Trying to make sense of immigration

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 25, 2011

My great-grandfather did genealogy research back in the 1960s, before the hobby was aided by search engines and online collaboration. He was a newspaper man, a rural mail carrier, and a Primitive Baptist minister.

I’m not how he got interested in genealogy, but my daddy has often said that Granddaddy Kimbro liked it “ ‘til he found an ancestor who came here from England running from the law.”

Which brings me to this: We were all immigrants once. And that’s why I’m having such a hard time making sense of the immigration debate.

Alabama, as you know, has come under fire for its immigration law. Religious leaders have called it “cruel,” and activists have vowed to challenge it court when parts of it become effective Sept. 1. Alabama’s is modeled after Arizona’s, parts of which have already been declared unconstitutional.

Alabama’s law makes it illegal employ, harbor, or rent to an illegal immigrant. It requires people who might appear to be immigrants to have documentation of their status at all times. For if a police officer stops a driver for a traffic offense and sees someone in the vehicle who “appears” to be an illegal immigrant, the officer is to take the person to jail until he can prove his legal status. It also requires schools to complete reports about the numbers of immigrants in Alabama schools.

Critics say it will be expensive to enforce, and that we have neither the manpower nor the money to train employees to enforce it, either in law enforcement or education.

When I quizzed Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard about it last week, he dismissed the criticism, saying Alabama was forced to pass the bill because the U.S. wasn’t enforcing its immigration rules. Proponents alternately called it a jobs bill and said it was necessary to stop immigrants from using resources – like education – without paying in to the system.

So I thought I’d take a look at Web sites that give directions for getting legal status. There are services that offer multiple choice quizzes for determining what one should do. Thinking I’d pose as an immigrant, I got kicked off in the first question, which asked me whether I was a K-1, K-3, V-1, V-2 or V-3, or in the process of filing a Green Card application. Since I’d already figured out unskilled workers needed a simple work visa, I was lost. If I couldn’t follow the quiz, what hope does an immigrant who speaks little English have of doing things “legally?”

I read another forum which explained that the only way to get here legally is to “trick” the system; to come here for a visit, search for work, find an employer who will vouch for you, then hope he’ll hold the job until you can get a work permit.

My brother, who manages a plant, has been dealing with this issue for years. His position has been contrary to the traditional “they use up our resources” argument. He’s certain, he said, that he’s worked some who were here illegally because they would suddenly disappear. While they were here, he pointed out, they paid into a Social Security system that they’ll never be able to tap, because after a time, these hard workers took their savings and went home to their families in Mexico.

Truth be known, we’ve taken economic advantage of these illegals, who in many cases have worked for less that American workers would have at jobs most Americans won’t do.

Yes, our system needs work; we can’t take on the world.

But I look around me and see fine, patriotic Americans whose people came from distant shores generations ago and I think, “We can’t take on the world, but we can do better than this.”