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Posted: July 08, 2010

The Economist: simple solution to a complex question

It's important to remember we're all immigrants

Tucker Hart Adams

I've just read Helen Thorpe's new book, "Just Like Us," the story of four Denver teenagers whom she followed through their senior year in high school and four years at the University of Denver. All of the girls are Latina, two here legally and two undocumented, the latter through no fault of their own.

They were brought here by their parents when they were very young, but the contrast in the opportunities available to them relative to the other two girls is stark.

As I thought about the foolishness of an immigration policy that denies opportunity to young men and women who have grown up in the U.S., I turned to the report issued by the Strategic Issues Program at DU titled "Architecture for Immigration Reform." It lays out a 25-step process for dealing with our need for immigrant workers - at both ends of the pay and education scale - and for legalizing the 12 million or so who came here illegally. I was struck with how politics has complicated a relatively straightforward solution to a complex problem.

When the immigration topic comes up in the Q&A after a speech, I always ask, "Who in the room is not an immigrant or a descendent of an immigrant?" In an audience of 500 or 1,000, a few hands will go up. "Are you American Indian?" I ask. When they nod yes I remind them that they, too, are immigrants. They just got here 13,000 years or so before the rest of us.

I think it is critical to keep this fact in mind - we are all immigrants or descendents of immigrants, primarily people who came here for opportunity and the chance for a better life for their children. My guess is that the United States is the only country in the world where citizenship confers nationality. It certainly doesn't in Russia.

We are all Americans, albeit from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds, which is why I think the move to refer to hyphenated Americans is dangerous, as though some people are real Americans while others are only semi-Americans.

My simple solution to the immigration problem is as follows.

• First, offer two types of visas - one for people coming to the U.S. temporarily (tourists, students, temporary workers) and a different visa for those who wish to become citizens. Make them easy to obtain.
• Second, set up a robust guest worker program for agricultural workers, construction workers, workers in the tourist industry, etc., as well as for the highly educated technical specialists of which we have a shortage.
• Third, after the guest worker program is in place, offer a route to citizenship for people who are here without documentation. Start with the children, who are undocumented through no fault of their own. It is to everyone's advantage to be sure they are well-educated, trained for the jobs that will be available so they become taxpayers and productive citizens.
• Fourth, require every job applicant to have an identification card that includes a Social Security number, to ensure they are legal and pay taxes. This may mean that those of us who are already citizens also have to have one, but I can't see that as more onerous than the current need for a driver's license or Social Security number.

I think the current blather about immigrants taking jobs that "real" Americans need and want is a red herring. A case in point: agricultural workers in Western Colorado. Of the 200 or so collecting unemployment insurance who were sent by the government employment agency to interview for jobs, most didn't apply and only one was still on the job at the end of the first week.

So, make it easy to come. If we need to limit the number of immigrants who want to become citizens, do it by lottery to be fair. Insist that they learn English and pass a citizenship exam. That shouldn't be hard - immigrants have been learning English and enriching our culture by adding their traditions for generations.

Then, put the immigration issue behind us and celebrate the fact that we live in a country people want to come to rather than escape from.
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Tucker Hart Adams, president of the Adams Group, monitored and analyzed the Colorado economy for 30 years. She can be reached via her website,

