The immigrants are coming! The immigrants are coming!

Ethan: I’m sure you have read about the new immigration proposal from four Republican and four Democratic U.S. senators. It increases border security and employment verification in exchange for a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. A good sign from my perspective is that conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is all up in arms about it. Must be a good plan! 

Phil: It appears that our challenge with millions of people illegally in our country is going to be solved in a matter of a few months now that the president and the Senate have reached consensus to solve the problem. Wonder how the people who obeyed the law, followed the difficult procedures and paid significant sums of money to get here legally are going to feel.

Ethan: Well, my paternal great grandparents got here legally (my mother’s side goes back to the pilgrims), and I suspect they would be fine with granting amnesty. Especially since, back in their day all you needed to get into the United States was a doctor who said you didn’t have smallpox. If only it was as easy for today’s immigrants as it was for the Irish, French, Italians and Jews of yesteryear.

Phil: My family, which fought in the battles of Lexington, Concord and the Civil War, and worked on the railroad, in textiles and as shoemakers, would likely agree…

Ethan: Your ancestors made shoes! No wonder you always look so sharp.

Phil: …with this distinction. Immigrants of yesteryear came here to work for a better life. Unlike anywhere else on the planet, if you come to America you can become an American. I don’t think you or I could emigrate to Saudi Arabia and be welcomed as a Saudi. My point is: Becoming an American should include understanding and obeying the laws that made the U.S. great.

Ethan: And 99 percent of immigrants in America today agree. They are law-abiding residents working to build their lives, while strengthening our economy. Just like our ancestors who arrived here to build and fight for this country.

Phil: Then why does the president report there are 11 million people here illegally? That’s a lot of people to identify, process and follow up on as they make their way toward legal status. Do you suppose he will propose a new department to manage this?

Ethan: Actually, the growth in government will come almost exclusively from the new agents needed to patrol our borders, from the increased production and operation of the security drones and from the government agents newly enlisted to track people who overstay their temporary visa. Can I assume that this is growth in government you believe in?

Phil: Yes, I just insist they make reductions elsewhere to go with that growth! Speaking of that, will it also lessen the fiscal crisis we are experiencing with illegal aliens drawing on our welfare benefits, courts and schools?

Ethan: Well, there’s less of a fiscal crisis than most on the right like to claim, but indeed the budgetary impacts should be quite positive. Taking folks out of the shadows means they will be more complete contributors. By no longer working under the table, they’ll contribute more fully to Social Security and Medicare and will fully pay income taxes. Plus, their employers will have to do the same. Gaining new citizens is good for our country and our budgets.

Phil: For all the George W. Bush bashing you folks engage in, isn’t it remarkable that the current proposal is almost identical to the one the former president presented to Congress?

Ethan: Well, if you’re referring to his 2005 plan, which was very close to the proposal laid out this week, then I agree. However, you are accusing the wrong devil of misdeeds. Republicans in the House trashed and killed that proposal.

Phil: I was referring to the 2007 version.

Ethan: Then I disagree. Democrats killed that plan because it looked nothing like the recent compromise proposal. Its path to citizenship was more cumbersome than our current rules and almost impossible to achieve. And its enforcement provisions were mostly about building more prison beds.

Phil: Actually it was more about a guest worker program your union buddies vehemently objected to. Be that as it may, my special interest is to resolve this issue, finally. In 1986 President Ronald Reagan orchestrated immigration reform that essentially gave 2.7 million illegal aliens amnesty. We were told this would solve the problem and put our immigration policy on a firm and enforceable path. Instead we now have 11 million more people here illegally!

Ethan: Unfortunately, I doubt we will ever put the issue of immigration totally to rest. Not until we decide to see immigration as an opportunity, as opposed to a problem. And not until the children of yesterday’s immigrants stop bashing the immigrants of today.

Phil: The plan the Senate proposed maybe does just that, without undermining security. How it handles people with criminal backgrounds, its requirements for learning English and civics, and the need for people to have a history of work makes the plan smarter. If we enforce these essential elements we may actually be on our way to a more prosperous future.

Ethan: J’espere bien!

Phil: So much for requiring English. You’re hopeless.