IN OUR VIEW:
Don't overreact on immigration
Contributed by Daily Herald
Thursday, 31 January 2008
Two proposed Utah laws highlight -- through their flaws, unfortunately -- key ingredients in any legislation on immigration: practicality and fairness.
With many Americans simmering over a wave of illegal immigration, state lawmakers are feeling popular pressure to take action. Estimates put the number of illegal aliens somewhere between 7 million and 20 million.
New laws addressing illegal immigrants are clearly needed, but they need to be carefully conceived.
A proposal (HB 239) by Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, would revoke "driver privilege cards" that are issued to about 35,000 drivers without Social Security numbers -- mostly illegal immigrants. Donnelson said it aims to prevent people from misusing the cards for identification purposes, as in buying alcohol.
The main purpose of the cards is to provide a way for illegal aliens to take the state driving test and get auto insurance. A new study suggests the program is working. The Legislative Auditor General found that 76 percent of the card holders insure their vehicles, just slightly less than the 82 percent of licensed drivers who do so.
What would revocation of the cards do? Apparently take insurance away from at least 20,000 drivers, and keep thousands from studying the rules of the road to pass the license exam. Taking away driver privilege cards would only make it more likely that your car would be in a crash with that of an undocumented driver, and that he or she would not have insurance. That's far from a useful step.
Another bill (HB 241) is patently unfair. Also sponsored by Donnelson, this bill would prohibit undocumented students from getting in-state tuition at Utah colleges. A 2002 state law gives such students the break if they attended a Utah high school for three years and graduated.
Efforts to change this law are misguided and harsh. Most of these students obviously had no say in coming to this country. We shouldn't hurt kids to get at their parents. It's wrong to punish them for studying diligently enough to be admitted to college and for desiring to make something of themselves. Passing this proposal would only result in more people working in lower-skilled jobs, rather than letting the economy make the best use of their talents.
We urge senators to put aside the bills cited above. One won't work, and the other stains Utah's honor.
Other aspects of illegal immigration have prompted other proposals. We are tempted to urge the Utah Senate to consider a resolution proposed by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, asking that the state defer immigration legislation until Congress and the president approve a workable national policy. That sounds good, but we might be waiting a very long time. Congress doesn't seem to have the stomach for this.
Utah needs to do what little it can in the meantime. And on this score we urge that any action be broad-minded and fair. LDS and Catholic leaders have recently urged Utah lawmakers to be compassionate about immigrants. These insights are timely. Most immigrants are law-abiding people who come here to work to help their families and improve their lives. Punishments should be reserved for genuine criminals.
Clearly, Americans must accept some responsibility for allowing the immigration problem to develop. Imagine you owned a beautiful beach-front property. The law allows you to ban trespassers. But now and then a few people sneak onto the beach. You ignore them for awhile. Then you decide to pay some of them a few bucks to pick up litter, watch the kids and perform other chores. Say this goes on for two decades. Then one day you decide there are too many people on your beach. You call the police and ask them to arrest those people for trespassing.
Would that be fair? Of course not.
This is not to say we must despair of reinvigorating the law and controlling U.S. borders. But it does suggest that we should be smart about it. For example, it may not be necessary to build hundreds of miles of border fence. Physical barriers won't work, as pointed out in a prize-winning report by the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.
So what will work? We return to the suggestion of a virtual fence in the form of severe punishments for employers -- severe enough to remove all temptation to provide jobs to illegals. Allowing for some sort of transition period, the future would look like this: No jobs; no illegal immigration; end of story. Such a virtual fence would be cheaper to build, more effective than other options, and both fair and humane. Everyone would know the rules and there's little room for gaming the system.
Respect for the rule of law is a fundamental American value. To flout this most basic principle shows a colossal disregard for what this country is all about. Those who do so don't deserve to be here. But in addressing the problem of illegal immigration we should be careful to retain the moral high ground.
Drivers willing to buy insurance should not be prevented from buying it. Aspiring college students should not be treated the same way as day laborers who sneaked into the country last month.
When it comes to immigration, there is no reason for vindictiveness, only clarity.