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Readers Respond

Has anyone considered the possibility that our "savior" Mr. Obama may be preparing to provide amnesty-citizenship-and voting rights to these illegal immigrants in order to acquire a strong voting pool? Allow 11 million illegal immigrants to become citizens and the democratic party has secured 11 million voters for life, seeking more government handouts and leading our country down the path to socialism. I am a young Generation Y'er and I am deeply concerned that we are losing our country to this invasion, not only to Mexican immigrants but also foreigners who mean to do harm to this country. A quick Google search can easily turn up stories of Arizona ranchers discovering Quran's littered across there land. The arguement that these illegal immigrants come for a better life is no longer true, some mean to bring violence, drugs and guns, and some mean to do much more harm. While everyone in this country immigrated at one point or another, the famous Ellis Island exhisted to document those entering our country and unfortunately no everyone was permitted access at that time, and in the end THATS OK! By Nate Santillanes on 2010 07 08
Some good ideas were expressed in this article, however there is a single (and very important) distinction I'd like to point out. Yes, I am descended from immigrants . . . but they came to this country LEGALLY to start a new life even though the road was not always easy. And because they came to the United States legally, their children and grandchildren (of which I am one) are also here as legal US citizens. Is it unfortunate and distressing that the children of illegal aliens miss opportunities available to US citizens? Yes. Is that sufficient reason to flex/bend/overlook our country's laws in favor of a segment of the population (who, by the way, is here ILLEGALLY and enjoying many benefits usually without the burden of taxation)? I'm sorry, but I don't think so. I welcome those of all races, colors and creeds to this wonderful country, but they should come here legally, as million of our forefathers did. If you're not here legally, take the necessary steps to become a legal resident of the US however stressful or painful they may be - and pave the way for your children to do the same. By Sandy on 2010 07 08
Thank you Tom. Proponents of amnesty and open borders do use words like "racist" against dissenters to garner sympathy while using the term "undocumented worker" to soften what is really and illegal alien. By John Gimple on 2010 07 08
The author's suggestions are over-simplified and broad. They do not consider the laws in place. No country in the world allows such invasion of its borders and then gives amnesty to the violators, as does the U. S. A. Making it easy to come in to the country today, with conditions the way they are, is asking for more "terrorists" to infiltrate the country, a setup for disaster - which we have already encountered. I pass along an excellent article by Rita Bonilla: Written by Rita Bonilla Thursday, 03 June 2010 15:02 Commentary - Rita Bonilla User Rating: / 5 PoorBest One of the ‘founders’ of the Reconquista (reconquer) Movement some years back said: “We call things RACISM just to get attention. We reduce complicated problems to RACISM, not because IT IS RACISM, but because it works.” Alfredo Gutierrez, political consultant, as quoted by Richard de Uriarte, The Phoenix Gazette, March 14, 1992 (quoted in The ProEnglish Advocate, 1st Quarter, 2002). Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition, defines the word RACISM as: Belief in or doctrine asserting racial differences in character, intelligence, etc. and the superiority of one race over another or others; any program or practice of racial discrimination, segregation; feelings or actions of hatred and bigotry toward a person or persons because of their race. Here I would like to interject that “Mexican” is not a race; it is a NATIONALITY! Just as American is not a race; Canadian is not a race; Italian is not a race, etc., etc., etc. As you can see by the definition, the word “racisim” carries a tremendous amount of power and thus no one in their right mind would want to be labeled “a racist.” But as Mr. Alfredo Gutierrez states, “We reduce complicated problems to RACISM, not because it is RACISIM, but because it works.” Over the past couple of decades I have noticed more and more that anyone that is not pro-illegal immigration is almost immediately labeled a racist or anti-Hispanic. This is especially true if the person happens to be non-Hispanic and as Mr. Gutierrez states, “ works.” I have observed many non-Hispanics become visibly “uncomfortable” whenever the subject of illegal immigration is brought up. Unfortunately, there is a complete disregard for the FACTS surrounding the illegal immigration issue. First of all the fact that millions of people have entered our country ILLEGALLY over the past several decades appears to be a non-issue to those who claim that speaking out against illegal immigration is racist. Millions of illegal aliens enter each year thereby breaking our laws. Yet they then turn around and tell us that they are “entitled to be here” and that