The most essential virtue in the immigration debate is also the hardest to come by. It’s not compassion, as they claim on the left. Or toughness, as they insist on the right.
It’s honesty, plain and simple. You can’t fix a broken system without it. And yet, unfortunately, there’s not much of it here. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a policy debate in the United States that is more rife with lies, half-truths, and faulty assumptions.
Here are the top 15 whoppers, David Letterman style:
15) “Illegal immigrants come to the United States for the free stuff (education, health care, welfare).”
Nope, they come for jobs, which are happily supplied by U.S. employers looking for a cheap and reliable labor force that wants to work.
14) “Latino immigrants aren’t assimilating as quickly as did previous waves.”
Not so. Previous waves took a generation or more to learn English and adopt U.S. customs. Same here. In fact, studies show Latinos losing Spanish and acquiring English.
13) “It’s all Mexico’s fault. If it wasn’t so corrupt and dysfunctional, its most industrious people wouldn’t go north.”
Not fair. Mexico doesn’t force Americans to hire its runaways to do their chores for them. That’s on us.
12) “This is an invasion. Americans are innocent victims.”
Not so fast. The term “invasion” implies something done to us. Illegal immigration is something we do to ourselves either by not securing the border or by hiring illegal immigrants.
11) “Illegal immigration is a net economic loss to cities, states, and the country.”
Not true. Studies show that illegal immigrants contribute more than they receive in sales and payroll taxes and higher productivity for certain industries.
10) “The Obama administration is not enforcing immigration law.”
Nonsense. The government rounded up and deported nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants in 2010, more than in any previous year in recent memory.
9) “This isn’t about legal immigrants.”
Not true. It certainly is about legal immigrants to those groups and individuals calling for a moratorium on ALL immigration and to those who vote to deny benefits to legal immigrants.
8.) “Greedy employers are the problem. If they paid higher wages, Americans would do those dirty jobs.”
Not likely. There are jobs that Americans won’t do at any price. It’s not about the money. It’s about how distasteful the work is.
7) “Dry up the jobs. Self deportation is the answer.”
Not workable. If illegal immigrants choose to leave on their own, they can come back on their own whenever the economy improves. That is not a solution.
6) “All Latinos are pro-illegal immigration.”
Not even close. Polls show majorities of Latinos in favor of border security and opposed to illegal immigration. They also happen to support comprehensive immigration reform and more humane policies.
5) “Deportation is the only solution.”
Nope. If you deport these people, most of them will come back within a few days or weeks. In fact, some Border Patrol agents report arresting the same person three times in one shift.
4) “Employers don’t know who is legal.”
Not believable. During congressional hearings, Bush administration officials reported employers taking Social Security cards with misspellings and others that had this number: 000-00-0000.
3) “You can stop illegal immigration through enforcement only.”
Not likely. This is an economic problem, on both sides of the border. Enforcement alone doesn’t work because there isn’t a wall high enough to stop a parent from feeding his children.
2) “If you criticize a half-baked and harmful solution, then you must be in favor of illegal immigration.”
Not necessarily. You might just be against half-baked and harmful ideas. Perhaps you believe they make the problem worse.
1) “The immigration debate isn’t about race or ethnicity.”
Sure, it isn’t. Anymore than it has been for the last 250 years. The mantra is always: There goes the neighborhood. Newcomers are always seen as inferior to those who arrived earlier, and often, that inferiority is pegged to race or ethnicity.
As issues go, immigration is as complicated as they come. Americans don’t need to make the debate even more difficult — to the point of impossible — by being dishonest about it.
Let’s stop trying to kid each other — or ourselves. Let’s put our cards on the table and have a nice clean game.