Finding nuanced solutions to illegal immigration

It’s amazing that illegal immigration has become such a hot-button issue  even where the
population of undocumented workers is negligible. In Alabama, where about 3.5 percent of the population is foreign-born, a harsh new immigration law has caused many in that population to flee, taking children out of schools, avoiding trips to the hospital, even for child delivery, fearful to report crime. A federal judge upheld the new law, but, as the NY Times asks, does this “counterproductive cruelty” make sense?

Illegal immigration is not an inconsequential issue. As the Globe’s Joan Vennochi has written, checking fingerprints of arrested suspects isn’t a “publicity stunt.”  T.C. Boyle’s novel The Tortilla Curtain, set in southern California, is a spell-binding yarn about the clash of cultures when self-described progressives come up against the complex realities of illegal immigration. I had a tiny taste of this (and, dear readers, I know it was but a tiny taste, so don’t waste your time sending outraged comments) when I was at a standstill in backed up traffic under the old stone bridge on Route 9 in Wellesley.

An old beat-up Chevy rear-ended me. In parking lot conditions, I got out of my car and walked back to suggest to the driver that, as traffic was about to start moving, we pull off at the gas station up ahead to exchange papers. He nodded. Shortly thereafter, I pulled off and watched in amazement as the driver who had rear-ended me kept going, speeding west on Route 9.

Then it dawned on me. The fellow was certainly Hispanic looking. Perhaps he was here illegally, driving without a license or without insurance. Damage to my car was negligible. But what if it were not? What if an injury had been sustained?

The point is that there are reasons for the rules of the road, both in reality and metaphorically. And people who see problems with illegal immigration shouldn’t automatically be dismissed as heartless. There is room, however, for balanced solutions.

Proposals have been filed in the Massachusetts legislature to bar state contracts with companies that hire illegal aliens (already against federal law) or that use drivers without proper motor vehicle licenses. A proposal also supports communities that want to participate in the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency’s Secure Communities Program, as three sheriffs in the Commonwealth already do. The Patrick administration refuses to participate, claiming that to do so would deter illegal immigrants from seeking help from local police.

I have no problem with a proposal to require social security numbers or federal Tax ID numbers for anyone seeking a motor vehicle registration, and increase penalties for people driving without a license or using a fake ID.

I take issue, however, with those who would bar in-state tuition for illegal residents. Many who would use this benefit were brought here as toddlers by their “undocumented” parents. Those students have grown up here and attended public schools. They are highly motivated to get an advanced education. We are not talking about their going for free, simply having to pay the lower, in-state tuition in the state in which they reside. If they get that education, they will become part of a skilled workforce and more than pay it back in taxes. Support for in-state tuition is one of the only appealing positions taken by GOP Presidential candidate Rick Perry, which, sadly and ironically, is one of the reasons his candidacy is going south.

The federal Dream Act would give certain undocumented individuals, who had come here as children and lived here for several years prior to consideration under the bill, the ability to gain legal status, either through college or military service. Aren’t these the kind of hard-working people seeking to improve themselves or serve the country, the kind whom we would want to become upstanding tax-paying citizens, to strengthen our workforce and/or our military. Aren’t they talent to be embraced? Isn’t it counterproductive to deny them the opportunity and ensure they remain part of an underclass?

Unfortunately, once seen as a step toward comprehensive immigration reform, the Dream Act has died, suffocated by hyper-partisanship in Washington. Washington gridlock has led to states passing their own immigration laws, mostly punitive, which the Obama Justice Department is now challenging.
Immigration policy should be a federal matter, and state laws should be consistent. But if states are going to act, Massachusetts should be on the right side of the issue. And that means a nuanced understanding of what is reasonable, and what is not.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

2 thoughts on “Finding nuanced solutions to illegal immigration

  1. Pingback: Obama’s executive order: the Dream Act lives on by Marjorie Arons-Barron |

  2. Pingback: Obama’s executive order: the Dream Act lives on | Marjorie Arons-Barron

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