The Protests, The Debates
March 30, 2006

Immigration talk is everywhere these days. Local news, national news,, and perhaps even at dinner tables across America. And what about those big protests in Chicago, Detroit, L.A. and in other cities across the country? What is at stake? What is likely to happen?

Truly, I cannot with any certainty answer that last question, although as I have chimed in previously in this column, I believe some sort of forgiving – “amnesty” type – legislation will sooner or later be enacted to absorb this country’s undocumented population (aka “illegal aliens”).

Predicting such an outcome is not that difficult given the choices our country has available in addressing the undocumented population problem and abandoning the status quo. Choice 1: Deport all the illegal aliens. Sure, it would be well within our government’s powers to do so, since by definition an illegal alien has broken the law – albeit it is a civil, and not a criminal violation. But to accomplish that goal, the U.S. would have to expand, train and mobilize a force of tens of thousands of immigration officers, if not more, to execute on such a plan. Of course, many such aliens would have rights to assert in a removal proceeding and thus, the pool of Immigration Court personnel, including judges, and government prosecutors would have to be expanded exponentially as well.

And then there will be the protests. Just look at what has been going on in recent weeks in our major cities. Mostly, these demonstrations were a response to legislation recently passed in the House of Representative (the Sensenbrenner bill, H.R. 4437 – still a proposal, and NOT A LAW) which essentially would criminalize our nation’s immigration law violators, making it a felony to be an illegal alien or to employ one.

Aside from the logistical nightmare, our nation’s guilty conscience, in my estimation, will not allow for such an enforcement crackdown. Pretty much all of us in the U.S. have benefited in some way from the contributions of the undocumented workforce, and our country’s prime decisionmakers have been looking the other way all the while. We have chosen not to strictly enforce our immigration laws precisely because of the overwhelming benefits we reap. By looking the other way, the U.S. has had a ready, willing and able workforce to cook our food, wash our laundry, clean our rooms, build our buildings, and care for our children and elderly.

Choice 2: On the other side of the coin, just this week, out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, came to life a proposal to allow our undocumented population to undergo an “earned legalization” process. Thanks to U.S. Senators like Edward Kennedy and John McCain, a solution for our country to absorb, rather than get rid of, the 11 million “illegals” is now on the table for serious consideration.

Its opponents, standing on solid logic, say that those who have broken the law should not be rewarded with goodies such as a work permit, and eventually U.S. permanent residence, as it will be seen as a slap in the face to those, both in and outside the U.S., who have been playing by the rules. But with the mess we have created by looking the other way all these years, the alternative of deporting or criminalizing such a huge, vital segment of our population just does not seem workable.

No doubt, the screaming and yelling will be at full force in the halls of Congress in the coming days and weeks to debate the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proposal. Politicians, and a few presidential candidates, will have the spotlight, and will be uttering the lines they believe their constituents want to hear. The idealist in me believes that some will even be speaking from the heart. But in the end, no matter what you call it – amnesty, earned legalization, guest worker – the U.S. will likely be making the tough choice of formally absorbing a segment of the population that is, for all practical purposes, here to stay.

Copyright © 2006-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois