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The Real Beneficiaries of Illegal Immigration
August 1, 2001

Suppose average congressman from Anytown, USA took to the House floor this morning to offer a modest proposal: due to a shortage of hedge-trimmers, toilet-scrubbers, and baby-minders, it's time to create a new subclass. Not slaves per se, but not citizens either. We'll mete out enough benefits to keep them docile, but stop short of the rights that would make them equal to the rest. Slight privilege but no participation.

Oh the horror! Politicians would pile over each other to register their revulsion while pundits scanned their thesauruses for oppressive adjectives. Joining the chorus of dismay, the White House would be suitably shocked (shocked!), and the ACLU would file a lawsuit before sundown.

Problem is, the plan's already is motion. Only the theatrics are missing. While those who make a business of equal opportunity were preoccupied with Puerto Rican bombing and Palm Beach ballots, a new back-of-the-bus class has emerged. You met them this morning when they poured your coffee, mowed your lawn, or washed your car. But in true lord of the manor style you didn't ask their names or shake their hands.

They're illegal immigrants - anonymous lawbreakers whose offense we overlook because their presence facilitates our comforts. "Without them, modern American life would be more difficult and more expensive," frets Linda Chavez, President Bush's original pick for Labor Secretary. So in the name of ease, we keep them on the fringe of society, locked in low-level jobs.

But the unofficial caste system cannot hold. As their numbers swell, the subset demands inclusion, so in self-serving benevolence, we offer the trappings of belonging. According to a front-page feature in today's Washington Post, in Utah, Tennessee, and North Carolina, a social security number is no longer required to obtain a driver's license. California, Massachusetts, and Illinois may soon follow suit. In Texas, illegals qualify for in-state college tuition, and California is set to offer the same. Several states have established health care programs for illegals, and cities across the country are funding facilities for day laborers. With these inducements, the dead zone between citizen and stranger expands, giving the semblance of inclusion without the standard rights or responsibilities.

Any fair-minded person should reject this arrangement. Likewise, its oft prescribed antidote, amnesty for all illegal residents. The bonds of our union depend on a cohesive citizenry -- drawn of many, forged into one. But that process of assimilation cannot occur when the institutions of acculturation are overwhelmed. Neither will we come together by growing a shadow society built on normalized alienation.

Our present condition -- reaping the benefits of immigrant sweat without doing the reciprocal work of making them Americans - is as immoral as it is unsustainable. Something must be done, for the center cannot hold.

Recall the Old Testament prophet's admonition to "do justice, love mercy, walk humbly." Justice has no place in legitimizing lawlessness. Mercy takes no part in the creation of permanent poverty. And humility won't let us be waited on by an underclass of our own making. A good nation must do better -- by its own, and by its others.

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