The chasm between opposing sides on the immigration reform debate crystalized when two journalists squared off during the Western Growers Political Action Committee fundraising luncheon held in Las Vegas in early November in conjunction with the association’s 89th Annual Meeting.
Fox commentator Michelle Malkin and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette obviously have a lot of respect for each other and agree on some key points, but creating a path toward citizenship for falsely documented workers already in the United States is not one of them. This is also the key point over which legislative proponents and opponents to comprehensive immigration reform often clash.
Navarrette articulated the proponent view that there are at least 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States doing jobs that U.S. citizens won’t do. These are hard-working people obeying the law in virtually every way except for their entry into the United States, and they deserve a path toward legal status and even citizenship as part of comprehensive immigration reform. Navarrette argues that we have to deal with the situation that exists and these workers are not going to voluntarily leave the country.
Malkin believes that workers who came here illegally should not be rewarded with citizenship or legal status simply because Mexico shares a border with the United States and entry was relatively easy. She said there are many people from the Philippines, where her family came from, and all over the world who would love to immigrate to the United States. They have the disadvantage of not sharing a border with the United States, so illegal entry is difficult. These people are standing in line and waiting their turn. She believes illegal workers already here should get no special treatment.
Malkin also took aim at agriculture and other industries that hire illegal workers stating that the only reason they don’t have U.S. citizens doing those jobs is that they don’t pay enough. When the debate moved into the question and answer phase, WG CEO and President Tom Nassif took a strong stance against that suggestion. He told Malkin there are many employers in the audience who can tell stories of paying $30 per hour or more and still not being able to attract local citizens to agricultural jobs. “The reason we don’t have workers is because we don’t pay enough,” Malkin had said earlier. Nassif said that supposition is just flat out wrong.
Malkin also is opposed to a temporary guest worker program for agriculture. The problem with a temporary guest worker program, she said, “is the ‘temporary’ and ‘guest’ part of it.” It is Malkin’s belief that any such program will result in more workers coming into the United States and staying. While many estimate there are 11 million falsely documented people in the United States, Malkin believes the number could be as high as 30 million, which would be about 9 percent of our population.
The Fox News reporter received praise from Navarrette for her candor with regard to border enforcement though he disagrees with her viewpoint. Malkin indicated that debaters who claim to want to secure the borders first and then tackle immigration reform are disingenuous. She argues that there should be no “first” and then “second” approach. She believes securing the border is an ongoing obligation that should not be followed by any program that gives priority status to any group of people already illegally in the United States. There should be no connection between the two, she said.
Navarrette repeated his much more practical view that there are millions of falsely-documented workers in the United States for the simple reason that U.S. employers need them. He said U.S. workers will not take those jobs and rejected the use of the word “invasion” to characterize the flow of hard workers looking for a better life in the United States. Malkin defended the use of the word “invasion” and believes it is an apt definition. She added that our loose borders and non-enforcement of immigration laws did make it easier for the 9/11 terrorists to live in the United States undetected. Navarrette said those terrorists came to the United States legally and indicated they have no place in the current comprehensive immigration reform debate.
He did agree with Malkin that the argument to secure the border first is a false one that will never be accomplished. There is always more “securing” needed to be done and so discussions that start with that premise never move on to tackling the real issues of comprehensive immigration reform.
The debate was held the day before Republicans took charge of the U.S. Senate and strengthened their hold in the House of Representatives. Both journalists indicated the shift in power that was expected the next day would not have a major impact on comprehensive immigration reform, at least in the short run.
The journalists did bring up several interesting facets of the debate that appear to be their pet peeves. Malkin believes it is just unproductive to label those opposed to immigration as racist. She said she is a minority with “skin browner than the president’s” yet her opponents claim she is a racist because she is against amnesty.
Navarrette takes exception to anti-immigration types who point to their foreign backgrounds and claim their forefathers stood in line and came here legally generations ago. He said most of these people are talking about a time when there was no line and it was not illegal to immigrate to the United States. As a case in point, he said his ancestors came from Mexico legally several generations ago because that is the only way you could come here.
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