One of the most striking features of the immigration debate now raging in Washington is that none of the Democratic or Republican proposals seem to hold any appeal for ordinary Americans--which is why this debate is generating so much frustration among voters that no matter which proposal Congress adopts, the issue itself threatens to shatter both parties' bases and dominate the November elections.
Simply put, the debate in Washington isn't about "immigration" at all - and that's the problem.
To ordinary Americans, the definition of "immigration" is very specific: You come here with absolutely nothing except a burning desire to be an American. You start off at some miserable, low-paying job that at least puts a roof over your family's head and food on the table. You put your kids in school, tell them how lucky they are to be here - and make darn sure they do well even if that means hiring a tutor and taking a second, or third, job to pay for it. You learn English, even if you've got to take classes at night when you're dead tired. You play by the rules--which means you pay your taxes, get a driver's license and insure your car so that if yours hits mine, I can recover the cost of the damages. And you file for citizenship the first day you're eligible.
Do all this and you become an American like all the rest of us. Your kids will lose their accents, move into the mainstream, and retain little of their heritage except a few words of your language and - if you're lucky--an irresistible urge to visit you now and then for some of mom's old-country cooking.
This is how the Italians made it, the Germans made it, the Dutch made it, the Poles made it, the Jews made it, and more recently how the Cubans and the Vietnamese made it. The process isn't easy - but it works and that's the way ordinary Americans want to keep it.
The Two Hispanic Groups
But the millions of Hispanics who have come to our country in the last several decades - and it's the Hispanics we're talking about in this debate, not those from other cultures--are, in fact, two distinct groups. The first group is comprised of "immigrants" just like all the others, who have put the old country behind them and want only to be Americans. They aren't the problem. Indeed, most Americans welcome them among us, as we have welcomed so many other cultures.
The problem is the second group of Hispanics. They aren't immigrants - which is what neither the Democratic or Republican leadership seems to understand, or wants to acknowledge. They have come here solely for jobs, which isn't the same thing at all. (And many of them have come here illegally.) Whether they remain in the U.S. for one year, or ten years - or for the rest of their lives - they don't conduct themselves like immigrants. Yes, they work hard to put roofs above their heads and food on their tables - and for this we respect them. But they have little interest in learning English themselves, and instead demand that we make it possible for them to function here in Spanish. They put their children in our schools, but don't always demand as much from them as previous groups demanded of their kids. They don't always pay their taxes - or insure their cars.
In short, they aren't playing by the rules that our families played by when they immigrated to this country. And to ordinary Americans this behavior is deeply - very deeply - offensive. We see it unfolding every day in our communities, and we don't like it. This is what none of our politicians either understands, or dares to say aloud. Instead, they blather on - and on - about "amnesty" and "border security" without ever coming to grips with what is so visible, and so offensive, to so many of us - namely, all these foreigners among us who aren't behaving like immigrants.
I think this is why I'm so disinclined to have a guest worker program or to look for ways to accommodate illegal immigrants. If you want to spend an extended period of time in the United States, you should want to be a United States citizen and abide by the steps required.