Neighbors and Partners

Last Labor Day agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) swooped down on a poultry plant in Stillmore, Ga., arresting 120 people with false papers and scattering another 300 in all directions. ICE agents also raided several homes in town, breaking windows and entering forcibly. As people scattered, one family hid for two nights in a tree, while other frightened workers fled into the woods, leaving women and children behind without resources.

The get-tough tactics of ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security, have repeatedly disrupted communities through mass roundups and midnight raids from Charlotte, N.C., to Arkadelphia, Ark., to Greeley, Colo. The raid in Stillmore shrunk the town's population in a single day by at least one-third, while devastating its local economy.

Out of fear for homeland security, the immigrant population is under siege. Those arrested experience their families terrorized, their rights abused and their detention location frequently kept secret.

The U.S. Catholic bishops, together with people of faith, recognize the human and social costs of an enforcement-only policy that divides families, disrupts communities and disrespects human dignity. The bishops are asking sensibly moral people to join in calling for comprehensive immigration reform. Those workers who pick our vegetables, process our food and fill a myriad of service jobs in our communities have become an indispensable part of the U.S. economy, and no immigration policy will work without acknowledging that fact.

 A proposed comprehensive immigration reform would include "earned" legalization for undocumented persons in the United States. Earning legalization with a path to citizenship would stabilize the workforce in many areas, promote family unity and ultimately enhance national security. Legalization could come with certain stipulations, such as requiring six years of employment, the payment of a fine and any owed back taxes, plus English instruction before workers and their families could become eligible for permanent residency. With permanent residency gained, the individual could apply for citizenship — another five-year-plus process.

Opponents of earned legalization wrongly argue that it looks like amnesty. Their mantra: illegals broke the law in coming, so why reward them with citizenship? First, deporting 12 million undocumented people appears unrealistic and complicated, and second, the entire U.S. economy would slump from dislocations in various labor markets. Amnesty means legitimate authority restoring a guilty party to innocence by wiping away the offense. Earned legalization, on the other hand, represents a process that may demand an undocumented person spend 11 to 13 years to complete the requirements for citizenship.

Some of the root causes of illegal immigration trace themselves back to the free trade agreements, NAFTA and CAFTA, that favored the free flow of goods and capital, but not labor. The agreements were written to benefit the corporations, forcing disadvantaged workers to migrate to support their families, even by entering the U.S. illegally. In addition, the availability of visas to enter the country legally are severely limited and do not meet our labor market demands. Comprehensive immigration reform could address agriculture and industry's need for labor while guaranteeing justice for workers by including living-wage levels, workplace safety requirements and protections for family unity.

According to the Church's social teachings, nations have a right to control their borders, but not an absolute right. All people have a right to migrate to earn their livelihoods, if their home countries cannot provide work. For the common good, the U.S. needs reasonable immigration laws to sustain a strong economy and accommodate foreign workers, thereby avoiding midnight raids from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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  • Guest

    The theory of NAFTA was that the free flow of goods and services among the three countries would stimulate the economy and provide employment in Mexico.  Your article says that NAFTA was written to benefit corporations. If that is so, then why were the labor unions so opposed to NAFTA?  Why do they remain opposed?  Don't you recall that the opponents of NAFTA kept saying that the whooshing you will hear is the sound of the jobs leaving the USA for Mexico?  The corruption in Mexico that purposely prevents the creation of a middle class – and the jobs that would go with it – prevented that from happening. That corruption of Mexican society, not NAFTA, is the cause of the social problems in Mexico and the resulting migration, and until that is resolved the immigration problem into the USA will go on and on.

    I agree with you in that we need the kind of earned citizenship that you describe (We have no other choice).  But that will not resolve the problem.  Mexico is a country of some 90 million people and a one trillion dollar (US) economy. According to studies by both the UN and the OAS, the Mexican economy cannot provide for some 40 million Mexicans that must be resettled elsewhere (guess where) – and that assumes that there is some improvement in the way money flows down into the lower classes of Mexico. 

    As you design this earned citizenship program for 12 million Mexicans, keep in mind that it must shortly accomodate 28 more million Mexicans. Build it and they will come.  Who could blame them? The USA economy is growing and most experts believe it could accomodate 40 million Mexicans over a period of time – perhaps 10 to 20 years. One of the problems is to bring 12 million Mexicans into the earned citizenship program and prevent the program from being overwhelmed by the 28 million right behind them.  The other problem is the potential cooling of the US economy. You don't want to think about a situation where unemployment in the USA reaches 6-8%, and we are trying to bring 40 million Mexicans into the work force.  Design the earned citizenship program, but build into it the means to gradually accomodate 40 million Mexicans over a period of 10 – 20 years. 

    The Irish, Italians, Jews, Gemans, etc., that came to this country in the late 1800's and early 1900's became the Greatest Generation that saw the USA through the depression, WWII and the development of the computer and the landing on the moon.  These Mexicans could be the next generation that will take this country up to the next level. 

  • Guest

    I agree with dannycomelatley except on the final point.  These Mexicans are not COULD BE THE NEXT GENERATION. They ARE the next generation and they ARE taking this country up to the next level.  Just that some get killed and jailed in the process.  How really sad how we treat people who do the tough jobs our citizens do not want to do.

    This action smacks of the Japanese camps set up in this country during WWII, nothing less.  Read Rerum Navarum (sp) the Catholic encyclical regarding the working life and what employees should expect in a work force.  It opened my eyes.

