Day Laborers from AP

The Arizona law which was signed into law earlier this week has caused a firestorm. We have nobody to blame but our politicians in Congress. Immigration has been a problem in this country for more than 15 years. We have seen it. We have studied it. We’ve introduced legislation into both houses of Congress and yet nothing has been done. So, Arizona was fed up with the problem. They decided they’d waited too long for the federal government to do something meaningful. Unfortunately, doing something is not the same as doing the right thing. I think it is clear that this law is racial profiling. I’m not sure that Arizona police have the resources to seriously enforce this law. I suspect the law will be struck down by the courts. I’m not even sure the Supreme Court will hear this argument because this law is so obviously unconstitutional.

Yet, this still doesn’t solve the problem. The fact is that we have millions of people who have come to this country illegally. Why? People did not risk capture, deportation, harassment and even death just to wear American jeans. They came here because they believe the economic opportunities were better here than in their own home country. (This is why I’ve stopped using the term “illegal immigrants.” That term seems to play right into conservative ideology and talking points. “Economic refugee” is a more descriptive term because it explains exactly why these folks came here.)

I discussed this problem just the other day when I was interviewed on Local Edge Radio. The place to start is by enforcing the laws that we have now. We have laws on the books that fine employers for hiring people who are undocumented. These laws must be enforced. If we are going to be serious about reform, then this is the place to start. Economic refugees come here for jobs. If the jobs are available then they have only two alternatives — become an American citizen or return to your home country. There are no alternatives.

Now, I think it is important for all of us to consider the ramifications of enforcing, strictly enforcing, the laws that we have on the books now. When you go to Burger World, who is bussing your table? When you go into your kitchen in the middle of the night to make a BLT sandwich, the lettuce and tomato are extremely affordable. Who picked the lettuce and who picked your tomatoes? As a matter fact, who was mowing your lawn? Who is doing the maintenance at the place where you work? Economic refugees have filled these low-wage jobs for more than 15 years. Employers have kept the wages low,making these jobs unattractive to Americans. So, if we are going to start enforcing our laws, our food is going to cost more. It’s going to cost more to get our lawns cut and our houses built.

Without much fanfare and hoopla, Congress could pass a bill today that would increase the budget for enforcement of the laws that we have on the books now. That’s where we need to start. We can worry about the other stuff later. When American businesses understand that there’s a penalty for not hiring Americans, they will start hiring Americans. If they have trouble filling job positions, sooner or later, they will raise wages. This will put Americans back to work and help us get out of this recession faster. How is this not the right thing to do, right now?