When I spoke to the Carson Chamber's Leadership Forum about immigration policy last Monday I told my audience that we can't have it both ways on the contentious issue of illegal immigration. In other words, we can't demand that the federal government crack down on businessmen who hire illegal aliens only to complain when the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) raids businesses in our area.
Of course I'm referring to the recent raids on a dozen McDonald's outlets in Reno that resulted in the detention of more than 50 suspected illegals. Those raids generated a lot of hand-wringing and extensive press coverage lamenting ICE's enforcement action and sympathizing with what some Renoites called "undocumented workers." Local Hispanics were quoted as saying they were "afraid," but they have nothing to fear if they're here legally.
An ICE spokesman said the raids were the result of a lengthy investigation of identity theft, in which illegals stole legitimate Social Security numbers in order to obtain employment. Apparently, a Fernley woman's complaint that someone was working under her name with her Social Security number sparked ICE's six-month investigation of a serious problem that afflicts Northern Nevada and the entire nation.
Local reaction was predictable. Many of us congratulated the Feds for attempting to enforce our immigration laws. "My position on this issue is (that) these laws need to be enforced," said Republican Congressman Dean Heller, of Carson City. Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) acknowledged the need to "enforce our laws and protect our borders," he made another pitch for President Bush's unworkable and unenforceable comprehensive immigration legislation, which was soundly rejected by the American people and the U.S. Congress.
For their part, so-called "immigration advocates" (actually, illegal immigration advocates) condemned the ICE raids and some Hispanic leaders called for a boycott of area businesses. One alleged leader, Gilberto Cortez, promoted an unsuccessful boycott and accused ICE of using "Gestapo methods" to round up illegal immigrants.
"ICE raids are unproductive because they lock up individuals with no criminal history," Cortez declared. But he's wrong on two counts because illegals are already in violation of our laws and too many of them have criminal records. According to ICE, seven of those arrested in the Reno raids were deported immediately for previous immigration law violations and 24 others were booked into the Washoe County Jail on similar charges.
In my part-time work as an English/Spanish court interpreter I often deal with illegals who are involved in the drug trade and note that a recent study of Carson City gangs revealed that more than 70 percent of local gang-bangers are Hispanics, many of them here illegally.
I'm not anti-immigrant - far from it. But I speak for my late wife, Consuelo, a native of Mexico who came here legally, and most Hispanic Americans and legal immigrants when I say that everyone who wants to emigrate to the U.S. should play by the same rules and respect our laws. That's why I'm a strong advocate for skills-based legal immigration and an implacable opponent of illegal immigration. I also oppose our current family-based immigration policy that automatically makes any baby born in the U.S. an American citizen, which is a major flaw in our Constitution.
Whenever someone mentions immigrant rights, ask them whether they're talking about legal or illegal immigrants because there's a big difference. For example, my friend and fellow columnist Emma Sepulveda usually fails to distinguish between legals and illegals. She's absolutely correct when she writes about the positive contributions that legal immigrants have made to our great country, but wrong when she demands non-existent "rights" for illegal immigrants, who should be summarily deported the same way that Mexico deports those who sneak across its southern border with Guatemala.
In a recent meeting between U.S. Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff and Mexican President Felipe Calderon at Puerto Penasco, Mexico, Chertoff praised Calderon for cracking down on Mexican drug traffickers, and the president urged us to do more to stem the flow of drug money and weapons into Mexico (a reasonable request). However, Calderon called illegal immigration an "inevitable natural phenomenon" and asked the U.S. to respect "the right to work wherever one can make the greatest contribution." That means open borders, a truly bad idea advocated by his predecessor, Vicente Fox, who did little to help us with our illegal immigration problem.
But why should Mexican officials take our problem seriously when we provide an escape valve for their under-achieving Third World economy? They simply export their economic problems to the U.S. while refusing to address the underlying issues that keep them in a perpetual state of underdevelopment. That's the sad reality of our bilateral relationship despite the soothing words that came out of Puerto Penasco last month.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, lived and worked in Latin America for nearly 20 years during his U.S. Foreign Service career.