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Commentary: Illegal immigration is a self-inflicted wound

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- We already knew we had broken borders. And when Congress chickened out on immigration reform and showed that it's not equipped to tackle anything more challenging than pork or pay raises, we knew we had a broken branch. Now it's clear that we have a broken dialogue.


Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Illegal immigration is always someone else's fault. At least that's what we tell ourselves.

We like to think of ourselves, and our communities, as innocent victims of sinister forces that are beyond our control. Concerned that there are too many illegal immigrants in the United States, that our culture is getting too spicy, and that the country is becoming too Hispanic, we blame Mexico or mega-corporations or what one commentator ominously labeled "socio-ethnic centric groups" such as the National Council of La Raza.

You see, illegal immigration is always someone else's fault. At least that's what we tell ourselves. It's easier that way.

And, when we do engage the topic, we get distracted by arguments over whether, for instance, a town such as Hazleton, Pennsylvania, has the right to dabble in do-it-yourself immigration enforcement or whether the Founding Fathers were on the right track in prohibiting that sort of thing by conceiving of the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says that a state or locality cannot pass laws that interfere with federal law.

It seems that question has been answered now that U.S. District Judge James M. Munley of the central Pennsylvania district has struck down a poorly conceived ordinance dubbed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which sought to punish landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and employers who hire them. More than 100 towns and communities have passed similar ordinances.

Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who has ridden the issue to some degree of national notoriety, has vowed to appeal the decision. But Barletta is whistling by the graveyard. Higher courts are likely to see this issue pretty much as the district court did. It's what attorneys call black letter law.

What we should be talking about instead is just how disingenuous these types of localities are being. Illegal immigration is a self-inflicted wound. And it's not just employers and landlords that benefit. It's also, yep, the same communities and towns that are doing all the complaining. There is only thing that lured illegal immigrants to Hazleton. It wasn't the scenery, the schools, or the local sports teams. It was jobs -- jobs willingly provided by individuals and businesses that, in turn, forked over tax dollars and filled town coffers. When businesses do well, the town does well. And when the town does well, the people who live there feel as if they're doing well.

I've never been to Hazleton. But I imagine that the place is lovely and has its share of restaurants, hotels and construction firms. It probably also has plenty of working mothers who rely on maids and nannies and plenty of working dads who come home to nicely manicured lawns maintained by gardeners and landscapers, all courtesy of our broken borders. And for years, it's been this way, and no one said a thing about it. Because everyone prospered.

Towns like Hazleton seem to think that they deserve some relief and some sympathy. But one thing they don't deserve is a free pass.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of The San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. You can read his column here.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Immigration

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