Paying for Our Sins: The Solution May Stink, But We Have to Deal With Decades-Old Failure

BROOKLYN – The best place to appreciate the Statue of Liberty is not to go there, but to glide by her in a water taxi between Red Hook in Brooklyn to Battery Park in lower Manhattan. Seeing Lady Liberty from that angle gives you more perspective than being up close.

She stands there representing, as Emma Lazarus writes, the invitation "give me your tired, your poor...yearning to breath free." She does indeed "lift the lamp of freedom beside the golden door."

As I was standing at the rail and admiring her once again last week, it was the same day the U.S. Senate passed an immigration bill. Because while Lady Liberty has been standing at the front door inviting guest to make America home, millions of other people have been slipping in the back door.

I thought about the idealistic promise of Lady Liberty and contrasted it with our U.S. Sen. Bob Corker's amendment—20,000 more border guards, 700 miles of fence, and $4.5 billion in surveillance technology at the Mexican border.

A nation must have secure borders and the influx of illegal aliens makes a mockery of the people who come here legally. The ones who accept Lady Liberty's invitation and apply for citizenship and do all the right things still wait years to be able to swear fealty to the Constitution.

But our government, primarily the Congress, has failed us for decades. We could have had an orderly guest worker program with Mexico. We could have kept track of people coming here to work and allowing them to go home to visit family and then return. Instead, we had a ridiculously low number of legal paths for the poor to come here and work. At the same time, certain industries had a labor shortage. It was a situation that invited illegality and the result is millions of people living in the shadows.

It has become an intolerable situation and something has to be done. There is no fair way to do it. No, my conservative friends, we cannot deport millions of people. But we don't have to give them blanket amnesty and citizenship either. The current immigration bill is a bitter pill. It recognizes our failings as a country to deal with massive illegality for decades. The unions kept legal guest worker numbers low. Businesses gave illegal immigrants jobs and exploited their labor. The rest of us turned a blind eye.

We have to pay for our sins.

I don't know about California, but here in East Tennessee I've had contact with a lot of people who came here from Mexico. All of them have a job. If you've had any construction work done, blocks laid, chimneys built, or landscaping in the last several years, you know that the reliable workers who show up and do a good job are more likely to say "Hola" than "Hello." They don't just pick Grainger County tomatoes.

They pay taxes. Some of them have been contributing to your Social Security Trust Fund for years without any prospect of collecting benefits themselves.

The requirements of the immigration bill are that Corker's security measures must be completed first. Then after 10 years, registered illegals can get a green card. It is a path to citizenship, though it isn't an easy path. But it will have the effect of bringing people out of the shadows. And if the border is more secure, it will prevent a flood of new illegals. Immigration from Mexico has slowed during the recession. Deportations are up. Any illegal alien arrested for a crime needs to be immediately sent back.

What it comes down to is, do we trust the government? When they promise we will have border security and that employers will be required to certify that workers are legal, can we believe them? We had a case just this month where it was discovered that a Bradley County furniture company had hundreds of workers on its payroll with phony identification.

U.S. House Republicans will have to decide if they will support the Senate bill. They know that a vote for it will not be popular with a lot of their supporters. Who likes the current situation? Who likes the proposed solution?

But what else can we do?