Ed Koch: The People's Victory

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In the biggest legislative upset in years, the American people defeated the President of the United States, George W. Bush, along with the bipartisan leadership of the United States Senate, including Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain.

Bush, Kennedy and McCain were supporting an amnesty program that would have opened a path to citizenship for 12 to 20 million illegal aliens. The amnesty legislation was supported by many of the major newspapers, as well as Catholic leaders led by Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, representatives of big business and many leaders of diverse ethnic communities, especially the Hispanic community. Their reasons for supporting amnesty included compassion, the need for the United States to increase its workforce and the recognition, they said, of our inability to secure the borders and prevent unlawful entry.

The vocal Congressional opponents of the legislation were mostly Republicans. I recall the supporters saying, “We are not going to put 12 to 20 million people on trains and buses and ship them home,” seeking perhaps to convey the image of Jews in Nazi Germany being sent in boxcars to concentration and death camps under Adolf Hitler. Many of us countered that illegals, 80 percent of whom are from Latin America, with 60 percent from Mexico, were here because they could not find jobs in their own countries. If the jobs were not available here because of federal law enforcement, we said, many would go home on their own.

The New York Times reported on August 10 that having lost the fight, “The Bush administration plans to announce numerous steps on Friday to secure the border with Mexico, speed the expulsion of illegal immigrants and step up enforcement of immigration laws.” The Times article pointed out that “under the most significant change disclosed earlier this week, many employers could be required to fire employees who used false Social Security numbers.” It’s shocking to think a new regulation is needed to require the firing of illegals identified to their employers as having used false Social Security numbers. Surely, if it was illegal to hire the illegal immigrant in the first place, when employers later learn that the employee is illegal, the employer has to, under existing law, fire the employee. If that is not the case, we are living in an Alice-in-Wonderland world.

Since 1986, employers have been required to ask job applicants for proof of United States citizenship or immigration status allowing them to legally work here. Why wasn’t that law enforced? Probably because there was no support at that time for sending employers to jail. But there is now. Employers, particularly those in agriculture and the hotel and restaurant business, complain they won’t be able to harvest their farm crops and keep their hotels and restaurants open without illegal workers. I believe that every job opening can be filled if either or both of two options are employed. Raise the wage offered to the level needed to attract workers and raise the legal limit on the number of legal immigrants permitted entry into the U.S. who are eligible to take jobs.

There is a third option, especially tailored for farm workers: Allow applicants for agricultural work from foreign countries to come here under two or three year contracts, guaranteeing fair wages, decent housing and medical care. Require employers to report each month if such workers do not regularly show up, so that law enforcement authorities can immediately seek to apprehend and deport them. Allow these workers to join unions, protect their right to engage in strikes and require them to report any change in their residence to the government. Those currently here illegally should be allowed to join such programs, knowing at the end of two or three years, they will have to leave the U.S. and return to their countries of origin.

We should also introduce a program that will reward illegal immigrants who turn themselves in. Such a program would provide such persons with transportation home and a commitment that when they arrive in their home country, they can go to the U.S. embassy and receive a sum of $500 for each family member who has returned. We should also exclude from deportation those with children born in the U.S., those who can prove they have engaged in heroic acts and those who have served in the U.S. military.

Further, every immigrant—legal but not yet a U.S. citizen or illegal—who is convicted of a serious misdemeanor or felony should at the end of their sentence be escorted to the border and deported. We should arrange with the governments of countries like Mexico and others that they receive the prisoner on conviction and let the convicts serve their time in the prisons of their own countries. 

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