Saturday, February 25, 2006
Marc Holtzman last week became the latest politician to grandstand about illegal immigration.
Holtzman, a Republican candidate for governor, gave a stump speech Wednesday in Steamboat Springs in which he praised the work of the volunteer Minutemen on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, said illegal immigration has created a state of emergency in Colorado, decried the hundreds of millions of dollars the 400,000 illegal immigrants are costing the state and fretted that our insecure border would allow Mideast terrorists to "shave their beards" and enter the U.S.
Presuming Holtzman is even half right in his remarks, what exactly is it that he hoped to accomplish? He didn't exactly offer a solution. Instead, he did what far too many politicians are doing these days -- pandering to those who think cutting off the flow of illegal immigration is as easy as turning off a spigot.
Of course, Holtzman knows it's not that simple. He knows that even if elected, his ability to have a significant impact on immigration from the governor's mansion is limited at best.
But illegal immigration is the issue du jour, whether you're running for governor or the statehouse, and everybody wants to put his or her name on a quick fix. Consider the 10 immigration bills that GOP lawmakers put before the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives last week.
Some of the bills are just plain bad. House Bill 1134 would authorize law enforcement officers throughout Colorado to "identify, process, and, when appropriate, detain a person suspected of an immigration offense when the ... officer encounters the person during routine law-enforcement activity." Given the melting pot that is our country, exactly what signs are police going to look for to distinguish a person suspected of an immigration offense? Would that be anyone who is Hispanic? Asian? Arab? How about those Canadians, eh?
The rest of the bills seem a bit like fishing for whales in the Yampa River. They do little to address the very real and very complex factors driving immigration.
Illegal immigration, as we have seen in the Yampa Valley, is driven by economics. Immigrants come here for the opportunity to work and earn five, 10 and 20 times more than they can in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. They come here because America's economy doesn't have enough low-wage labor to harvest its crops, build and clean its homes and prepare and serve its food.
Illegal immigration fills a workforce void. Illegal immigration fuels Americans' addiction to low-cost goods and services. America's economy depends on illegal immigration, and the Mexican economy depends on the money that illegal immigrants send home every week, every month and every year.
President Bush's proposal of a guest-worker program a few years ago -- which we endorsed -- went nowhere. But that's the kind of big-picture federal approach we need to be discussing, not drop-in-the-bucket measures emanating from the statehouse.
The Yampa Valley's immigrant population has grown significantly in recent years. That's because our dominant industries -- construction, agriculture, lodging and restaurants, in particular -- desperately need such workers. And that flow of workers will continue, no matter what is done at the state government level, so long as our service-sector economy based largely on tourism and construction continues to grow. Our responsibility in that process is to make sure all of our residents have adequate access to education, health care, housing and law enforcement.
We agree that there needs to be serious immigration reform, but such reform must come at the federal level and must address the economic benefits we derive as well as the social costs we incur. Anything less is nothing more than political posturing.