There must be boundaries to pursuing the American Dream

As debate rages on in our nation’s capital over the future of immigration reform, some in the Jewish community are throwing their support behind illegal immigrants from south of the border. They point to the history of Jewish and other immigration to this country as proof that the American Dream should be open to all.

But unlike earlier generations of immigrants, this latest wave did not come through Ellis Island. Indeed, as illegal immigrants, they went through none of the processes required to attain citizenship. And demanding U.S. citizenship among a sea of Mexican flags certainly does not demonstrate fealty to this country, nor a desire to become American.

Yet those pushing to accord “rights” to illegal aliens such as driver licenses, in-state college tuition, health care and education, rarely make the distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Blurring the lines between the two is not only an insult to those who lawfully seek to become American citizens, but an undermining of the very notion of citizenship itself. For if non-citizens are accorded all the benefits regardless, what’s the point of obeying the law?

Of course, most of these illegal immigrants are in the United States for economic reasons, and ever mindful of the downtrodden, Jews are naturally in favor of helping those who they see as victims. But what about addressing the source of this injustice instead of simply offering temporary solutions?

The Mexican government, long ago abandoning any sort of pretense to functional rule, has instead turned to exporting its discontented masses to America. The remittances sent home by illegal immigrants have now surpassed revenue from both foreign investment and tourism. Rather than demanding reform at home, the Mexican people have turned to the escape valve of America. The furtherance of illegal immigration to the United States allows corruption to continue to flourish in Mexico, enriching the few and impoverishing the majority.

Meanwhile, American workers are left out of the equation. Politicians and pundits have tried desperately to convince us that we’re incapable of blue-collar work, but who do they think did that work before the latest wave of illegal immigration? I’m only in my 30s and I recall a time when construction, restaurant, retail and even agricultural work was done mostly by Americans. And it can be done by Americans again.

Those who think that amnesty programs for illegal immigrants are the answer are ignoring recent history. The seven amnesties passed in the United States since 1986 have led to a huge increase in illegal immigration, from 3 million to what some estimate to be 23 million. They also seem not to realize that our already broken immigration system can hardly be entrusted with further responsibilities.

As long as the border remains vulnerable to illegal immigration, such plans will be rendered useless anyway. More illegals will simply cross the border, claim they meet the requirements of whatever program is in place and there will be no accountability.

The only solution and the one that a majority of Americans have consistently supported via studies and polls, is to first secure our southern border by repairing and extending the existing barrier. Once the flow of traffic is secured, the country can turn its attention to the millions of illegal immigrants already here.

Some will argue that fences and walls are off-putting and antithetical to America’s reputation as a safe haven for the dispossessed of the world. But when legal immigration has become subsumed by mass invasion, America is no longer a refuge but rather a sinking ship. For how many people can one country support without experiencing a drain on its environment, quality of life and national identity?

Many countries have felt the need to build walls — some like Israel to protect themselves from terrorism, and others in Europe and elsewhere to ward off rampant illegal immigration. Furthermore, every nation in the world, including Mexico, exacts both stringent demands on those wishing to become citizens and harsh penalties on those who try to do illegally. America is the only country expected to surrender its sovereignty without argument.

Unfortunately, most of our politicians, whether Democrats, Republicans or President Bush himself, are pushing for just such a borderless future. But the American people might just have a little something to say about that. Political candidates that promote real immigration reform are likely to be the inheritors of today’s power structure.

The tide may indeed be turning. The question is, who’s willing to turn with it?

Cinnamon Stillwell is a San Francisco-based columnist for SFGate.com. She can be reached at cinnamonstillwell@yahoo.com.