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COL Illegal immigration

Sealing the borders may not be the answer

President Bush went to Arizona on Monday and talked up a new theme for his administration. It was a message about how the country can manage illegal immigration.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he supports Bush's call for tighter borders. Pawlenty described the current immigration situation as "out of control," "chaotic," and a "crisis." Pawlenty said a detailed report on illegal immigration in Minnesota will be released soon.

In Bush's five years in office, illegal immigration has followed the paths grooved in the years, even decades, managed by earlier administrations. It has been a steady expansion of the welfare system. For sure, what has evolved is not FDR's welfare for people of marginal means.

Essentially, the national policy on immigration has been a variation on the military doctrine of "Don't ask, don't tell." America looks the other way as thousands of illegal workers stream into the nation's fields to work the farms. The country looks the other way when hospitality, service, food processing industries and labor-intensive agriculture such as fruit and vegetable farms are built on extremely low-cost labor.

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The corporate welfare system built around illegal immigration is paid for with tax dollars. The tax flow pays for traditional welfare programs such as nutritional support and health care for underpaid workers. Building schools to teach the children of illegal workers, however laudable, is also costly.

Americans and their political leaders have quietly let it all play out because the welfare support for illegal workers reduces the labor cost of food production and other services.

Bush's proposal is a moderate plan. It neither panders to the groups that want to use troops to seal the southern border nor does it offer amnesty to current illegal workers. As such, Bush appears to be seeking to weave together a coalition across ideologies. It is the proper approach.

Bush proposes ways to let foreign workers come here to do the jobs that he believes Americans won't. They won't because the wages for these jobs are abysmal.

With a wink and a nod the country agrees to pay taxes to support the current immigration and labor arrangement, yet seems unwilling to select higher priced goods or services that would support better wages that would, in turn, make the jobs more attractive to U.S. citizens.

Making changes to the current system of exchange, a porous southern border for low-cost labor, will require a great effort, not in security, but in communication. Bush could seal the border but will America like the result? To get this job done, Bush needs to make the case why the current deal isn't working.

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