiting approval.
The issue creates a dilemma for Mr. Bush and Republicans who support him. They have tried hard to win the votes of Hispanics, who are shaping up as a major voting bloc for the 2004 presidential election.
At the same time, Mr. Bush does not endorse a blanket amnesty that could alienate his political allies.
Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, has said legalization of illegal immigrants would get congressional approval "over my cold, dead political body."
In recent statements, Mr. Bush has said only that he is willing to work with the Mexican government to figure out a solution to what he acknowledges is a disorderly and sometimes dangerous immigration problem along the 2,000-mile Mexican border.
Mexico's Mr. Fox favors an amnesty for his countrymen living illegally in the United States.
There have been recent efforts along the border to treat illegal immigrants humanely.
The INS has organized rescue operations that include putting out water in closed containers along desert-crossing areas and practicing helicopter airlifts of sick, dehydrated or injured illegal immigrants.
The humanitarian aid approach is a reaction to the death toll from border crossings.
Last year, there were 326 such deaths along the Mexican border. In one recent incident, six were found dead from dehydration in the desert.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide