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It bothers me when presidential candidates talk about immigrants as if they’re all terrorists. Or at least riff-raff we should keep out of America at all costs.

It bothers me when politicians and pundits refer to immigrants as some kind of blight. In a recent article on the "immigrant problem," I said, "We didn't awaken one morning to discover millions of illegal immigrants had entered the country overnight. Porous borders, ineffective policy, lack of leadership--and will, and sporadic enforcement have co-existed for a long time." We don't have an "immigrant problem." We have a "political decision-making problem."

It bothers me when political leaders make ridiculous proposals like building a two thousand mile electrified fence between the United States and Mexico.

It bothers me when immigrants are referenced in the same breath with “the criminal element,” especially when the people making the references are conservatives who supposedly embrace the American ideal of freedom of opportunity and justice for all. Yes, it is true, we have a border enforcement problem and a huge number (estimated 12 million) internationals living on U.S. soil without benefit of legal recognition as immigrants-in-process-toward-citizenship. But it’s frankly not immigrants’ fault our border enforcement and citizenship policies and processes haven’t worked well. It’s our political leadership's—or the lack thereof—fault.

Especially in a culture that's committed to having fewer children and aborting others, immigrants are an important source of future vitality, ideas, productivity, and output for this nation’s future. If we insist upon demonizing them for wanting what everyone wants—freedom—than they will not be as inclined to take correct legal steps toward citizenship. Nor will they be as inclined to work productively.

Both the Republican and Democratic politicians running for high offices must come to grips with this challenge. Candidate Newt Gingrich is taking some heat for recent comments that seemed to offer a bit of common sense and compassion about immigrants. Perhaps his comments were merely a politician’s ploy and an appeal for votes, but hopefully his attitude is authentic. If so, it’s a step in the right direction.

Immigrants are not the enemy. They’re part of our future, so we need to provide them with a doable process toward legal recognition. And of course they need to take this step. They will if what we offer them is a path to meaningful American citizenship and not a road to second-class status.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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