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February 10, 2006 [LINK]

Hanger: mercy for immigrants

In a partial reversal from his previous firm stand against in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens, our own Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County) offered an amendment to his bill that marks a significant compromise. His revised bill would provide a legal channel for some immigrants' children to qualify for the lower tuition rate, on condition that the parents have been paying their taxes and have already applied for normalized legal resident status. Hanger's change of heart came about through the pleadings of immigrant advocates and his own personal experience. Even if his bill passes the Senate, however, it would probably fail in the House of Delegates. See Washington Post. Last week Sen. Hanger introduced legislation that would provide for castration of repeat sex offenders, which raised quite a few eyebrows.

This is one of those ethical dilemmas that cannot be reconciled: Either you hold children accountable for the transgressions of their parents, or you undermine the basic sense of fair play and respect for the rules that is the hallmark of American society. Overall, I think Hanger's bill is a reasonable effort to balance justice and mercy, but I would object to the way he characterized the denial of state education benefits as "punishing" the children. To me, that smacks of the entitlements mentality that is at the root of many of our deepest social policy problems. From my experience, our colleges and universities are already jam-packed with kids who really don't belong there in the first place, and I emphatically reject the notion (often espoused by former President Bill Clinton) that every American deserves to go to college. Whatever the state legislators do, they should work toward achieving consistent standards and practices across the state, to avoid confusion, heartache, and bitterness.

To reiterate my basic position on immigration, I boil it down to two phrases: Get in line, and Speed up the process. The sooner a person who is in the United States takes formal steps to apply for permanent resident status and otherwise registers with the authorities, the sooner they should become eligible for equal protection under the law. There should be no "amnesty;" that was tried in the 1980s, and it failed. Any "guest worker program" should be accompanied by a suitable increase in funding to adequately monitor those who are supposedly here on a temporary basis; otherwise, it will become a cynical charade. Only after becoming full citizens, if they so choose, should immigrants become eligible for government benefits in health, education, and welfare. In my view, those who are in this country without taking any steps to normalize their status have no legal rights other than fundamental human rights. The longer a person has lived in this country illegally prior to making such an application, the longer he or she should have to wait in line. Those who have applied for U.S. permanent resident status or work visas and are still waiting in their home countries should get priority treatment.

Of course, no immigration reform will work unless it is accompanied by fundamental reforms in labor laws and entitlements in this country, to reduce or eliminate employers' incentive to cut costs by cheating. In that respect, the Virginia legislature's rejection of a proposed increase in the state minimum wage was entirely appropriate, if only a first step in the right direction.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 10 Feb 2006, 3: 59 PM

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