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A way to turn the immigration problem into a solution to a pressing problem

Robert Cutts

We can only wonder whether it’s really too late to inject a level of common reason into the mad mess that Washington has made of the immigration issue.

As one commentator recently suggested, the present state of policy disarray – on the principle that doing nothing is just another way to choose an outcome – actually creates for illegal aliens an ‘amnesty by neglect.’

They’re here, regardless of their lack of legal status, and they’re staying. As we all know, to be joined by still more.

What this amounts to is creating a new class of Americans: sub-citizens, or permanent criminals. It leaves them forever at the mercy of anyone who wants to exploit their unprotected status.

In a way, this is like re-creating slavery. It is intolerable for all Americans, the legal and the newly-confirmed illegal alike.

Why can’t we come up with better solutions? Why can’t our government find ways not just to deal with the undocumented as a problem, but to look for constructive measures to solve the problems they represent to all of us?

Why can’t our government see undocumented aliens the way America has always looked at its immigrants: as a natural resource?

Take, for example, a very different type of urgent problem that we face – our lack of readiness for the rapid aging of the American population. Nine million senior citizens already need long-term help in managing their households, their lives and their health needs. In 12 more years the figure will reach 12 million. And on, and on.

Who’s going to help them? Who will shop for them, cook for them, help them bathe, wash their clothes, pay their bills, push their wheelchairs?

I have a suggestion. Today, a non-citizen living legally in the U.S. can volunteer for our military. If he or she serves honorably, a permanent residency or citizenship is among the rewards.

Why not offer the same opportunity to undocumented aliens, willing to sign up in a serve-America program – to take community-college courses in gerontology and language, and then enlist as senior in-home or institutional aides for the elderly, at minimum wages for five-year terms in exchange for permanent residency?

Think of it, Washington:

• They’ll be earning their own livelihoods, paying their own taxes.

• Their background checks for residency will be done automatically as part of their licensing. We can even enlist the help of governments like Mexico in conducting these checks.

• They will learn, as they take up these new careers. Many will go on to become nurses, perhaps physicians’ assistants, even gerontology doctors, filling still other vital shortages.

• Many will teach – become teachers’ aides in English-language education, or teachers themselves of the new generations of immigrants already crowding into our schools.

Are there other fields to which this idea might apply? Wildland firefighters? Parks and forestry workers? Support-contractors to our military?

Is this so impossible, so incredible?

No. What is far more credible is that our own borders, under the economic regimen of globalization that is our permanent new reality, and under NAFTAs and CAFTAs and other free-trade agreements, can only open wider and wider, making them more and more porous to the documented and undocumented alike.

What we Americans, especially those of us in Washington and even in Carson City, have to accept not as possible but as probable is that if we don’t come up with positive solutions good for all of us, America’s brand-new underclass will surely turn into the new enemy among us.

• Robert Cutts is a career journalist who has been a news reporter, magazine writer and editor; author of two nonfiction books and a college journalism teacher. He lives in Gardnerville and Japan.