While I was in Seattle earlier this month, more than 20,000 demonstrators paraded through the downtown area to demand "rights" for illegal immigrants. Meanwhile, similar demonstrations took place in northern Nevada and throughout the rest of the nation. Just one question: Do illegal immigrants have "rights?"
Illegals have few, if any, rights in most other countries, including Mexico, which encourages its poverty-stricken citizens to emigrate to the United States, thereby making us the convenient escape valve for Mexico's failing economy. But even as that government turns a blind eye to our huge illegal immigration problem, it deports hundreds of thousands of illegals back across its southern border with Guatemala. Late last month the Mexican ambassador to the United States proudly announced that his government had deported 250,000 people to Central America last year.
Moral of the story: It's OK for Mexico to deport illegal immigrants, but if we do so, we're violating their alleged "rights." Mexico's deportees are clearly illegal but ours are "undocumented workers," according to officials of that government and their accomplices here in the United States. Their idea is to blur the distinction between legal and illegal immigration in order to continue sending millions of mostly illiterate and unskilled workers to the United States, overwhelming schools, hospitals and social services in the communities where they settle, especially in the Southwest.
What is it that these demonstrators seek as they wave Mexican flags and demand their rights in Spanish even though this nation's flag is Old Glory and our language is English? Can you imagine what would happen if tens of thousands of "gringos" marched through downtown Mexico City carrying large American flags and demanding their rights in English? The riot police would be called out because nationalistic Mexicans would never put up with such an outrageous challenge to their national sovereignty.
So-called "immigration advocates" never mention that legal immigrants Ð those who follow the rules and the law and pay their taxes Ð already enjoy most of the rights granted to American citizens. Here in northern Nevada, where Hispanics now account for about 20 percent of the population, we have both kinds of immigrants, legal and illegal. In my view, we should welcome legal immigrants because they have always contributed to the economic and social health and progress of our nation, but at the same time we should crack down on illegals, deporting as many of them as possible and sanctioning the unscrupulous businessmen who knowingly hire and exploit them.
According to the respected Christian Science Monitor, most immigration experts concur that "the U.S. can't stem the flow of illegal immigrants until it resolves to do one thing: Punish employers who hire them." That solution is extremely unlikely, however, because many of those same employers are big political campaign contributors. President Bush and many Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, are trying to finesse the issue by advocating a form of amnesty disguised as a "guest worker program." While calling for strict border enforcement in a recent newspaper column, Reid all but endorsed Bush's badly flawed guest worker program. All together now: It's an amnesty! And that would encourage even more illegal immigration.
Given the current mood of the American electorate - nearly 70 percent of those polled by Time magazine think illegal immigration is an "extremely serious" or "very serious" problem - most politicians know that amnesty is a non-starter and that's why senators were unable to agree on a proposal that included a guest worker plan. On the other side of the aisle, the House passed a tough bill that would criminalize illegal immigrants and those who assist them in this country. Although I think the bill goes too far by making illegal immigration a felony, it clearly indicates a bipartisan congressional approach to the problem: Close our borders to illegal immigration before searching for a way to deal with the millions of illegals who are already here.
President Reagan tried a guest worker program in 1986, and it failed miserably. The 1986 legislation required illegal aliens to pay a fine, to learn English, to remain employed and to obey our laws. "Everyone agrees on two points," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). "No. 1, they agree it was amnesty. And No. 2, they agree it was a complete and total failure." And now President Bush and his Democratic allies want to repeat that fiasco, but it's not going to happen any time soon. Just watch what happens in November to candidates who advocate amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a provocative column titled "Build it and they won't come" in which he argued for building a high fence along the entire length of the U.S. Ð Mexico border. "No one of goodwill wants to see these 11 million (illegals) suffer," he wrote, "but the obvious problem is that legalization creates an enormous incentive for new illegals to come." If our government showed its determination to regain control of our borders, he added, many of us might be willing to consider some sort of guest worker program that didn't move illegals to the head of the immigration line. Fair enough.
Immigrant rights demonstrators created a huge voter backlash by flying foreign flags and chanting in foreign languages on national TV. They, and the pandering politicians who support them, will pay a high price for misreading American public opinion when voters go to the polls in November.
• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.