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Is It Xenophobic to Regulate Entry into the US?

By Ed Koch

Addressing the immigration laws of our country remains the hot button issue of the day. The New York Times editorial board and columnist, John Tierney, have come out in support of proposed Congressional legislation that would provide amnesty for the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country.

It appears that The Times and Tierney favor an open immigration policy that essentially would eliminate restrictions on the amount of time visitors to this country can stay in the U.S. The Times denounces the House Sensenbrenner bill for a provision that makes it a crime to be in the U.S. without proper documentation. The Times does not explain why such legislation was deemed necessary by the House. When I first learned of the Times' opposition, I believed that it had always been criminal to enter the U.S. illegally, only to learn that was true for those who cross the border illegally, but not for those who enter lawfully and then overstay their visas.

Only in Newsday did I read the explanation: "A White House spokesman said the proposal actually came from the Justice Department. It is currently a federal criminal misdemeanor to unlawfully enter the country, while unauthorized presence, such as overstaying a visa, is a civil offense. 'There is an inequality in how different illegal immigrants are treated,' he said. 'Those that come here illegally are criminals, those who overstay their visas are not.'" The House Republicans who on reflection tried to amend their proposed law reducing the offense of overstaying a visa from a felony to a misdemeanor were blocked by the Democratic leadership which apparently preferred to retain a political issue rather than improve the legislation.

The Times denounces President Bush who supports the Senate amnesty bill known as Hagel-Martinez because he "is trying to appease" the right wing of his party, by supporting both fences on the border and the use of the National Guard to assist the Border Patrol in keeping illegal immigrants out. The Times believes that the better approach is "to put illegal workers on a path to assimilation and citizenship." Why is that better than the current system that allows nearly a million people every year to enter the country permanently and have the immediate right to work and ultimately to become citizens? If the country believes it can support and needs more legal and permanent immigrants, Congress should increase the numbers permitted entry. But it makes no sense to eliminate reasonable restrictions on entry, creating in effect open borders. If we were to do that, shouldn't we in fairness say to the rest of the world, come and join us, everyone is welcome, not simply those entering at our southern border? The Times would be very happy, but would unrestricted immigration be good for our country? I don't think so. Nearly the entire world would like to come and live here.

The Times objects to the Senate proposal that guest workers performing jobs currently needed should be required to go home when the jobs are done and come again the following year. No, says The Times. "If there must be guest workers, there must also be a path so they, too, can seek citizenship if they choose. Mr. Bush last night specifically -- and shamefully -- urged that such a path be denied to temporary workers."

Columnist Tierney, referring to the President's speech, opines, "He had to throw in the tough border talk and the ID cards. He had to deal with the new outbreak of xenophobia, the fear that has always been easy for demagogues to arouse because it's such a basic human instinct." Then seeking to denigrate everyone in opposition to the concept of open borders, Tierney writes, "They're coming to feed us, not take our food, yet we're demanding that our leaders keep them out. No Mexican busboys! No Guatemalan cooks! Stop them before they grill again!" Is it really xenophobic to protect our borders and regulate entry into the U.S.? I don't think so.

Tierney's language is offensive to the very people he supports, as well as to defenders of reasonable and responsible immigration. Every immigrant has aspirations to eventually work his or her way up the ladder and become, or have their children become, professionals, and that is the way it should be.

Does Tierney really believe that open borders will enhance that opportunity for the millions of American workers, many black and Hispanic now legally here as the result of birth or lawful entry? I don't. I am for immigration. How could I not be? I am the son of immigrants and became Mayor of the greatest city in the world -- New York City -- as a first generation American. Mario Cuomo, also a child of immigrants, became the governor of the Empire State -- New York. Wouldn't The Times be performing a public service and the job of the newspaper of record by informing us on how the Mexicans control immigration into their country, and how our current practices compare with the rest of the nations represented at the United Nations?

Yes, we can and we should improve our immigration laws. But to open borders and no controls, I say, No. The 11 million illegals should not and will not be put on buses and sent home. What should happen is the sending to prison for at least six months or longer every U.S. employer that is knowingly or without doing due diligence hiring illegals. If no jobs are available, the illegals will leave and go home on their own.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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