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Commentary: Immigration's yin and yang

  • Story Highlights
  • Illegal immigration is a self-inflicted wound, says columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr.
  • Communities that welcomed cheap labor are now complaining, Navarrette says
  • Columnist: Enforcement, employment are the yin and yang of immigration reform
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Not long ago, I got an illuminating e-mail from a woman who went off about how the federal government had to stop the "invasion" of illegal immigrants from Mexico and how the Mexican government had to stop its people from crossing into the United States without proper documents.

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Ruben Navarrette Jr. doesn't feel sorry for cities that spent the last decade riding the tiger of illegal immigration.

It was a fairly common message -- except that, in this case, the woman admitted that she herself had gotten in the habit of hiring Mexican workers to do odd jobs around her house and that she assumed these workers were here illegally.

But, she said unapologetically, this was work that she needed done and, well, she said of the worker, "They're here anyway."

I love it. I printed the note and put it in a folder. Later, I received another note -- this one from a leader of the Minuteman Project who joked that he enjoyed reading my columns blasting people such as him (really he did) because it gave him "something to do while [his] illegal Mexican gardener" mowed his lawn.

I'm going to need a bigger folder.

The irony behind those messages comes to mind as more and more states embark on a fool's errand: trying to take over the job of the federal government and shape U.S. immigration policy.

From Mississippi to Alabama to Kansas to Indiana, state lawmakers are considering hundreds of immigration-related proposals that do everything from deny illegal immigrants driver's licenses to enlist local police into the enforcement of federal immigration law.

It's all to show illegal immigrants that they aren't welcome. And yet, most of the time, lawmakers never stop to think about the fact that they wouldn't even have illegal immigrants in their state in the first place if, somewhere along the line, someone in that state hadn't already welcomed them with a job -- a job that, in many cases, other state residents didn't want to do at any price.

Nor do lawmakers, or their constituents, seem all that willing to acknowledge that illegal immigration is a self-inflicted wound and that the communities, cities and states now complaining about being overrun by illegal immigrants are the same ones that -- just a few years ago -- couldn't wait to benefit from the cheap labor, economic prosperity, increased tax base and construction booms that immigration, even the illegal kind, makes possible.

It's hard to feel sorry for Phoenix, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Charlotte, North Carolina; Las Vegas, Nevada; San Diego; Dallas, Texas; and other cities that spent the last decade riding the tiger of illegal immigration and have only recently begun to confront the dangers in their addiction.

And many states still can't get enough immigrant workers to satisfy their appetite. In fact, Arizona and Colorado are considering launching guest-worker plans of their own because they're tired of waiting for the federal government to come up with a proposal to alleviate the labor shortage.

Some people are even talking about employers using Mexican consulates to recruit foreign workers, as if they were glorified temp agencies.

Sooner or later, Americans are going to have to admit that enforcement and employment are the yin and yang of immigration reform. We wouldn't need so much of the former if you didn't have such an ample supply of the latter.

Just one more thing to think about while your lawn is being mowed.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. 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

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