Don’t repeat myths

Don't repeat myths
The New Colossus, a poem by the 19th-century American poet Emma Lazarus describing the Statue of Liberty, appears on a plaque at the base of the statue. It ends with the statue herself speaking:

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

We seem, as a nation, to conveniently be forgetting that message in recent weeks, as Congress and the Bush Administration have struggled and failed to pass legislation that might end many of the illegal immigration ills we are suffering.

It appears that Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy have come up with might be the best solution to this growing problem.

The McCain-Kennedy immigration bill � which is also sponsored by Arizona Republican Congressmen Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake � creates a guest worker program for migrant workers and offers a path towards legal status for undocumented workers already in the U.S. if they pay a $2,000 fine and turns themselves in to federal authorities.

The Arizona and U.S. chambers of commerce support the McCain-Kennedy effort because of the guest worker component they say will help link willing foreign workers with hard-to-fill U.S. jobs such as landscaping, construction and food services.

A little over 10 days ago, the legislation was winding its way through Congress. You guessed it. Crash.

Hailed as a bipartisan breakthrough less than 24 hours earlier, the bill fell victim to internal disputes in both parties and, apparently, some bewildering political maneuvering.

On Friday, April 7, only 38 senators, all Democrats, lined up in support of the legislation. That was 22 short of the 60 needed, and the bill was left in limbo as lawmakers conveniently left the Capitol for a two week break.

To a degree, we can understand why things fell apart in Congress with this bill. It appears to propose overlooking the fact that some people are here illegally if they will fulfill certain requirements.

But why would they want to fulfill those requirements? They didn't fulfill the requirements for coming here legally. What motivation would they have to do so in the future?

It's easy for one to hear arguments and counter-arguments concerning illegal immigration. Some of the information spewed on web logs and such by so-called "experts" are little more than racist trash.

And some of the solutions being bandied about lately, are well, a bit ridiculous. Build a wall between Mexico and the U.S.? When for over several decades during the Cold War we admonished East Germany for separating West Germany with the Berlin Wall?

Do we really need to build our own Iron Curtain?

Our nation's memory tends to be very selective. We tend to forget that President James Polk stole California (and much more) from Mexico by violent force just a few generations ago.

Now we pass laws making it illegal for most Mexicans to live and work here, and forcibly remove them when they cross the border "illegally" (having exhausted all legal means for entry).

We also so easily believe myths about illegal immigrates. We believe most of them are here undocumented. Guess what? They aren't.

The workers don't have documentation that allows them to be in the United States. But they do have driver's licenses, green cards, Social Security cards and other paperwork.

We also hear that these folks are doing work Americans won't do. Now, I haven't seen too many jobs that Americans won't do � if the price is right. The fact is that illegal immigrants will accept jobs that Americans believe don't pay enough.

The idea that immigrants come to the United States fleeing abject poverty and material deprivation at home is deeply embedded within the American psyche, thanks, in part, to Lazarus' poem on the Statue of Liberty.

Unfortunately, this statement was not true when it was written and it is not true now. People generally do not leave their countries of origin because of a lack of economic development. Rather, they emigrate owing to the onset of development itself.

We find it easy to live with the myth that the immigrants come here for jobs they can't find in their own country. This is, again, only partly true. They came to this country for better-paying jobs.

According to a survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, the vast majority of illegal immigrants already had jobs before they came to the U.S.

We realize that this nation faces a real problem from illegal immigration. We're not forgetting, however, that we're the most gifted country in the free world.

We need to face this problem honestly and find solutions without calling those who point out the problems names and without repeating the myths.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at

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