Dan Moffett, Palm Beach Post, July 11, 2004
Americans won’t solve the nation’s immigration problem until we are able to see it with an honest eye.
The busboy who clears the table, the maid who cleans the hotel room, the farmworkers on their way to the fields — we look at them, but we do not see them. We do not want to. It is a grand paradox of history that a nation that owes its existence to immigrants so routinely denies their existence.
Maintaining the national blind spot allows us to plead ignorance to disturbing things. Last week, before a Senate Judicial subcommittee, witnesses testified that as many as 50,000 immigrants are living here as slaves. Traffickers smuggle them into the country to work in brothels, factories and farms. We certainly don’t want to know too much about that.
The election season adds demagoguery to denial. Candidates take positions to appease focus groups and voting blocs without regard for reality or common sense. When it comes to immigration, many politicians lock themselves in an ideological safe house and stay away from the windows until the election is over.
Immigration issue is alien concept
Which brings me to Peter Deutsch, the Democratic congressman from Fort Lauderdale who is seeking his party’s nomination for Bob Graham’s Senate seat. He sped by The Post last week for an interview with the editorial board. A Yale-educated attorney with 12 years in Congress, Rep. Deutsch brought a manila folder that contained 10 typed, single-spaced pages listing his accomplishments. The word immigration does not appear.
I asked him what he thought of the AgJOBS bill for immigrant workers that Sen. Graham is sponsoring and that may come to a vote this month. Rep. Deutsch said he was unfamiliar with it.
I explained that it was a bipartisan plan to bring millions of illegal immigrant farmworkers into the system by establishing an incremental path to legal status. Rep. Deutsch said he opposes guest-worker programs, creating levels of “sub-citizenship” and, of course, amnesty. He comes from a family of immigrant heritage and believes in “playing by the rules.”
What would he do about the 300,000 illegal immigrants working in Florida agriculture who are essential to the state’s economy because they take low-pay, no-benefit jobs Americans don’t want? He said that with 5 percent unemployment, employers could find American workers to replace illegals.
“Do you know any American who wants to earn a living picking tomatoes?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “some Americans would, if wages were higher.”
“How much are you willing to pay for a pound of tomatoes then?” I asked.
“That would have to be determined by the marketplace,” he said.
Rep. Deutsch said the immigration problem is one of enforcement and border control. Government has to mean what it says and prevent immigrants from coming illegally.
“What do we do about the 300,000 already in the state?”
Inspections, immigration checks and deportations. “Send people back.”
“How do you remove 300,000 people from Florida?”
“By plane or by boat,” he said.
Forget college; send kids to fields
So, while Sen. Graham and more than 60 Senate colleagues work on a law to deal honestly and realistically with an illegal U.S. workforce of about 7 million, Rep. Deutsch proposes a human roundup the likes of which the world has never seen. The United States can at long last solve its immigration problems by filling 7 million seats on boats and airplanes.
Once that’s done, Rep. Deutsch can begin raising wages for 7 million menial jobs so Americans will take them. By the time the last airplane lands in Mexico City with the last load of illegals, American families will have adapted to a revolutionary new job market. Rather than send their kids to college, they will send them to pick tomatoes, bus tables and clean toilets.
That is the vision of America Rep. Deutsch would bring to the United States Senate. It is a remarkably myopic view, even by our standards.