Hope in human tragedy of immigration 

Carlos Martinelly Montano is an illegal immigrant from Bolivia. On August 1, he was allegedly driving drunk on a Prince William County, Virginia road and slammed into another car, killing Sister Denise Mosier and injuring two other Catholic nuns.

There’s nothing that makes you think more soberly and seriously about the illegal immigration crisis in this country than a senseless human tragedy in your own back yard.

The tales run the gamut. There are seemingly endless horror stories of brutal killings along the Mexican-American border spawned by trafficking in drugs, guns and human beings, up against the story of the young student at Harvard, also here illegally, but on the precipice of becoming a valued member of American society.

There’s the tragic case of Chandra Levy, the congressional intern whose death brought down a congressman and caused her family years of anguish before another illegal immigrant, Ingmar Guandique of El Salvador was charged with her murder. But there are the stories of illegal immigrant families working hard at laborious jobs, to support families here and in their native land. So many Mexican immigrants here are sending money home, the Mexican economy has become dependent on those transfer payments.
Human stories define the dilemma, and so, too, do the flood of statistics. The cost:  There are 11 million illegal immigrants in the country today and their costs to society range from law enforcement, to education, to health care and infrastructure. The Federation of American Immigration Reform estimates that in Maryland and Virginia alone the cost is more than $1 billion each.

Then there are the crime statistics. According to columnist Terry Jeffrey, of the 94 federal judicial districts in the U.S. the five with the highest number of criminal defendants charged with federal crimes are all along the Mexican-American border. The numbers are staggering, higher than they are even in Los Angeles and New York. The worst district is the southern district of Texas (Brownsville, Laredo) with 8,801 charges filed, compared to the district with the ninth largest number Eastern Virginia, which had only 1,485. 

There are important statistics on the other side of the equation, too. Segments of the agriculture and service sectors in this country would tank if it were not for the employment of what the Washington Post, which can’t even bring itself to use the term ‘illegal’, describes as undocumented workers.

There are still more dimensions to the immigration crisis. The Arizona law empowering local police to make immigration arrests and the proposed DC law prohibiting it, pit federal sovereignty against the that of the states and localities. Then there is the inexcusable political failures of the Congress to act on immigration reform. There is sometimes a nuanced but incessant attempts by activists and columnists the likes of Frank Rich and Eugene Robinson and E.J. Dionne to turn every issue into a race issue, including this one.

It’s all there, the ingredients for social strife, political gridlock, moral angst and racial tension in an already deeply divided country whose population is angry and disillusioned about all sorts of issues.

So, with respect to the Benedictine nuns, who don’t want Sister Mosier’s death to become part of the political debate, we as a nation must address immigration and all of its elements. Sister Mosier’s death is relevant to the public discourse on many levels. Hopefully, her death will help guide us to resolution.

There are as many variations on solutions as there are immigrants. But a good many solutions could be found on four plateaus of public policy.  

The first is enforcement. We must get control of our borders before all else. The President signed a bill providing more aid to border security Friday, but he is going to have to summon the courage to do much more.  

The second is protecting the rights and path to citizenship of legal immigrants, those who have obeyed the law, honored our country by waiting patiently to gain citizenship the right way. That process must be accelerated dramatically.

The third is addressing the existence of those 11 million people here illegally. There would be four steps to this process.

The first is to separate out the children, with some form of the Durbin-Lugar legislation that identifies the children, and gives them the education and care they need to be eventually integrated into society as citizens.

The second step is aggressive deportation of criminals. There is absolutely no excuse for tolerating the presence here of individuals like Montano with criminal records and now more charges.

The third step is creation of a special status for illegal immigrants who come forward, register with the Federal and state governments, begin paying taxes, obey the laws, and accept a position “at the back of the line” for eventual citizenship. The fourth is deportation for those who don’t and an aggressive enforcement process that empowers state and local law enforcement to identify them and either have them placed into a probation-type program while being processed.

The fourth plateau is a series of new laws and application of new technologies that make it more difficult for employers to hire illegal immigrants; that control medical treatment and other services for which American citizens pay high taxes.

The harsh political reality of immigration is that nothing will ever be done to avoid crisis without compromise and consensus.  Those on all sides of the issue, so righteous in their positions and posturing are going to have to give, and probably give a lot.  

There is no other way, and we are just out of time.

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