Tuesday, November 25, 2003

In Search of a Caring Solution

Before dawn today, the California State Senate voted 33 to 0 to repeal a law that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses. The State Assembly is expected to also repeal SB 60, thus returning illegal immigrants back to status quo. This is a difficult and complex issue for caring citizens.

From one viewpoint, illegal immigrants are...well, illegal. By definition, they don't have rights in a country they're not supposed to be in. Already-overburdened citizen-taxpayers should not be required to foot the living expenses bill for non-citizens who violate US immigration laws. Taxpayers have their proverbial hands full just taking care of their own, which includes millions of legal immigrants from every country in the world. Schools and hospitals, in particular, are stretched beyond imagination to meet the needs of illegals.

Speaking from the heart, Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union, asks "When you sit down to eat those vegetables and that turkey, remember that many undocumented people are working on those farms and those poultry places." As anyone who has worked in Southern California manufacturing or agriculture industries knows, illegal immigrants do contribute greatly to our economy. Yes, they are routinely, and often calllously, exploited by greedy employers seeking to pay less to hard workers grateful for any job. Sadly, California has rich history of shamelessly exploiting immigrants, legal or illegal...the Indians by Father Serra, the Chinese to build the state's first railroads, Mexicans to pick San Joaquin valley crops, all origins to perform the majority of current blue collar manufacturing jobs.

Then there is the pragmatic viewpoint. LA Police Chief William Bratton told a State Senate committee that "driver's licenses will spur more motorists to take the state driving test and become insured." Translated: they're here...let's make the best of it. There's no time to deal with the bigger picture. This approach is understandably espoused by those who provide public services directly to citizens: police officers, teachers, judges, social workers, emergency room doctors. They are overwhelmed by demand, and they care. I recently renewed my drivers license in person at the DMV. I hadn't visited a DMV office in perhaps a decade. The wait was nightmarish, despite helpful and courteous DMV employees. I can't fathom the overloading that will occur if illegals are added to the DMV wait lines.

There are no easy answers or quick solutions. It should be noted, though, that this situation would not exist if the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service had been remotely effective at border enforcement. The INS has been a dismal failure and an admitted bureaucratic nightmare. Also, this situation was created by unfettered capitalism at its greediest. Illegals come here for work, and employers looking to illegally pay below minimum wage standards and to circumvent employment law eagerly hire and then hide them. Punishment is minimal for employers caught with illegals on staff, and frankly, it's worth the economic risk.

State Senator Gil Cedillo speculated in the Sacramento Bee that Gov. Schwarzenegger might consider a bill that would allow illegal immigrants in the process of obtaining legal status to qualify for a driver's license once they have completed a criminal background check and submitted proof of employment. At first glance, this sounds like a reasonable, practical and caring solution.

Send emails to DeborahWhite@UniqueRecipes.com.

No comments: