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We know that national elections are only 15 months away because politicians from both major parties are already pandering to minorities and special interest groups.

One example of this shameless behavior is the congressional proposal to provide "free" prescription drugs to seniors. When it comes to the federal government, however, nothing is free -- we taxpayers always foot the bill.

But what I'm most concerned about today are proposals to legalize millions of illegal immigrants who sneaked into our country in violation of our immigration laws. According to reliable estimates, more than 5 million illegal immigrants -- most of them from Mexico and the rest of Latin America -- are already living here, and that number is increasing by at least 400,000 per year. Which means that approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population is living and working underground, paying little or no taxes while taking advantage of state and local government services.

For example, when an illegal immigrant is charged with a crime, as too many of them are, the state provides a public defender and a court interpreter at taxpayer expense. And costly medical services for indigent illegals are contributing to severe budget problems in several border states including Arizona, California and Texas.

So how do we address this serious and growing problem along our borders? A moderate and respected national daily, the Christian Science Monitor, suggested a rational solution in an editorial last week. Titled "A Fair Deal for Mexicans in the U.S.," the editorial asserted that "(President) Bush may want an immigration deal with Mexico just in time for him and the GOP to win Hispanic votes in the 2004 elections."

The paper noted that Mexico offered a radical plan to Bush two years ago: "Legalize the estimated 4 to 5 million Mexican migrants living illegally in the U.S., and Mexico would work harder to keep other citizens from illegally crossing the border." Fortunately for us, the deadly terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, also killed that lopsided proposal.

"If Bush wants to get serious about this problem, he will need to offer an incentive to the illegal Mexicans in the U.S.," the Monitor continued. "Any mass legalization, however, would be seen as rewarding lawbreakers and be unfair to Mexicans who waited and entered the U.S. legally." That's true and it may be why so many patriotic Mexican-Americans oppose any mass legalization of illegal immigrants. Like the rest of us, they believe that this is a country of laws where everyone must play by the same rules.

This is something that Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Emma Sepulveda simply doesn't understand. In a column earlier this year, she suggested that the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, a Mexican-American, should help "his people" in the U.S. But "his people" are the American people, whom he represents in Mexico City, and not illegal immigrants. And in a more recent column, Ms. Sepulveda urged presidents Bush and Vicente Fox of Mexico "to solve the problems of undocumented workers" (the Mexican term for illegals) by finding a way to legalize millions them. No way!

A couple of reasonable proposals are pending in Congress. Rep. Jeff Flak, R-Ariz., is expected to introduce a bill that would allow Mexicans already in the U.S. to apply for guest-worker status, and then be put on a slow path to citizenship. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., has a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to work legally for three years under the sponsorship of their employers; the workers wouldn't receive amnesty per se, but their applications to become permanent residents would be expedited. It seems to me that some form of guest-worker legislation would help to solve the problem, but employers who knowingly hire illegal workers should be punished.

After a certain amount of time -- say 10 years -- immigrants should be forced to choose between the U.S. and their native countries on grounds that they can't have it both ways. And if they choose to become American citizens, they should have to study our Constitution and learn the language of this country, English. All too often, we have seen the troubled U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which became part of the new Homeland Security Department in March, ignore these statutory citizenship requirements for political reasons.

By the way, how is the allegedly new and improved INS doing on its basic responsibility: protecting our borders by apprehending and deporting illegal aliens? In June, the INS boasted that it had deported 75 percent more undocumented Arabs and Muslims last year than the year before. But during the same period, the agency carried out 28,833 fewer deportations overall. By far the biggest decline was among illegal Mexicans, whose deportations fell by nearly 25 percent, from 141,335 in 2001 to 108,643 last year.

"Fixing Mexico's Third World poverty so that it doesn't drive people across a 2,000-mile border into a First World economy is the ultimate answer," the Christian Science Monitor concluded. "In the meantime, the U.S. shouldn't compromise its laws with an expedient solution to a huge immigration problem (in search of votes)." I couldn't agree more.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Carson City Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city's Redevelopment Authority, the Brewery Arts Center and the Upstage Theater for organizing the highly successful Capital City Music Series. I've thoroughly enjoyed concerts by jazz pianist David Benoit and Bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley, and eagerly await future concerts. Well done!

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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