News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Monday, June 4, 2007

“We get to decide who comes into our home.”

These words by soon-to-be Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson brought the crowd to its feet at a fund-raising dinner for the Virginia Republican Party on June 2nd. But there’s a big question behind Thompson's statement: Who really decided that an estimated 12 million undocumented workers could come here to begin with?

Before you conclude it was solely the decision of a horde of brazen foreigners, consider this: Who has been hiring these people? Fact is, the illegal workers are here because most Americans, and yes, even Republicans who stand up and cheer for jingoistic slogans, wanted them here. So, ironically, Thompson is right. We do get to decide who comes into our home. It's just that we're now regretting our decision.

At first, we welcomed cheaper labor for our farms, fast food joints, construction sites and canning plants. Remember when "help wanted" signs were as common as meal deal posters at burger palaces? As long as prices remained low for the things we wanted to buy, we were willing to look the other way.

Then many of these people started bringing family members across the border and having children here who became entitled to full citizenship. As their numbers grew and their presence was no longer invisible, they suddenly became a blight on our society. We've conviniently forgotten that we tolerated their presence for a very long time. Today, the illegals are being excoriated for doing what almost any of us would do if the roles were reversed, try and provide for our families in the best way we can.

How many of the affluent Republicans that rose to their feet cheering for Mr. Thompson are worried about losing their jobs to an illegal worker? What these well-heeled Republicans really fear is not the economic impact of illegal immigration. It is the political power the illegals will wield should they ever become citizens.

Have no doubt about Mr. Thompson’s intent. He wants the Republican base to know he’s a hardliner. He's convinced it's a smart move. He's playing to the loudest voices, the ones who rail against anything short of mass deportations as “amnesty,” the voices of those who believe the United States is being "invaded" by a foreign army. Yet, a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows most Americans are beginning to understand the problem of illegal immigration will not be solved by bumper sticker logic. By a margin of 52% to 44%, respondents supported the rights of undocumented workers to live here legally provided they pay a fine and meet other requirements.

Comparing Thompson’s speech to the opinion of the silent majority, it seems the public is out ahead of at least one politician on this issue.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez