In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare wrote “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, and Gertrude Stein famously declared “a rose is a rose is a rose.” These days meanings are often veiled in a haze of political spin; only this administration could seriously refer to man-made golf hazards as “wetlands”.
At times, though, the president effectively states the obvious. During his recent visit to Mexico he noted our long common border as well as active trade between the two nations. The long-border remark seemed meant to suggest the difficulty of addressing illegal immigration, while celebrating trade relations overlooked an important feature of the original compact, which was to promote general prosperity in Mexico not just grow the fortunes of the rich and powerful there.
Obviously, there hasn’t been much progress in the prospects of ordinary Mexicans, or there wouldn’t be so many of them crossing the border to work for low wages in this country. But, whatever the circumstances, “illegal” means beyond the law – – outside both the rights and obligations of citizenship or proper documentation. What to do about addressing the situation is where the trouble begins – – not in what we call it because that is a constant.
No-one condemns those who seek a better life, but growing numbers of illegals are a major concern – – a reality it is pointless to deny. And unease among residents is not about racial angst, a charge that just gets in the way of finding realistic solutions. While the prospect of minutemen on the border shooting intruders is not something most of us would endorse, it is the kind of ad hoc solution that results when government fails to act responsibly.
As can be noted in the comments of employers, politicians and various other functionaries, practices and remedies are either self-serving or irrelevant. One owner of a construction business says he hires illegals who have, as well as can be determined because they don’t speak English, the skills his jobs require. He pays $10 an hour, well above minimum wage but surely without benefits. Can it really be that construction jobs can’t be filled by domestic workers or is it rather that hiring illegals simply eliminates the need to meet union demands?
Often heard is the complaint that American applicants are turned away because they don’t speak Spanish. Nenaji Jackson, Los Angeles’ Human Rights Commissioner, suggests that Americans should add a second language to their skill set – – not a bad idea but should an entire domestic work force have to change its ways while foreign hires operate without constraints?
And does it make sense, given contemporary conditions, that everyone born in this country is automatically a U.S. citizen? An expectant mother who crosses the border to give birth creates an anomaly in that, she may be here illegally but her child is a citizen. Should there perhaps be some residency requirement and legal standing before birth morphs into citizenship?
Likewise, if employers hire undocumented workers to whom they pay low wages without providing other amenities, mightent they be required to support clinics and other facilities to alleviate the pressure on local communities overwhelmed by the influx of migrant labor? Left unaddressed, such conditions may leave residents tending not only to a needy work force but subsidizing the bottom line of businesses as well.
Certainly some governmental remedy (short of building a wall or shooting people) needs to be found because the current standoff is unacceptable from every point of view. Perhaps a biometric identity card could be an effective first step because it would identify documented workers and eliminate any excuse on the part of employers with respect to a worker’s status.
Whatever course of action is decided upon, “illegal” will always mean just that, no matter what excuses, intercessions or demonstrations are undertaken. It does not serve the best interests either of immigrants or citizens to ignore laws and operate outside the nation’s legal and social construct. That simply demeans us all.

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