States take on immigration: Ruben Navarrette Jr., San Diego Union-Tribune
- http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/01/EDKTVU1FS.DTL&hw=States+take+on+immigration&sn=001&sc=1000States take on immigrationTuesday, April 1, 2008More and more states are doing the job that Congress failed to do by trying to formulate immigration policy - either by scaring off immigrants or bringing in more of them.According to the Associated Press, about 350 immigration-related bills were introduced in state legislatures in the first two months of this year. Legislators in states across the country are doing everything they can to make illegal immigrants feel unwelcome - by denying them driver's licenses, college admission, medical care, etc.The irony is that, in many of these states, it is illegal immigrants who helped fuel growth, construction, development and economic prosperity. Show me a state where people feel overrun by illegal immigrants, and I'll show you one where individuals, businesses and municipalities have, in recent years, lined their pockets thanks to illegal labor.Talk about ungrateful.Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in California have gone from ungrateful to untruthful. Not only do they deny that illegal immigrant labor has been a net positive for the state - and specifically to many of the farmers, ranchers, hoteliers and restaurateurs who tend to contribute to Republican campaigns. Now the legislators are claiming that illegal immigration has a "negative impact" on the state budget, which is $8 billion in the red.Recently, Republicans in Sacramento unveiled nearly two-dozen enforcement bills intended to improve the state's bottom line by cracking down on illegal immigrants. Predictably absent from their proposals is any mention of getting tough on employers, lest those employers return the favor by getting tough on Republican lawmakers running for re-election.Luckily, at least one California Republican is still thinking straight. In answering a question about how the state should handle the financial costs of illegal immigrants, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said last week that it would be a "big mistake" to blame California's gargantuan budget woes on people who are in the country without proper documents."There is always a time like this where you start pointing the finger at various different elements of what creates this budget mess, and some may point a finger at illegal immigrants," Schwarzenegger said. "I can guarantee you, I have been now four years in office in Sacramento, I don't think that illegal immigration has created the mess that we are in."Schwarzenegger is right about that. And that is no surprise. When it comes to immigration, the governor - himself an Austrian immigrant - has a common sense not usually found in politicians. I've seen this in interviews over the last few years where Schwarzenegger has stressed that Americans need to channel their anger and frustration at government and not at the immigrants themselves, acknowledged the xenophobia wrapped up in the immigration debate, and pointed out that many of those who come to the United States illegally do so because the law doesn't provide a way for them to come legally.In fielding the budget question, Schwarzenegger could also have pointed out that the state would be in even worse economic shape if not for the prosperity and productivity enjoyed by those who do business in California. Whether you're talking about hotels in San Diego, restaurants in Los Angeles, farms in Fresno, or wineries in Napa, there are plenty of employers who contribute generously to the state's tax base - and they are able to do so in part because they have access to illegal immigrants. While Congress and the states fiddle over this issue, these employers know that a labor shortage could put them out of business.That's why some states - instead of trying to get rid of immigrant workers - are actively trying to bring in more of them. In Colorado and Arizona, lawmakers are considering state-run guest-worker programs to import more immigrant laborers. The Arizona plan would allow employers to use Mexican consulates to recruit workers, as if they were glorified unemployment offices. In Colorado, the idea is to help locate workers to harvest chili peppers, tomatoes and watermelons - the kinds of swell jobs that clueless cable news demagogues assure us Americans would gladly do if wages were higher.Coincidentally, Arizona and Colorado also happen to be replete with people who are concerned about immigrants, both legal and illegal, and the cultural changes they bring about. Is the assumption that immigrant guest workers wouldn't bring about the same changes?By holding up two signs at the border - "Keep Out" and "Help Wanted" - Americans send mixed messages about illegal immigration. And now individual states are doing the same.You see, it doesn't really matter which level of government tackles this problem. The contradictions remain.Ruben Navarrette Jr.'s e-mail address is ruben.navarrette@....This article appeared on page B - 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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Peter S. Lopez ~aka:Peta
Sacramento, California, Aztlan
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