It was 1987 and I was running a small newspaper on the Western Slope of Colorado when a memo arrived from our corporate headquarters in California.
Reflecting changes in immigration law, the memo specified that at each of the company’s 18 newspapers, whenever a new employee was hired, if that person was not a U.S. citizen, they must have a valid “green card” indicating that they were in the country legally.
The owners had no interest in paying big fines to the government for hiring those in the country illegally.
The memo was meant to address changes in the law intended to crack down on employers who hired those in the country illegally, and seemed at the time to be a logical way of addressing the problem. At a paper with about 20 employees, very little turnover, and located deep in the interior of the country, it wasn’t much of a problem for us.
Problem is, that memo we received in 1987 was pretty much the last we ever heard about the threat of being fined for hiring those in the country illegally.
What we would learn over the next 30 years was that despite the tough talk of cracking down on employers, and “securing our borders” in return for amnesty for some, there was bipartisan disinterest in actually addressing the problem. Over the years it would become obvious that the Democrats saw those here illegally as potential Democrats, and the Republicans saw those here illegally as cheap labor.
It was the perfect formula for inaction, and that’s exactly what we got, despite decades of political “dialog” about “common sense immigration reform.” Turns out both sides were getting what they wanted out of the situation, despite all the talk, and we paid the price.
And today, predictably, the issue has turned into high octane fuel for the Red State/Blue State fire storm, with those who live out here in the center of the country often depicted as indifferent to the plight of new, illegal arrivals, as xenophobic, and even as racist, which is now the universal accusation against anyone who disagrees with anything Democrats believe. Seems like just about everything defaults to racism, these days.
Inaction on the part of both parties for 30 years, and whopping incompetence on the part of our federal government, nevertheless is chalked up to narrow-mindedness and bigotry on the part of normal Americans. Normal Americans, by the way, who have a far clearer concept of the not very complicated terms “legal” and “illegal.”
A young friend on Facebook, who is a lawyer, recently posted that it doesn’t take a genius to understand the difference between legal immigration and illegal immigration. Legal immigration — good. That’s what the system is all about. Illegal immigration — bad. That’s what the system is intended to prevent.
What is it that you don’t understand about this legal/illegal deal, my young Facebook friend asked.
Very good question. One would think that the highly-paid, slick folks we elect and send to Washington to pass laws would have more respect for actually enforcing the swell laws they pass. After all, they’re the ones who call each other “colleague” and “honorable,” and hold public office and the work they do in such high esteem. One would think terms like “legal” and “illegal” would be easy to understand for the fruit of our political vine.
Immigration, however, is apparently far more “nuanced” (politicians absolutely love that word) than that. After all, politicians, lobbyists, donors and big employers — on both sides — have a stake in this deal.
So, hypocrisy reigns.
My grandparents were legal immigrants from Czechoslovakia. They had a sponsor — Uncle John — when they arrived here and settled in Indiana. They did it legally. My grandfather served in the army, started a dry cleaning business, put four kids through college, saw three serve in World War II, bought a farm, became a devout Indiana Republican (the most ardent kind), and believed with every fiber of his being in the greatness of this country.
So, don’t tell us we’re against immigrants, just because — like my Facebook friend — we understand the not-so-complicated difference between “legal” and “illegal.”
Dave Simpson can be contacted at email@example.com