our immigration system is broken and in the same breath demand protection under our judicial system. In my opinion, the Constitution addresses the illegal immigration problem in Article IV, Section 4 which reads as follows: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government, and SHALL PROTECT EACH OF THEM AGAINST INVASION.” As I have stated in the past, what we have had occurring in our country over the last 25 years is NOT IMMIGRATION, BUT AN INVASION! We are not addressing legal immigration here, but blatant illegal immigration! What I cannot understand is WHY millions of people would be crossing our borders and entering this country illegally if this is, as they claim, such a racist country. Why would they want to be part of such a supposedly “racist” country? Why are there tens of thousands of illegal immigrants marching in our streets DEMANDING CITIZENSHIP? Maybe we should ask the “National Council of La Raza (the race)?” I do not believe that this country has a racisim problem; what we have is an illegal immigration problem. We do not want millions of illegal immigrants, the majority of whom are Mexican, coming across our porous southern border, being declared legal and thus given a “speedy” path to both citizenship and the right to cast a vote. American citizens should not be forced to shoulder the enormous costs associated with providing food stamps, housing, medical care, education and other forms of welfare to people who have broken our laws by breaking into our country---our home. I, as an American, do not want illiterate, unpatriotic and unappreciative masses escaping the grip of their corrupt governments coming here and demanding rights that they are not entitled to while they strip American citizens and legal immigrants of our rights and then tell us, when we try to defend our country and our culture, that we should SHUT UP because we are being RACISTS! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! GOD BLESS AMERICA!! A PROUD AMERICAN OF MEXICAN HERITAGE more articles by Rita at Comments or questions are welcomed. You may contact Rita Bonilla by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Please visit Patriot’s Coalition at By Tom on 2010 07 08
Sorry Ms. Adams, but the world is not the same as when the American Indians first ventured to the continent. Nomads would be a better term than immigrants at the time. There were no borders or visas or immigration policies. Properly limited immigration is good. What we have is uncontrolled immigration. I think your solutions leave more questions than answers. Following your solutions: First, many illegal aliens with visitor visas checked in but never checked out. How is that a solution? If a visa desiring citizenship is easy to get, how does that secure a border? Second, we need to think twice on guest worker programs. I've been around long enough to remember when most construction jobs, including laborer jobs, were held by Americans. When did Americans become unqualified to hold these jobs. Immigrant labor has suppressed construction wages, but at what true overall cost? I find it pitiful that masters and doctoral degrees of our state universities are going to many more foreign students than to U.S. citizens. We are way too focused on funding diversity instead of aptitude. Third, I can empathize with the children who are here illegally through no fault of their own. Should the children blame the U.S. for the disparity in opportunity or blame their relatives who brought them here illegally? Fourth, why have another card when current cards like drivers license and social security are being obtained with counterfeit and falsified information? This is no better than our current system. By John Gimple on 2010 07 08
Imprecise words lead to imprecise thoughts. The definition of immigrant is "a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence". Most Americans are NOT immigrates. The bit about "everyone is an immigrant or descended from one" is NOT relevant to discussion as using your definition aside from folks in Africa and the Middle East, every human is an immigrant. So what? Your guest worker program idea is one that has been floated for quite some time and is a good solution. Your documentation requirement is already in place. It is called an I-9 form. The problem is that all of the documents are easily forged. If you are proposing a national identity card, count me out. Our government overlords already have too much power over our lives. By Tim D. on 2010 07 08
I must admit that I dislike the "racist" comments that ALWAYS seem to follow when anyone complains about the illegal aliens. It is also a red herring. I know few people who argue with Legal immigration and most people know that we need them. In NE Colorado there is a large hispanic group and they are well respected and accepted. They are conservative, hard working and honest to a higher percentage than most. I DO NOT want illegal immigration and everyone can drop the "racist" comments about anyone who is opposed to illegal immigration By John Wray on 2010 07 08
