This Democrat so enjoys writing on the immigration issue, not only because the issue has such vital and sweeping importance for America's future, but also from a personal standpoint, because the responses I get truly inspire and help direct my own evolving views on this complex, contentious issue.
My May 7 piece (A Democrat Says: Why Not A Polio-Type Campaign To Immunize Americans Against Illegal Alien Fraud With National ID Cards) brought the usual barrage of letters.
A few were from lunatics, one of whom said: "It is worth noting that Collins' and similar others' position on immigration is driven not by any love of kin, of way of life, of culture, but solely by a love of the state—the state that is destroying our economy, our civilization, our morals, our science, our ethics"
You mean, Sir, that the utter failure at the Federal level is in fact accomplishing what you claim? Hardly. Our Federal government's inaction, not its actions, are at the heart of our dilemma. In fact, it can be argued that the dismantling of government services by outsourcing them to private sector corporations has so weakened our government that it fails constantly to meet its responsibilities, such as protecting us as the US Constitution requires.
But I digress.
Most of my mail is most enlightening. One American woman who lived with her husband in Mexico for 12 years wrote me the following letter:
"The deep divisions that have grown up in the last few years really point to the importance of a non-partisan approach. A friend of ours in Washington has just finished a book on the subject. I think the immigration problem is being ignored because it seems to be insoluble—and there's no way to take a stand without stamping on someone's toes. We lived in Mexico for twelve years. I worked for some months as an 'illegal alien' teaching English in a downtown Mexico City high school. They were 'looking into' getting me my papers, but it never happened. Avecita Lopez Mateos (the president's daughter) was working in the office of that school and when inspectors came by she would take over my class for me. When the time came for me to be paid, they gave me a pittance and said 'too bad' when I protested.
"So it's not a one way street. When we go back to visit, we find villages without men—much like Ecuador. Vicente Fox worked so hard to get Washington to cooperate in making migration easy, basically ruining family structure and culture in his own country. I will continue to read your articles. Maybe you have a solution. I would love to have some help seeing through the tangle. I'm a member of the League of Women Voters. They have devoted years to studying the dilemma."
Another reader said:
"I think Congresswoman Barbara Jordan's 1995 immigration study recommended among several actions to reduce illegal immigration, a card to identify a citizen when they applied for a job or public benefits. The card was not called an ID card and was emphasized that it would only be needed twice in a person's life, when applying for a job or receiving benefits. This simple measure would have solved most of our current problems but was shot down as a Nazi type national ID card by the usual pro immigration gang.
"Perhaps another attempt at a card would be a good idea but I would drop any attempt to call it a national ID card. I would focus on a card that was used for citizens to get benefits and let the E-Verify system be used for jobs. Just my opinion."
These are good, constructive thoughts, offered by intelligent, concerned citizens. But of course our Washington leadership is not leading. They continue mooing and cooing and pursuing the lowest common denominators, votes from any where they can be cadged regardless of the price all us citizens are paying, demonstrated to be enormous by study after study, year after year, decade after decade.
I seriously wonder if it it's possible for any good thinking to reach the small-bore people whom we elect.
George Bernard Shaw famously said: "Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve." Are we indeed getting to be such small-bore people that we have lost our ability to fix what is broken? Many letters I get make that assumption.
Another correspondent commented,
"I like your national ID article. I have often wondered how many hundreds of billions of dollars this country would save by having a national ID card instead of this grueling piecemeal enforcement approach. Any idea if such a study exists? It seems every week there is a new piece of legislation dealing with document verification, security and database sharing between departments, each well meaning, each offering an incremental benefit, but all falling short of the broad efficiency a national ID card might offer."
Perhaps there is where the thinking needs to be done. In my view, a secure identification card can't be called something else. It is after all the ultimate measure of who we are.
One of my fellow FAIR board members reminded me some time ago that there is a firm that has the technology for an ID card with 64 different metrics, making a fake card impossible.
We could, of course, give anyone who volunteers to accept such an option such a marvelous almost magic transport to the ultimate citizenship card.
Why have we been apologizing for declaring our wish to be identified as American citizens? Do you have anything to apologize for? Probably, but then so do we all!
But, as I noted in my earlier piece, we all went to be immunized for polio. Just think, our government could fund the outfitting of airport terminals and other critical places where ID is important with devices which would allow rapid transits for anyone who had such a card.
I bet the demand for such a Magic Carpet Card, offered with no charge, would be enormous. This would be the ultimate Visa or Master Card card! ATMs could install readers. Our government could help pay banks to install readers for the transition.
Let's not let our country's security falter on money. After all, isn't this what Bush has been claiming he has been giving us with this insane, and fantastically expensive, war in Iraq?
Such a card could be issued only after a personal appearance, with carefully-checked source documents proving without any question that the person receiving this new freedom card is who she or he claims to be.
Since nearly 300 million of us could prove our antecedents, pretty soon the country would reach the "tipping point" and no one would want to be without one!
So, Dear Readers, many of you have asked me for an idea. This is it. A Magic Carpet Card delivered to American citizens on personal appearance. That's the vast majority of us.
This is not an idea that can be brushed aside by the people who are afraid of identifying themselves. Are you a legal American citizen or a legal alien here with proper documentation? Isn't that the bottom line question?
Yes, there are at least 20 million people in the US of A here illegally. And that issue needs solved. But without a first-class program to identify those of us who have real citizenship, illegal immigration is not going to be solved because of the same old delays and obfuscation that has dogged immigration policy for decades.
Here is an irrefutable starting point. Will Obama or McCain listen to this clear, non political, easy-to-initiate idea?
Without this starting point, we can continue to scream at each other and not ever save America.
Let their staffs chew on this one, but hopefully the candidates themselves will see that we need to take that first key step—making sure that the vast majority of us citizens can be given the Magic Carpet Card soon.
Then the question of what to do about those here illegally will be much easier to solve.
Donald A. Collins [email him], is a freelance writer living in Washington DC and a former long time member of the board of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His views are his own.