Thursday, March 16, 2006

The United States should welcome Hispanic immigrants

A column, written by St. Mary's (Greenville) parishioner, Mark O'Rourke, that appeared in the Greenville News in December, and just arrived in my inbox from a friend in the upstate.
The United States Should Welcome Hispanic Immigrants

By Mark A. O'Rourke, M.D.
Dr. O'Rourke is a physician in practice in Greenville and Seneca.
Printed in the Greenville News, December 12, 2005

Illegal immigration of Hispanics into the United States has
become a hot topic. There are an estimated 11 million illegal
immigrants in the U.S., with 45 to 75 thousand in South Carolina. Many
work in low wage and hazardous industries, such as agriculture and
construction. Unfortunately, these illegal immigrants lack access to
public assistance, health insurance coverage, or the ability to fully
integrate into the larger American society. They are often targets of
employment exploitation that amounts to economic slavery. They are
often victims of crime but they fear asking the police for help. They
often live in inadequate housing, go without healthcare, risk injury on
the job, and endure social, educational, and civic deprivation.
The presence of illegal Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. has
provoked many fears among U.S. citizens. These include a sense of
inconsistent chaos in our immigration policy, higher unemployment among
American citizens, public benefits going to non-citizens, loss of
English as our national language, and increased risk of terrorism.
Suggestions trumpeted on television, in newspaper columns, and in
political speeches include "rounding them up" and deporting them back to
Mexico, building an impenetrable wall along the Mexican border, and
stronger domestic laws to isolate illegal immigrants from the rest of
society. "Amnesty" has become a dirty word, used to bash attempts to
create a guest worker program, to oppose proposals to integrate illegal
immigrants into the legal workforce, and to block efforts to assist the
millions of illegal immigrants living in poverty and exploitation at the
margins of our society.
This state of affairs is an unfortunate tragedy. Our society
should do better and we can do better in caring for the 11 million
illegal immigrants in the U.S. First, we citizens of the U.S. need to
acknowledge that the problem is not merely 11 million people breaking
U.S. law who should be treated as criminals. Indeed, it is jobs in our
economy and the hope of a better life that draw Hispanics from Mexico,
Central and South America to the United States. We allow them to work
in our hotels and restaurants, in our agricultural fields, and on our
construction crews, while we tolerate a pervasive "don't ask, don't
tell" status quo and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Second, we
citizens of the United States have a practical interest in having these
11 million people registered in guest worker programs that allow them to
be healthy, safe and secure and to be productive members of our society.
When we have a transparent, realistic policy that makes it more
attractive to enter the U.S. legally through regular border crossings
and be legally registered than it is to enter illegally and be
undocumented, then we will be able to secure our borders and be able to
deal with the employment, healthcare, education, auto insurance and many
other problems that arise from the current situation.
Third, these illegal Hispanic immigrants in our midst are our
neighbors. They are men, women, and children with needs, hopes, and
dreams like ours. They are people with whom we share the North American
continent. The United States is a welcoming nation with a long history
of successful immigration. It respects human rights, offers educational
and economic opportunity, and cares about the weak and less fortunate.
We will do well to preserve these values as we deal with the today's
immigration issues.
So what should South Carolina citizens do about the illegal
immigration problem? First, support and advocate for a fair and just
guest worker program. They need the work and we the workers. Both they
and we need a legal, transparent, and realistic guest worker program.
Second, tone down the rhetoric about a wall, U.S. troops, or vigilantes
to seal the Mexico border. It is neither practical nor possible to seal
the border and everyone knows it. Third, send this message to our
political leaders as individuals, as civic groups, as political party
members, as churches, as businesses, as charities, and as voting
citizens. Our city and county elected officials, our state
Representatives and Senators, and our Congressmen and Senators all need
to hear from large numbers of citizens that South Carolina and the U.S.
urgently need 1) a fair and just guest worker program and 2) an approach
to the illegal immigration program that respects the humanity and
dignity of our Hispanic brothers and sisters.

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