Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Give Us Your Prosperous and Pale

By Conrad Spencer

Overheated rhetoric has come to dominate the immigration debate, and that's a shame because if ever there were an issue deserving of thorough research and deliberate thought, this is it.

Americans' own poll responses are a testament to the complexity of the issue. We don't like those who break the law, but as proprietors of the Land of Opportunity many of us like the idea of people empowered to improve their lives.

It's good that we're having the current debate, but it worries me to see some pull immigration into the culture wars by peddling a paranoid xenophobia. It's hard sometimes to recognize this as the country that beckoned for the world's poor and tired.

Valid arguments can be made about the economic effects of illegal aliens, but to say that illegal immigrants threaten the values and culture of America would be silly were the sentiments not so ugly. One glance at today's headlines show that American culture is already diverse and our values vary considerably from person to person. You can even argue that immigration (legal and otherwise) is central to American culture. This same crowd wishes for a fence along our southern border to turn America into the world's largest gated community.

Fear is bolstered by the myth that immigrants are streaming illegally into the country to take advantage of generous social services, when in actuality illegal aliens are not eligible for most services, such as food stamps or other welfare benefits, and few would risk discovery and deportation to fraudulently apply. Their kids can go to school and illegal immigrants can receive emergency medical care, but illegals are hardly draining the treasury. In fact, the opposite may be happening, as they contribute as much as $7 billion to Social Security, a benefit to which they are not entitled.

There is debate to be had, but it needs to be free of fear or misinformation. When someone must break a law to carve out a better life, that law needs to be changed. We need to find a way to offer America's opportunities without depressing wages, help immigrants find work without fostering exploitation, and learn to celebrate, rather than fear, our country's changing complexion.


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