Arizona’s legal response to illegal immigrants may be challenged by the federal government, but the rest of us close to the Mexican border cannot and should not sit idle on the sidelines: it is as much a Colorado Springs issues as any. An immigration artery, aka I-25, runs through our midst.

We could argue endlessly either about the morality associated with illegal immigrants or about the data associated with them. Instead, I suggest we focus on pragmatic solutions to an existing problem, a problem that won’t go away just because we are ignoring it.

If we argue about the morality of illegal immigration one thing remains clear: it is an illegal act that should be punished. Punishment in this case means deportation. Anything else would be deemed inappropriate, since illegal immigrants have broken the law and deserve punishment. This is the sentiment we observe in Arizona and other southern border states.

If we argue about the facts, we should be willing to spend years figuring out first, how many illegal immigrants there are, second, where they reside, and most controversially, third, whether their presence in our midst an economic cost or benefit. Are they a drain on overtaxed resources or an unaccounted contribution to our financial health?

These two sets of debates find their intellectual comfort zone in the conservative right and the liberal left as if they were yet another match for television audiences. As we see regularly, these kinds of debates end up being mocked on late-night talk-shows, so perhaps we could bring some sense and fruitful solutions through the print-media (and their Internet venues).

Let’s agree on two basic assumptions: first, unless you are a native American Indian, you are inevitably an immigrant (your ancestry is foreign), no matter how long you and your family have resided in the United States. Second, we have always welcomed immigrants and appreciated their contributions — see our population growth since 1776 all the way to the success of the Silicon Valley — so much so that the current immigration code still welcomes millionaires from anywhere in the world.

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What follows from the first assumption is the possible conclusion that we should at least consider illegal immigrants sympathetically. What follows from the second assumption is that illegal immigrants could be treated like millionaires, and as such we could have them pay for their violation of the law or pay their way out of jail or deportation.

Let’s find every illegal immigrant in the land and give him/her the option of either deportation or the purchase of a Green Card on the way to full citizenship. The price: $100,000. Payment plan: a 20-year “mortgage” (unless paid in cash), with an average monthly cost of $660 (5 percent interest). Penalty: three missed payments and you are deported. Reward: after 20 years you receive your citizenship!

In the meantime we have accomplished a few things: 1. the underground economy is now legal. 2. Being part of the IRS data base, national tax revenue increases. 3. Additional “citizenship” purchases can eliminate the national deficit, assuming there are 10 million illegal immigrants who would pay monthly $6.6 billion!

For those who want to quibble over the details, this proposal is open to revisions. Is $660 a month too much? Then make it per family of four rather than individually, and you’d still have $1.65 billion monthly to work with. Are there only 4 million illegal immigrants? Once again, adjust the monthly amount and you’ll get $2.64 billion per month. How much will it cost to find every illegal immigrant? I don’t know, but I will guarantee that the benefits outweigh the costs (bail bondsmen can be used).

Perhaps ideological rhetoric can be replaced with economic common-sense, and we would all get along and have our financial troubles paid for by immigrants. This proposal is American as apple pie, or more accurately, as pizza!

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and was himself a legal immigrant from Israel (1977, naturalized 1982).


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