When Minnesota Senator Al Franken talks about immigration I'm reminded of a long ago exchange that took place between his Vice President, Democratic-Farm-Labor Party founder, Senator Hubert Humphrey, and President Lyndon Johnson.
In 1964 Johnson, then recently converted to civil rights causes as a result of political expediency, wanted Congress to pass a bill—but one that was not too far-reaching. Humphrey, on the other hand, pushed for the most liberal legislation, especially in terms of the benefits that would accrue to African-Americans.
After days of haggling, the frustrated Texan Johnson reportedly told Humphrey: "Hubert, it don't take any genius to be for the civil rights from Minnesota. How many black people you got in Minnesota?"
Minnesota is, after all, 88 percent white and has only a four percent Hispanic population.
But, should you believe the massively untrustworthy Senator Chuck Schumer that an amnesty bill will be on the Senate floor soon after Labor Day, then we need to take a long look at Franken's immigration position. (Aside: I'd bet against Schumer if I could find a taker) [Immigration Bill To Be Ready by Labor Day, by Suzanne Gamboa, Associated Press, July 8, 2009]
My immediate reaction: Franken, a Jewish, cum laude Harvard graduate with Hollywood connections will be terrible. And I am probably correct in my sense of him.
But Franken, when stumping, said some positive things about immigration that, if he votes for them, could be significant for our side.
Here, taken from his website, is Franken's official immigration position.
"In 1986, Congress passed and President Reagan signed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, granting amnesty to illegal immigrants currently in the United States and making it illegal to hire or recruit undocumented immigrants. Unfortunately, the documentation required to work legally was easily forged, and today there are over 10 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
"The best way to deal with illegal immigration is to enforce—actually enforce the law at the worksite. No wall is high enough to keep people from coming over it—or under it—if there are jobs waiting on the other side.
Employers who disregard the law should be actually punished—with fines and, if necessary, incarceration.
Worker identification should be truly tamper-proof. Fortunately, we have better technology than we did in 1986, so that goal is in reach with the help of biometrics. Of course, we must safeguard our civil liberties and privacy.
I don't believe it's practical to deport the 10-12 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. And I don't believe in breaking up families. Instead, we should look to bring them out of the shadows and put them on a path to citizenship, providing that they have been working, have paid taxes, have not committed any crimes since coming to this country, speak, or are learning to speak English and pay a nominal fine.
We should also ensure that those immigrants currently in the process of becoming citizens are not disadvantaged by these reforms.
I support guest worker programs for seasonal jobs. Last year, we saw crops go un-harvested in the Northwest because of the stalemate on immigration reform. But I am leery of guest worker programs that would create a permanent underclass of exploited workers or drive down the wages of American workers.
Finally, we should re-examine the economic and trade policies that have contributed to illegal immigration. Working to improve economic conditions in Mexico, which we've tried and failed to do with NAFTA, could help reduce the incentive many have to attempt to enter the United States illegally."
What we know without a doubt is that deportation does not have to involve family separation, that if we deported only a modest percentage of aliens that others would leave voluntarily, that illegal aliens stand on street corners in the bright light of day and that many—perhaps the majority—have no intention of learning English or, more broadly, becoming Americans.
Franken's comments about agriculture are either bold-faced lies or indicate a complete lack of understanding about what goes on in the greater Northwest.
On the other hand Franken, if you can believe him, indicates at least some insight into what's required to eliminate illegal immigration.
Franken understands that the key to reducing immigration is found at the workplace. He emphasizes that by stressing the need to "enforce—actually enforce" at the worksite.
"Incarceration" has a nice ring to it.
And if Franken is leery, as he well should be, that guest worker programs will lead to a "permanent underclass," isn't that encouraging?
Finally, if Franken wants to explore the US "economic and trade policies," especially with Mexico, then he may be my guest.
I cautiously take these as encouraging signs.
But in addition to Franken's educational and personal background, other discouraging red flags wave.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Franken said he would style himself after former Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Bradley, other Democrats who arrived in the Senate preceded by a modicum of celebrity that generated skepticism on the Hill. In the same interview, Franken expressed his admiration for deceased Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. [Which Al Franken Will Show Up in Washington? by Brian Baskt, Associated Press, July 1, 2009]
What it boils down to is this: I expect little from Franken despite his indications that he understands at least some of the most important problems that immigration lead to.
But if Franken cares to surprise me, I'll willingly go along.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.