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Immigration problem might not be as bad as we think

March 12, 2011|By Art Callaham

Hello readers, I feel compelled to comment on illegal immigration and how that seems to play out here in our area — particularly Washington County.  

A recent Herald-Mail news story outlined the results of the 2010 U.S. Census. Our county's and the area's total population increased by approximately 12 percent. In the same Census the Hispanic population of Washington County increased by a whopping 225 percent.  In raw numbers that increase is approximately 3,530 new Hispanic residents. When compared to the 15,500 total increase in Washington County's population, new Hispanic residents make up 20 percent of the total. Good? Bad?

Most Census aficionados, as well as those who are close to the Hispanic population, will freely admit that some percentage of the increase is made up of folks here illegally. Also, a portion of the Hispanic population is accounted for in the local prisons' census, whether the prison resident is in the United States legally or illegally (whatever these figures amount to is not readily available at this time). So, do we have an illegal immigration problem here in Washington County, Maryland? I don't know, but, my opinion is no.

Nationally a great deal of the United States' population increase can be attributed to immigration, particularly immigration along our southern borders with our Latino and Hispanic neighbors. Significant increases locally, in the Hispanic category, are obviously related to national immigration statistics. In both instances, local and national, some of that immigration is not legal.   

I do not intend to glorify or denigrate one category of immigrants; however, you seldom hear of illegal Canadian immigrants in terms of border crossings. Do we have an illegal immigration problem in the United States, particularly on our southern border? Once again, I don't know; but my opinion once again is no.

I can feel the rush of Mail Callers heading to the phone, and sense the bloggers' fingers poised above the keyboards as people begin to ask, who is this wacko? But read on my friends, and give me the final words in this column to explain my "no" votes.

My dear friend Michael G. Callas, God bless his soul, used to tell the story of the "Russian drywall crew."

This group of Russian immigrants would bid a job, arrive on the job with only one person who spoke passable English, live out of a van and work literally day and night to complete the job. All of this at a competitive rate of pay. Mike swore to me that all members of the crew had proper documentation.

I don't know about you, but I've been told that hanging drywall, particularly the boards above your head, may be one of the toughest, dirtiest and least appealing jobs known to humankind. But according to Mike, this bunch of immigrants did the job cheerfully, economically, on time and within budget.  

My point is not about the fact that these immigrants were Russians; the point is they were immigrants, legal immigrants. Immigrants doing work at a reasonable rate of pay that "Americans" may not have wanted to do. Sad but true, there are actually some jobs that Americans don't want to do (particularly if disability pay or unemployment compensation beats regular pay — but that's another column).

America has built its economic prowess in the world upon the backs of individual ingenuity, risk, entrepreneurship and in many cases the hard work of immigrants.  

My daddy was not a Cherokee Indian, nor was his daddy, nor his daddy's daddy — face it, the vast majority of Americans today are the sons and daughters of a particular generation of immigrants. And some of that immigration was, by today's standard, very illegal, vis-à-vis slavery, indentured service, or bonded service.

So when we talk about "illegal immigration" let's take the word "immigration" out of the equation. America was built on immigration; let's not make it a dirty word.

Now, focus on illegal for a moment. We have laws that state, if a person is stopped within the United States (Arizona or Maryland, or Idaho, or Vermont or wherever) and that person does not have proper identification to prove that he or she is in America "legally," those people can be sent back to where they came from. Under American legal due process, sure, send the person back if that person is here illegally.

So, my point after 700 words is simply: There should be no such thing as "illegal immigration;" just simply, "illegal border crossing."

As second, third or greater generations of immigrants, of which most of us must ascribe, we know that our great nation was built on immigration. Further, our Constitution prescribes the law of the land and is the basis of what is legal and what is illegal — enforce the laws we have concerning what is legal or illegal. Trust me, your great-great-great granddaddy would turn over in his grave if he knew you were knocking the concept of immigration.

Let's focus on the words "illegal border crossings," because that's our problem; let's clean up that illegal activity. Don't denigrate the term immigration by listening to puffed up politicians trying to make immigration a dirty word by coupling that word with illegal.



Art Callaham is a local community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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