Pull together on immigration


Waves of Latinos have taken to the streets in the past few weeks to protest House legislation that would make felons of illegal immigrants. Their ranks included high school students in Texas on March 28 and half a million Angelenos on March 25 organized in equal parts by the Catholic Church and popular Spanish-language radio personalities.

While we haven’t seen mass demonstrations in the Piedmont Triad, Latino immigrants’ cultural and economic stamp is undeniable here. Take a look around: those trimming the hedges, loading the newspaper trucks and washing the dishes are likely as not from Mexico or Central America. Log on to, and you’ll find a Greensboro company marketing Duranguense and reggaeton to Latinos across the country. The panaderia on Spring Garden Street is a fixture on the city’s commercial landscape.

Support for increasing restrictions against immigration among native-born Tar Heels runs thick in this state hard bitten by textile and furniture plant closures. With that anxiety in the background, who can blame people for wondering who will pay for increasingly scarce government services?

Compromise is probably the best course for all concerned.

Those who took to the streets were surely demonstrating enlightened self interest. Making criminals out of those who have violated immigration law would mean the battered women and victims of robbery assault among them could no longer turn to the police for protection. And what would we do with a whole generation of young people shut out of public education? As Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said on March 27, ‘“We do not want to create a fugitive class in America. We do not want to create an underclass in America.’”

As of this writing, legislation co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has cleared the Judiciary Committee. By providing for increased border security it addresses the concerns of those who feel immigration has spun out of control.

It’s not perfect: it would create the largest temporary worker program since the bracero program that lasted from 1942 to 1960. Such programs arguably create a second tier of jobs that weaken the wage floor and value immigrants for their labor rather than their whole contributions to society. The business lobby has accordingly cheered this provision.

According to a March 28 report in the New York Times the McCain-Kennedy bill would also provide a path to legalization for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants if they hold jobs, learn English, pass criminal background checks and pay fines and back taxes. Many of the churches have blessed the bill for this measure. And why not? It prioritizes social cohesion over narrow interest politics.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is pushing an alternate bill that includes the tough border security measures, but drops the House’s criminalization clause and likewise jettisons the absorption measures of McCain-Kennedy. We urge him to join his colleagues from Arizona and Massachusetts; it’s time to pull together rather than rend the nation with fear and hysteria.