Ramsey’s punitive approach to illegals is the wrong solution
I was sorry to read in The Citizen that GOP leaders in the General Assembly plan to prioritize anti-immigrant legislation during its upcoming session [“Tighter rules for illegals studied,” 11/24/10]. I am especially dismayed that our own Rep. Matt Ramsey is bent on keeping us from spending “one penny to allow illegal immigrants to attend our schools.”
The massive influx of undocumented immigrants from Latin America in the past 15-20 years came in response to several related events:
(A) In the wake of the NAFTA agreement, Mexican agriculture was undercut by subsidized American farm products, displacing and impoverishing large numbers of low-skilled workers.
(B) Reliable but inexpensive labor was needed to support the relatively prosperous American economy of the Clinton-Bush years, particularly in housing and related sectors.
(C) Our federal government found it easier to “look the other way” as low-skilled Mexican and Central American workers slipped across our border rather than overhaul the immigration laws that made it nearly impossible for them to enter our labor market legally.
At the time, few Americans were alarmed. In fact, in the late ‘90s, even then-Representative Saxby Chambliss asked for a halt to immigration raids that might hamper agricultural production in his district.
Not surprisingly, Republicans and Democrats soon joined in calling for a more rational immigration system.
How easily we forget that both President George W. Bush and 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain were champions of comprehensive immigration reform, supporting a “path for citizenship” for otherwise law-abiding immigrants who had crossed the border illegally.
Only very recently has a combination of harsh economic times and rabid talk-radio rhetoric driven the GOP to reject measures that once seemed both sensible and just to Americans of all political stripes.
Here in Georgia, our state legislators have endorsed policies intended to ensnare law-abiding immigrants “without papers” and turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation under the federal 287(g) program, a measure originally designed to help local authorities deal only with serious criminals.
Even relatively haphazard enforcement of 287(g) has served to separate intact immigrant families, often leaving mothers and children here while the fathers who supported them are sent packing.
It has also resulted in the detention and deportation of young people brought here as small children, some of them now fluent only in English and raised to think of themselves as Americans.
The number of “illegals” in this country is conservatively estimated at 12 million, including over 400,000 in Georgia. Measures to harass them and deny them public benefits are not going to force them to return to places where they have no prospects of finding work. Sooner or later, federal laws will change so that the vast majority of them will qualify for citizenship.
Most of us surely hope that those who do become citizens will be eager to assimilate into the American mainstream.
Yet every mean-spirited and repressive measure we take against them now makes that an increasingly unlikely prospect for the future.
I hope Rep. Ramsey and his committee will be conscious of the long-term costs of trying to avoid spending “one penny” on these hard-working people and their children today.
Peachtree City, Ga.