Well, I have to agree with Brian regarding the numbers and the politics, but I do not have a problem with "legal" immigrants and no one that I know regardless of how right or left does either. In terms of making it easy - that's another story. Easy compared to what? We should highly scrutinize the people that are here and hold them up to rigorous background checks. Why? Because there are a lot of not so nice people that have come here illegally too. We always here about the story of the innocent children and that we should not punish them -agreed. However, Brian makes a good point about accountability - so where do we draw the line? How many immigrants do we really need? Has anyone studied this so we are being responsible about the numbers? It has always been about the taxes and free services that put a strain on our health care system, but it is also about them learning to speak English. Our politically correct society instead has bent over backwards to accommodate their language everywhere you go. So, learning English as you suggested Tucker would help immensely. However, it is only a start. What I conclude is that we are all smart enough to come to some sort of agreement on the process of how an immigrant becomes a legal US citizen. The harder question is how we deal with the enormous "illegal" immigrant problem. It is not just a simple answer of amnesty. The rest of your jabs Tucker about citizenship conferring nationality, reminding us that we are all immigrants and your red herring comments are all insulting to be frank. It creates blather of another kind rather than addressing the real problem. It is not a simple solution to work visas and a legal path to citizenship. That would have been nice about 20 million illegals ago! And we still have done very little to stop them from crossing our borders illegally. Ed By Ed on 2010 07 08
I don't have an issue with your solution because I know the process to simply obtain a greencard legally is not easy and we do need the workers. However, I completely disagree with some of your comments. Kids who are born here by illegal parents are not denied citizenship. You guessed that the US is probably the only country in the world where citizenship confers nationalily. Are you kidding me? Citizenship and Nationality is a huge issue for the majority of foreigners. Especially Mexicans. Why do you think they still want to fly their flags here in the US. Because they are proud. In the US there is a big push to deny nationality and not be proud of our flag by the left. That is wrong. are worried that people wouldn't want to come here but would rather escape if we don't change our policy. Hmmm...seems the opposite is happening. Whatever we do, people will still come because this is an amazing nation and one that anyone should be proud to be a citizen of and proudly fly the flag. If Mexicans are proud to fly their flag with a nation that is a complete economic mess, seriously corrupt, has an immigration policy that makes ours look like a cake walk and citizens leaving in droves then we should fly our flag high and proudly. By Todd on 2010 07 08
You reveal your bias in the second sentence wher you say "All of the girls are Latina, two here legally and two undocumented" should say "All of the girls are Latina, two here legally and two here ILLEGALLY!" But your correct in saying there's a simple solution and that solution is to send them back and let them use their brains and talents to fix their own countries and stop living off of the U.S. By Steve Merric on 2010 07 08
the blather about us ALL being immigrants is a red herring. My family immigrated LEGALLY, so that part of the story is foolish. We're talking about law breakers here. Solution is SIMPLE; make it a felony to hire illegal aliens and it's all over. By John Wray on 2010 07 08
Great solution Tucker, and so easy, but just like AZ the Present powers would make it impossible to enforce or to even ask for proof, they are more afraid of losing votes then protecting our citizens and fixing the problem By Charlie Jones on 2010 07 08
What a ridiculous article! 12 million or so??? This calculation is is only an estimate and we know how our Government can muck up an estimate...try closer to 20 million. This is nothing more than a political ploy to add to the Democratic voter base. I am a strong believer in legal immigration and am against such an easy pass to anyone with no regard for our borders or our laws. I agree that it is unfortunate that these children are brought here at "no fault of their own", the parents are at fault and should be held responsible...but their children must pay the price with them. Why should we have to take care of them when they arrive with our taxes and services? If it is not already aparent, we are extremely over-burdened as it is. I have a hard enough time taking care of my own children! Why don't these people try to take some intiative and change THEIR OWN country?? This route to citizenship is a harsh slap in the face to those that are Americans and those that have come here legally. We need to take away the jobs in this country and force them to take responsibility for THIER OWN country! By Brian on 2010 07 08
Why doesn't Colorado Biz create some kind of petition we can endorse to back such sensible suggestions? By Maci Berkeley on 2010 07 08

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