The world's longest wall won't keep Latinos out

Published: Saturday, April 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 31, 2006 at 10:15 p.m.
A couple of weeks ago, more than 100,000 protesters marched in Chicago. They were joined by a few hundred thousand more last weekend. They participated in marches in Wisconsin, Arizona, Texas, California and Georgia, peacefully demonstrating against legislation that would aggravate the lives of millions of undocumented and documented immigrants, U.S. citizens and countless businesses as well.
These proposed measures attempt to increase the length of the Mexican-American border, turning it into the longest border in the world.
The Southwestern border spans from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, separating the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas from our neighboring country to the south.
Some legislation would raise and extend a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. However, this wall would surpass territorial lines. It would stretch into emergency rooms in every hospital, into school classrooms and colleges and universities. It would also block off departments of motor vehicles, housing programs and halls of justice in every county and municipality in every state of the United States.
In a time of free trade, when we look back at the Berlin Wall as ancient history, the proposed wall seems an anachronism. Hiding behind the facade of Homeland Security, the true purpose of the wall is to prevent Latinos from integrating into our society. According to those advocating the wall, these unwanted immigrants are taking away thousands of jobs and not paying taxes.
But if they asked any Florida farmer, they would hear that when it comes to planting watermelons, these migrants are the best. And according to the Department of Labor, these immigrants represent at least 60 percent of the farm labor force (a very conservative number according to my guess).
These people come to work hard and make some money to help their families back home. But God forbid if one of them got sick or decided to stay. The wall advocates ask: Who will pay for their children's education and their medical bills?
The solution is easy, but to some it would be a bitter medicine to swallow. To allow them to stay and maintain some legal status would be a slap in the face to the wall advocates because it is not fair to those waiting legally for their turn to come in to America.
To the wall advocates, who can only see black and white, the Mexicans are, plainly and simply, breaking the law. It doesn't matter that the archaic laws they are breaking are futile and do not make any sense. These laws do not take into consideration the thousands of businesses, the overall economic landscape and the human rights that are infringed.
The advocates for the wall should consider making changes to the laws that would alleviate the situation, not aggravate it. In terms of national security, I would feel safer knowing the names and addresses of the millions of undocumented immigrants living among us. Give them some personal identification cards. This simple step can help them on the path to a life outside the shadows of an imposed criminality.
Why can't they open a bank account, pay taxes, insurance, medical bills, etc., when all they do is work so very hard? Why deny Mexicans a driver's license? Making a Mexican a felon for crossing the border without submitting to the invisible rules of an unrealistic immigration and naturalization agency is preposterous.
The old INS, now under Homeland Security, has failed in its mission. It is time to create new laws that treat immigrants with respect and decency, laws that lead to lawful residential status and are conducive to citizenship. Also, the borders need to be secure against terrorist threats, not against the back and forth flow of our hard-working neighbors south of the border who only want to make a decent living.
Since the beginning of the creation of the longest wall in the world, we have seen an increase in the number of deaths on the border. Yet thousands each day are making the journey guided by the hope of earning a better life by working hard in the United States of America. Denying them the dream to a better life goes directly against the same values of freedom that we are trying to defend around the world.
The Chamber of Hispanic Affairs will join the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens in support of the Sensenbrenner Bill that just passed the House of Representatives on March 27. This bill is comprehensive and contains a path to citizenship for current undocumented immigrants, creates a new temporary worker program, reduces family immigration backlogs, and includes "AgJobs" and the "DREAM Act."
It is not an all-enforcement, no-solutions bill, such as Senator Frist's (R-TN) bill, which is also being debated in the Senate.
The bills have their enforcement challenges, but the recent demonstrations have shown that Americans are committed to taking on illegal immigration. Legislation will follow to solve the problem of enforcing the new laws.
A massive wall on the border would tell Latin America: We don't want you, we don't need you, and you're not welcome. I don't think that is the message the people of the United States want to send to the world.
Wilfredo R. Melendez is president/director of the Chamber of Hispanic Affairs of Gainesville.

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