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Wednesday, 14 April 2010 17:37

Time to tackle immigration reform

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Now that the health care debate is over, here’s what we have: a very middle-of-the-road health insurance reform package. Most on the left wanted much more (the public option), while those on the right admitted they’d like to control health insurance and medical costs but spent all their energy fighting the left as opposed to producing their own proposal.

Time to move on. On the next major domestic issue identified by the Obama administration — immigration reform — we can’t do middle of the road. We need bold immigration reform, a way to bottle the allure of America that will attract the 21st century’s top recruits from around the world while at same time enacting laws that will discourage mass waves of illegal immigration.

This is a complicated issue. Reform should not focus so much on punishing those who are already here illegally — especially the kids and young adults who had no choice in the matter — as it should on controlling future problems. We’ve got to provide paths to citizenship for those already here. It’s just ridiculous for our country to spend energy and resources packing up young men in their 20s and sending them back to countries they know nothing about. Did anyone read the story in the Asheville paper last week about the bust where one of the arrested was in his 20s, had been here illegally since age 2, and immigration authorities were going to ship him back to the Latin American country of his birth that he hasn’t visited since leaving? It makes no sense.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote last week (see excerpt) about a dinner he went to honoring the best young scientific minds in American high schools. The honorees read like a phone book from China, Pakistan, India, Vietnam and other parts of the world.

No one is saying that the American kids we all rhapsodize about — the Caucasians playing sports and hanging out at the mall — aren’t just as smart. They’re just different. Our kids usually tend to mature later, get serious about life and school later, and that’s OK. But we need to keep the doors open to those problem-solving immigrants who push their children into science careers.

And then we have the immigrants mostly from points south who have are getting here way too quickly for some but who, obviously, are much more willing to do blue collar work for wages that allow business owners — farmers, contractors, restaurant owners — to earn a profit. When I was 12, the tobacco and vegetable fields provided summer work for Southern suburban kids one generation off the farm who needed a job; today, those same jobs are held almost exclusively by immigrants, legal and illegal.

It’s seems pretty obvious that the future success of the U.S. economy is dependent on rolling out the welcome mat to diversity. Immigration reform needs to slow the flow of illegal immigration from the south while providing reasonable access to those who want to work — whether it’s in the fields or in the labs — and those who want to attend our universities and colleges. The country that leaves the door open will rule the 21st century, and I’m afraid that we are leaning more toward an irrational fear of immigrants. If that sentiment takes roots, we’ll all suffer the consequences.

(Scott McLeod can be reached in This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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