Immigration Report: The Hispanic View

For the purpose of this article, I'm using the term Hispanic because it is expedient. The term encompasses millions of people from two dozen Latin American countries (and Spain, if you also want to include it), of all races, and with diverse religious, ethnic, political, educational, social and economic backgrounds. Some don't even speak Spanish. All of them are not called "Hispanic" anymore the moment they leave the USA and return to their places of origin, where they are Nicaraguans, Argentineans, Mexicans, or Uruguayans. Still., the media and the politicians would like to think that there is a "Hispanic vote" out there the way there are Detroit Tiger fans.

Not quite.

Let's start with Puerto Ricans: all Puerto Ricans are American citizens, except for those rare ones who have expressly renounced their citizenship. Then there are the Cubans, who are granted asylum if they manage to land on American soil. Everybody else who was born in a foreign country and moves to the USA has to go through numerous immigration and documentation procedures if they want to live in this country legally.

The paperwork involved is not trivial: it takes years to get a visa and become a resident. You can get an idea of the labyrinthine process by browsing at the US Immigration Support website.

Becoming a legal resident of the US, and later a citizen, is a laborious process. However, since you are law-abiding person who wants to live in a country based on the rule of law, you go and apply, and talk to a lawyer, and study hard, and learn English, and get interviewed, and persevere until you are a legal resident. And then persevere some more until you are a citizen. Later yet, if you want your parents to join you in your new country, you start all over again.

Imagine your dismay when reading the immigration bill that just went down in the Senate, and realize that it would have provided a special path for illegal aliens in which the immigrants that are already in the country legally do not participate. That those arriving as temporary workers would be precluded from applying for permanent residence is a moot point, since the bill would grant the illegals here immediate probationary legal status.

The bill also would have allowed those who are now illegal immigrants to collect Social Security even if they have committed identity theft or fraud.

To add insult to injury, there was a provision (later removed) by which the illegals that had not paid federal taxes wouldn't have had to pay back taxes. You had been paying your them all the while, waiting for your citizenship to come through. You felt like a chump.

And rightly so.

We all know that the temporary guest worker program that the bill proposed was a cheap labor program. Obviously that was the point. What wasn't so obvious is that if you were one of the less-educated immigrants -for example if you didn't graduate in high school-, your wages would be decreasing. The bill had no wage floor provisions: there was no requirement that the employers pay prevailing wages. And since nearly one third of all immigrant households has a member with no high school degree, low skilled workers now legally employed in the US would be most directly affected by the annual influx of 200,000 temporary workers.

The influx of cheap labor would have had a depressing effect on wages across the board, not just on unskilled labor. The costs and barriers entrepreneurs face in sponsoring labor from other countries would not have decreased since the bill would have imposed even more regulations. Many Hispanics entrepreneurs, like myself, were worried that such a large influx of unskilled labor might mean that domestic training in some skilled trades, such as construction, might decrease substantially. It would affect America's competitiveness.

Additionally, as a law-abiding American citizen or resident, you were concerned about national security. The bill gave the government only 24 hours for background checks. It didn't prevent those who had committed terrorist acts or aided terrorists from asserting "good moral character;" there was no time frame for appeals. A terrorist, a gang member, or a criminal could have tied up the courts with appeals and Z-visa applications while remaining in the country. All the while, the bill's provisions on border security are already in the books.

In short, the immigration bill was a slap in the face of all immigrants (Hispanic or otherwise) who are here legally, and for those millions of people all over the world who have applied to come to the USA and who are in line waiting.

Also, even the undocumented workers who have been living and working and contributing to the country for decades deserve better than this mess of a bill that politicians tried to railroad through Congress with clay pigeons and behind-the-doors dealings. These workers deserve a humane normalization process through which they can become Americans. All Americans have earned the right to laws that are subject to proper legislative process in both chambers, real debate, and honest amendments.

That's what a representative democracy is all about.

Fausta Wertz writes on New Jersey, taxation, current events, and the French and Spanish-language media at Fausta's Blog.