  • Guest

    One difference is that housing and labor laws have changed since the previous giant waves. They were free to live eight to a room, to save their money to pay for passage for their families. And they were free to trade their labor for training and education, when it wasn't worth wages. The wave from Mexico doesn't have that freedom.

    Another is that those other waves came knowing that they would pay their own way, all the way. There were no taxpayer-funded handouts of any sort. They put no burdens on the taxpayers, but only on those who volunteered to pick them up. That isn't the case any more.

    And the Mexican wave includes a large element that resists integrating into American culture, particularly regarding using English and respecting equality. (Inequality is built into Mexican law in many places; there are a lot of positions which are illegal for the foreign-born to hold.)

    (edit)And a significant portion, being here illegally, have no compunctions about breaking other laws.  There's a steady stream of stories in the local news about immigrants who are convicted of numerous, repeat offenses.(end edit) 

    I don't claim to have the solutions to these problems, but I do think they need to be addressed.

  • Guest

    I don't pretend to have any solutions for the immigration situation, but something other than enforcement-only needs to be done.  Here is my story: 

    My husband is from Mexico, he came here illegally, and we were married almost 4 years ago.  He was detained, then released to appear in immigration court where he was told he could "voluntarily depart" the country or face deportation – either way, it set in motion the "10-year-bar" from re-entry into the country unless we were granted a waiver, which is only given on a case-by-case basis.  He left for Mexico when I was 30 weeks pregnant with our first child; I also am physically disabled and wasn't able to work.  For two full years, while working with our senators (we're in NH) to try to get a waiver for him, I had to survive on welfare, food pantries and subsidized housing with our son.  My husband is a skilled mason and could easily have gotten a job to have supported us, but instead it cost the government MORE money because they had to support our son and I while they made my husband leave.  Our waiver did come through 2 years later (the consulate told us that because we were married, it ONLY took 2 years) and he is now here.  Ours is not a unique situation; it happens every day. Something needs to be done to keep families from being split apart.

  • Guest

    I'm not smart enough to know all the answers for this problem, but my heart keeps on thrumming with one truth:  Lazarus will not lie hungry at sick at my door without my helping him.  God have mercy on us all.  

  • Guest

    Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, my dad, with an 8th grade education, supported his family by working at a Ford auto plant. There were many such possibilities for Americans, even those with little formal education, to work honorably and to provide a good life for their families. Today many of those opportunities no longer exist, many having moved to foreign countries such as Mexico and China. But the American worker faces a new challenge: he must compete for the few jobs remaining, often with workers imported from other countries.

    Ours is a cynical system. It sends out an unofficial, but effective, invitation “through the grapevine” that if only one can successfully beak the law to enter, one can find work which pays many times better than can be made back home. The catch is that the illegal must accept lower wagesthan legal workers, lesser working conditions, and no benefits, and worst of all, must live in fear of the day when the government just might decide to enforce the laws that have been broken. Most of the time, the illegal must beak even more laws in order to work. The sword of Damocles hangs always over their heads.

    Those American workers, who have witnessed the erosion of their job and wage base, bear the brunt of this cynical system. A huge pool of illegal workers allows employers to get away with lower wages,working conditions and no benefits even to citizens. It is simply not true that illegals are doing jobs Americans won’t do. Americans are perfectly willing and eager to work in factories and construction and other humble and honest jobs…they just can’t compete with imported workers. In fact, they aren’t even legally allowed to! Employers would be required to provide a much higher level of compensation to legals, but why would they when a steady stream of illegal and desperate workes is available?

    Americans are good people, and it is amazing how they have shown tolerance to the millions who have arrived illegally to take their jobs. Even after millions of, mostly illegals, took to the streets, we heard of almost no retribution. And of course that would be wrong. But are we surprised that this cynical system may engender bitterness
    and resentment between people? And hopelessness when there is no way to compete?

    Every country has not only the right but the duty to protect its borders, to enact just laws, and to enforce them. We as citizens can clothe and feed our children, but we must be able to depend upon the government for the above. When we cannot, it promotes despair, fear and disregard for all law.
    We must send a message across the grapevine that our “Yes” means yes and our “No” means no. That is the just and merciful message. American workers need to know that they are held in esteem and will be allowed to compete for honest well-paying work; would be immigrant workers need to be welcomed in appropriate and regulated numbers that will not destroy opportunity for citizens.

    This cynical system is second only to slavery for both the illegal worker and for the American worker. The myth that our economy depends for its existence upon a perpetual underclass that can be controlled by fear is unacceptable.
    It certainly is not the American Way.

  • Guest

    We have a huge illegal problem because (a) Mexican politicans have been crooked and incompetent for the last 100 years, and (b) US manufacturers of labor-intense products welcome the cheap labor. 

    If our federal government would place the responsibility for checking work documents with the US companies that hire workers to manufacture and/or produce labor-intense products, and enforce those laws with regular, unannounced inspections, and impose heavy fines on the employers for the first offense, heavier fines for the second offense, and criminal prosecution for the third offense, you would see the illegal immigration problem disappear as the unemployed Mexicans headed back to Mexico.  

    Those US companies love the money, but you can't spend it in jail.  That is exactly what it will take, and we will never see it happen.

    Having spent a number of years in Mexico, there is no doubt in my mind that you would see a violent revolution in Mexico in very short order. Mexicans are a hard working, gentle, friendly, loving and caring people.  They don't deserve the government they have endured too long, and the US manufacturers that have taken advantage of their plight have a lot to answer for. 

    There are several villians here, but there is only one victim – the Mexican people.