- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

For the second time in as many months, hundreds of thousands of mostly Hispanic immigrants — many believed to be “illegals” working without proper documentation in the country — have staged protest marches in cities across the United States.

Those represent only a small percentage of the 12 million believed to be in the United States, doing jobs many Americans reject. Now, with the passage of new laws by the House, they face deportation and criminal charges, if caught. The protesters demand more rights and a fast track to a Green Card and ultimately, U.S. citizenship.

In Joliet, Ill., the Chicago Tribune reports march participants, mostly Hispanics, carried signs stating: “We Are America” and “Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote” and its Spanish-language counterpart, “Hoy Marchamos, Manana Votamos.” Many marchers chanted “U.S.A.,” and waved American flags. “We love this country,” many reportedly said.

Indeed, there is little doubt the vast majority of immigrants — Hispanic or otherwise — who come to the United States truly love this country. This is an easy place to make a life for oneself. Their reason for immigrating is no different from the millions of immigrants who have preceded them over the last two centuries, from the first Pilgrims who sailed to Plymouth Rock from England, to the most recent Mexican or Salvadoran who crossed the Rio Grande and braved the deserts of the Southwest, all in search of a better life.

Well, here is an idea that would pave the way to instant decriminalization of immigrants caught under this new law. It’s called the U.S. Armed Forces: the Army, Air Force, Marines, or Navy.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan needing more than a few good men, and certainly more than “an Army of One,” why not offer any immigrant who elects to sign up for a stint in the U.S. Armed Forces, say for a two-year tour of duty in a combat zone, instant citizenship upon completion of the said tour. Or offer citizenship after a four-year noncombat role in the military. Or a combination of the above.

Some will take the offer of defending their adopted country and rise to the challenge.

And how can anyone of us who has the luck of being legally in the country really blame them for wanting for their families what we want for ours? We all came here for the same reason. And if you did not arrive here as an immigrant, then perhaps your father or grandfather was the one to cross the seas to settle in the land of amber waves of grain. If anyone should be upset about more immigrants crossing the borders it should be the Native Americans.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill grapple with a series of suggestions on how to handle the influx of illegal immigration. Proposals range from the impossible — deport them all — to the obscene: build a 700-mile wall across the southern border.

Last December, the House passed legislation to build vast border fences, force employers to verify the legality of their workers and tighten security on the nation’s frontier.

It is worth reminding that the East Germans tried the wall thing, and it didn’t work very well. And their Wall came with a few extras to help deter would-be crossers, such as landmines, watchtowers with machine-gun nests and fascist border patrol guards with orders to shoot to kill. And many did shoot, and many did die. Yet some continued to cross. President Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Berlin Wall and addressed the Soviet leader of the time, Mikhail Gorbachev, and pleaded with him: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

A short while later it wasn’t exactly Mr. Gorbachev who tore down the wall, but the people who had had enough, and the border guards stood by. Let’s say Mr. Gorbachev never gave the order to prevent the Wall going down. The rest, as they say is history.

Now, hopefully we are not about to repeat Soviet history in the United States. In any case — as was proven with the Berlin Wall — such barriers are far from impregnable. Before long, immigrants will learn to build tunnels under it, to jump, or fly over it or simply blow holes through it.

There is the McCain-Kennedy bill that would create a new guest-worker program and permit religious and other organizations to help illegal immigrants without fear of facing criminal penalties. This bill has the backing of the immigration advocates and the business community.

President Bush had made the immigration issue a top item on his domestic agenda, hoping that by providing a solution he would satisfy his conservative base, and at the same time woo the Latino voters.

But the parties failed to reach a compromise. Conservative opposition in the House forced the project to be scrapped.

The House bill was vehemently opposed by a number of groups such as business lobbies, ethnic groups, religious organizations and labor unions on grounds the measures were too harsh on illegal immigrants and impose unworkable requirements on employers.

Supporters of the bill, who include House Republican leaders, are convinced they have the support needed from constituents fed up with illegal aliens flooding through the border.

But opponents from both sides of the aisle contest the House-approved punitive measures that could criminalize undocumented workers as well as their families and even those who employ them. However, they say the bill does not address how they would bring the some 11 million or 12 million illegal aliens out of the shadows and into lawful society.

This is where the military can play a major role in forming illegal aliens into patriotic Americans. But you can be sure such a proposal will meet a barrage of opposition.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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