OK, let's calm down and see these recent developments in Arizona and even the city of Costa Mesa for what they really are. They have little or nothing to do with racism and everything to do with legitimate frustration, and even desperation, about the entire situation with illegal immigrants (or undocumented workers, if you prefer). So from the standpoint of all good people, it is simply time for something affirmative to be done!
The first substantive column I wrote for this series was published on July 22, 2007, and dealt with this very subject ("Immigration system is ineffective"). What I said then is what I say now, and that is that I seldom get angry at illegal immigrants, and you shouldn't either. They are simply doing what our system so strongly encourages them to do, and they almost all come to our country for the same reasons our ancestors did: to seek better lives for themselves and their families.
The problem is that the federal government has all of the power in this area, makes all of the rules and does whatever enforcement that takes place, which is not very much. But the federal government mostly does not have to pay for the costs of illegal immigrants. Instead, most of the costs are paid by the state and local governments, and the school districts.
The irony is that it would not be hard at all to install a workable system, but neither the Republicans nor the Democrats actually want this to happen. Why not? Money and power.
Many powerful Republicans are anxious to retain the source of cheap labor that is furnished to them by illegal immigrants, and many powerful Democrats are anxious to have all of these people come into the country on the hope that they eventually will vote for Democrats. In the meantime, many good people on both sides of the issue are being severely punished under the status quo.
What is the resolution? Actually, it is relatively straightforward, and just a three-step process.
First, we must understand that this failed system will never be changed until the federal government has the incentive to change it. So the federal government must be required to pay for all of the governmental costs of illegal immigrants, including health care, education and incarceration.
Second, we, and no one else, should decide how many people can enter our country to work, and for what period of time they can stay. Then we should create a program that allows foreign workers to have something like an "orange" card that will allow them to work here legally during that specified period of time.
This would be much like our former Bracero Program, and would be in addition to our present resident alien and naturalization programs. The workers probably could not bring other members of their families with them, would pay reduced taxes on their income and would receive reduced services for things like health care while they are here. But, since they would be here legally, the workers would be able to obtain driver's licenses.
The third important component of this suggested program would be to use strict sanctions for all employers who in any way hire workers who do not have the proper identification. In effect, everyone in the country would either need a passport, birth certificate, green card or orange card to be able to be hired for a job, so the laws would be applied equally to everyone. Workers who have valid proof of eligibility would be able to work, live normal lives, and travel legally across our borders within the specified times. Those who do not have proper proof would increasingly have trouble finding work, so soon they would probably go elsewhere.
Holding people who hire undocumented workers responsible for their illegal acts would be the key, but it can be done without much difficulty. With today's computer chip technology, we should easily be able to create identification cards based upon people's fingerprints or even the irises of their eyes such that the cards could not be falsified. So there would be no excuse for hiring people who do not have proper identification. And once we have that workable system in place, we could also exclude permanently from admission to the country those non-citizens who persist in violating our laws.
It is time to recognize the legitimate frustration of our state and local governments that are hemorrhaging money to pay for the status quo, but without having any controls whatsoever over those costs. Of course, there will still be problems, but these changes will allow us in large measure to regain control of our borders, reduce dangers and injustices for non-citizens, seriously reduce the burden upon our taxpayers to support such large numbers of people who are here illegally, reinstitute and reinforce the rule of law, bring more employment income back "above the table," and begin to return everybody's lives to normal.
And then — and only after we have a system in place to control our borders — should we address the difficult and truly emotional and sometimes even wrenching issues of who receives "amnesty" and who does not. And in doing this we will have to take into account the large numbers of people all around the world who have applied to enter our great country through proper channels.
States like Arizona and cities like Costa Mesa should not be criticized for wanting our laws to be enforced. In fact, they should be criticized if they do not — and so should we all. So as the June and November elections approach, I suggest you support those candidates for federal elective office who will work to implement a law to require the federal government to pay for the governmental costs of its own failure to put into place a workable immigration system. It would not be hard to fix this terrible situation, so let's push them to do just that!
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of "Wearing the Robe: the Art and Responsibility of Judging in Today's Courts" (Square One Publishers, 2010), Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It, A Voter's Handbook, Effective Solutions To America's Problems and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.judgejimgray.com. Judge Jim Gray is also currently offering his 25 years of experience on the bench to ADR Services in Orange County for Arbitration and Mediation services.