Immigration II

Parish Diary   

Fr. Peter J. Daly

October 9, 2003


            People care about immigration. They even get angry about it. I found that out a few weeks ago when I wrote a column about undocumented migrants. I never got such angry reactions to a column.

            One man called me from Texas. He told me that the “wet backs” had taken over the job market in Houston. His solution was to build a wall “100 feet high all along the border and shoot anybody who comes across.” (What would it cost to build a wall 2,500 miles long?)

            One lady told me I was in sin for patronizing any business that may employ illegal aliens. (I guess she does not plan on eating in any restaurants in the Washington DC area.)

            A man from Delaware said that these people should be shipped home so Americans could get the jobs in the chicken processing plants near him. I asked, “Would any member of your family would take such a job for $8.50?”  He said no.

            Let me be clear about what I did and did not say.

            I did not say that I knew that any of the men who were working on projects around our parish grounds were illegal aliens. Indeed, I did not ask them. That is the job of the INS.

            All I said was that everyone knows that a large percentage of these foreign born workers are illegal aliens. That includes the INS.

Estimates vary, but we probably have 3 to 5 million undocumented workers in the U.S.

            This is not a new problem. After all, at the beginning of the 20th century, the pejorative nick-name for Italian immigrants was “WOP”, which stood for “with out papers.” We have always had an illegal immigrant problem.

            The point I was making was about the hypocrisy of both our governmental leaders and our business community on the matter of immigration.

            The business community, largely Republican and conservative, claims to be opposed to illegal immigration. Yet they want cheap labor. Some industries like agriculture, construction, restaurant, and landscaping would grind to a halt without this labor.

            The government claims to be opposed to illegal immigration. Yet they collect taxes from millions of illegals.

            Two states (California and New Mexico) even issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens.

            Illegal immigration is a fact of life. We need to deal with it fairly and directly.

            What is my solution? Four things would help.

            First, create a reasonable “guest worker” visa program, much like they had in Germany and other nations. This allows workers to come in temporarily and legally. It makes them tax payers and allows the law to track them. It also allows employers to abide by the law. They don’t pay under the table. They abide by the wage and hour laws and other labor laws of this country. That would protect the immigrants and our own workers.

We already have a version of this in the six-month visas we grant for agricultural and seasonal work.

            Second, we should do within NAFTA what they did in the European economic union. Before they opened the borders between rich countries (like France) and poorer countries (like Portugal) they developed the poor countries by massive loans and grants. It took 20 years. When they finally did open the borders, there was no massive migration, because the living standards were pretty much equal.

            Third, we would make fair labor standards part of every fair trade agreement. If people want to trade with us them must allow free and independent unions to organize their labor. If raise living standards and wages there, we reduce the pressure to come here.

            Fourth, we need to start more trade schools in our own country. Not everyone is meant for college. If we teach our own young people skills and respect for the skilled trades maybe they would go into those jobs and their would be less pressure to higher foreign workers.

            Before people condemn these migrants for coming here, there is one question they should ask themselves. If their family was hungry or homeless unless they traveled to a foreign country and found a job, what would they do?

I think I would do whatever it takes to feed my family, no matter what border I had to cross. Even if I had to climb over a 100-foot wall.