@edhed:Criminals or workers?

@edbod:The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would label all undocumented immigrants as felons and extend punishments to anyone who helps them, knowing they are illegals. A somewhat similar but more liberal bill is being discussed now in the U.S. Senate.

While we agree that it's time to make some clear sense out of the nation's immigration situation and to shore up the borders against terrorist intruders, we find it shocking to hear the contempt and scorn expressed by many people against those who merely came here to work.

First of all, consider the reasons for cracking down on people who illegally enter the country:

N They may be up to no good. Sneaking into the United States with weapons of destruction and intentions to undermine security, they may be a danger to society.

N They sometimes come for the benefits they can receive at little or no cost just by being present in the country -- like free child and healthcare benefits.

N And some say they come and take jobs that rightfully should be occupied by Americans.

On the other side of the coin, however, are many reasons why new arrivals actually help the country and carry on the spirit upon which the nation was built.

First and foremost is that the United States is a country of immigrants. Who among us does not have ancestors who came here seeking to make a better life through hard work and self-discipline?

Here in southern Chester County in particular, many people have come from Mexico to work in agriculture and other jobs involving manual labor just as our great grandfathers and grandmothers did. They work hard, pay taxes and send money home to families who can't get work there. Some of these people come here because they need work fast to save their relatives, and they have not the time or the means to establish citizenship.

The second reason is that as much as employers would like to hire U.S. citizens to pick vegetables, work in gardens and staff restaurants, they can't find the labor force among the locals. As a corollary to that, it will be interesting to see how many young adults who are destined to come through an educational system that makes them proficient in math and reading through No Child Left Behind will want to perform these laborious tasks.

The third reason to question the actions in the House involves the people they hope to round up who are helping illegal immigrants. These are healthcare providers and good Samaritans (like Project Salud), facilities and individuals who take in people down on their luck without asking about citizenship status (like His Mission), religious organizations like Mision Santa Maria in Avondale (Would they arrest Sister Jane Houtman?) and hundreds of private citizens who donate clothing, services, food and toys to immigrants -- legal and illegal. These are not criminals and do not deserve to be treated as such.

Yes, the country needs to get some order in its immigration procedures and secure the borders better than it has up to now. But it also must simplify the process for people to continue to come here to work, because working is no crime and it's what has historically built this strong nation.

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