By JERRY SULLIVAN
Consider these recent events and developments:
- The federal government is engaged in a selective crackdown on employers with illegal immigrants on their payrolls.
- Members of the Los Angeles City Council and representatives of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA) recently announced their opposition to a federal legislative proposal that would redouble the crackdown.
- Republicans in the California state Legislature have introduced a series of bills that would punish cities that don't assume the federal government's duties of enforcing immigration laws.
- Democrats in the Legislature continue to push a number of bills that would provide some official standing for illegal immigrants, including access to identification cards, among other proposals.
- Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly wove a recent Los Angeles murder into a stinging denouncement of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, claiming that our city is "out of control" because of illegal immigration.
- Villaraigosa has only recently begun to address immigration reform, and our representatives in Washington have hardly been a factor on the subject.
That all adds up to a lot talk and political caution and no progress on formulating a sensible policy on immigration.
Taking a stand
Don't expect much more from our politicians.
I don't mean that as an easy cheap shot. I'm being realistic. Politicians aren't much good if they lose office. That means they must strike a balance between leading and following the will of the people who elect them. Occasionally, an extraordinary politician emerges with the will and ability to lead supporters down a difficult path. They pay a price, though. Think of President Johnson ramming civil rights legislation through Congress. He predicted that his Democratic Party would lose its traditional stronghold in the South for generations and he was right.
But the Civil Rights Act was too important to shelve over political concerns back then. And immigration reform is too important to shelve over political concerns now.
So what to do with politicians who are frozen somewhere between the opportunity to lead and the comfort zone of inaction on immigration reform?
I see only one option at this point: The business community must press elected officials of both parties into action. Legal and illegal immigration has enormous implications for our society. The most immediate implications of inaction on immigration reform will be economic. That makes it a matter of business for businesses that need a solid source of labor, not to mention the 12 million or more illegal immigrants who are now part of our consumer marketplace.
There are other enormous implications. We are approaching a critical period in our history, a point where a huge wave of our population will reach old age without enough younger folks behind them. Who will fund Social Security and Medicare? Who will buy the house from that nice old couple when it's time for them to move into something smaller?
The questions on Social Security, Medicare and the housing market won't hit us for a while, though. The matter of employers left short on workers will strike sooner whether or not the economy continues to drag. The guess here is that we could see a baffling modern-day economic development: A labor shortage in certain basic industries during an economic slowdown.
Immigration reform is a matter of human decency. I believe that some amnesty program is in order, along with moves to address the flaws that have made the need for amnesty a cyclical occurrence.
Many disagree. But I believe that all can agree that the current status of uncertainty on immigration reform overlaid by heated rhetoric and political posturing must come to an end.
It's time to conclude that we cannot count on our politicians. This has been a hot-button for three years, after all.
It's time to concede that our elected officials need some cover if they're going to engage the fight to bring sensible immigration reform.
They'll be caught in a withering cross-fire if such cover comes from non-profit institutions dedicated to the human rights of illegal immigrants.
It is time to appeal to minds rather than hearts.
It is time for the business community to press for immigration reform.
Jerry Sullivan is editor and publisher of the Garment and Citizen, a community newspaper located in downtown Los Angeles.
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