Back in the late 90s I worked with a framing crew from Central America in Atlanta. I have nothing but fond memories of the opportunity, and enjoyed the experience very much. I played pickup soccer about 3 times a week with people from Latin America, Europe, Africa, and occasionally even some Americans. It was a great opportunity to meet other people from other cultures. Whatever else you think about soccer, it is the most universal game on the planet.
I’ve seen estimates that as much as 6% of the U.S. population is made up of illegal immigrants. I, for one, have no problem believing that number. Driving by most road crews, or construction sites, landscape maintenance crews, or hotel cleaning staffs, it’s not hard to for me to accept that a significant part of our workforce is made up of people who came here from other countries to work. And from what I’ve witnessed, they are hard working people, with a strong work ethic. I respect that.
I recall a Cuban worker proudly telling me that his son was born in America. On that same job, some of the guys had their young sons, not even teenagers, on the roof with us, learning the trade. While it presents a workplace safety issue that probably shouldn’t be ignored, it also showed me that they were instilling their children with work values that I admire.
What can’t be ignored, is that our immigration policies to date have not prevented illegal immigration, and maybe even encouraged entire segments of our workforce to be predominantly composed of non-native workers. You’d be hard pressed to find someone fluent in English on many of these crews.
With recent news out of Arizona, there is also a side of the illegal immigration story that hasn’t been addressed; a murdered rancher who for years had asked for something to be done, kidnappings, shootouts, drug running. The Arizona immigration enforcement law is unfair, to the law enforcement workers who will now be pressed to work harder to enforce a law that the federal government simply hasn’t been able to handle. For our federal officials to say that what they’re doing is working is for me to doubt my own eyes, even two thousand miles from the Arizona border. No doubt the majority of illegal immigrants are honest, hardworking economic refugees just making a living. That our foreign policy hasn’t been able to address the problems in other countries no doubt has something to do with the problem. But along with the hard-working immigrants, we contend with the fallout. When the crops freeze, the immigrants are suddenly without work, and now rely on humanitarian aid. Add to this, some 300,000 babies being born to illegal immigrants in our hospitals every year. This is the gamble we take alongside of the immigrants when we don’t do anything to address our border problem.
I don’t know much about the legal immigration process, but it’s apparently not the preferred method of gaining access to the American workforce. Other than observing that the majority of our recent immigrants appear to be non-English speaking Hispanics, there is little else we definitively know about them. They are here by their own resolve, and by our own willingness to allow them to be.
So what is the problem that needs to be addressed most? I certainly don’t want to see mass deportation, but when I see protests against legitimate businesses, or angry crowds in the streets, I have to admit, I’m a little uncomfortable. I don’t think they deserve to be granted citizenship just by virtue of flaunting our laws. I don’t have a problem with the immigrants who are here just doing an honest days work for an honest days pay. I’m inspired by them, quite honestly. But when I see others agitating change, it doesn’t endear me to their cause, it alienates me.
I don’t have a problem with the illegal aliens working on the roof, but I have no time for angry mobs of criminals on the street. The path to citizenship should be through industrious contribution to society as a whole, as measured by a country’s citizens. Angry protests in the streets demanding something not entitled is no way to gain my support.