Saturday, November 3, 2007

bad movies and baby steps to immigration reform

Last night I watched Fast Food Nation, a horrible waste of an all star cast. Last week it was Amexicano, reviewed here, a good movie with a questionable ending. This morning's Times includes a movie script waiting to happen - an Anglo teacher from the meatpacking town of Lexington, Nebraska has run off to Mexico with her lover, a twelve year old Mexican boy from her class. Does anyone distribute these stories in Mexico, cautionary tales on the difficulties of illegal border crossings and the difficult life of the undocumented alien in the US?

Maybe the writer's strike will generate some scripts from scabs with a fresh perspective. America 2020 - A blue collar family of Mexican-Americans with century old roots in rural Texas struggles with high taxes and low wages as the long term effects of a porous border take their toll. Faobib and Esau, stay-at -home Faobib slowly builds a light manufacturing empire in Tijuana while his talented twin brother Esau graduates with honors from Berkeley and then fades into the shadows of the undocumented. Googleplex - a documentary following the stunning decision of Google to establish world headquarters in a shining new office complex situated adjacent to the IITs - that's the Indian (not Illinois) Institutes of Technology - where it can hire talent from around the globe.

Hollywood, and the Times, have ably provided undocumented immigrants with faces and voices. Immigration is an issue with many aspects, but there may be a dwindling opportunity to act. Corporate America wants to do something - it sees a labor shortage at the top and bottom of the economic ladder. Liberals want to do something to help the downtrodden hiding amongst us, the spiritual heirs to our ancestors who braved the unknown to find freedom and prosperity. W wants to do something, because he sees real problems that he wants to fix, because he wants to be remembered for more than a failed war. Many, maybe a majority are reluctant to do anything, concerned by security and the possibility that immigrants will take jobs from natives. Amnesty may solve some practical problems, but it drives conservatives nuts, who wants to reward lawbreakers. How can America bless the lawless, who cut in line, and damn the the lawful, who waited patiently at the border.

Let's look for a few things we can all agree upon, and get them done while W is still trying to create a legacy that includes some positives. First, address the top end of the labor market. Anyone that earns a doctorate (PhD, MD, JD, any recognized, legitimate doctoral degree) from an accredited university in the US has an option to become a US citizen if: 1) they give up citizenship in all other nations when sworn in as a US citizen; and, 2) they agree to a background check and accept the fact that Homeland Security can arbitrarily reject their application without explaining the reason. This will start to fix one area of labor shortage, a demographic in which not many US natives will have trouble finding jobs, even with increased competition . It will not draw terrorist immigrants. It will welcome long-term citizens. If they are citizens of the US, and only the US, they will learn English (nearly everyone in this group will already speak English), their children will speak English. Get the commitment to one nationality and the language and culture issues will take care of themselves. Offer free ESL classes as an option.

Second, extend the same offer of citizenship to anyone who gets a masters in engineering or science from an accredited US college and finds a job in the US within 30 days of graduation. The requirements of US citizenship only and submission to a background check still apply.

Third, look for other compromise niches, including some that help with labor force shortages. Let's start with citizenship opportunities for the immediate families of citizens in situations where the relative seeking US citizenship is employed, accepts a security check and gives up all citizenship except for US citizenship (that deal on ESL class still applies). How about a US citizenship opportunity for honors graduates of US high schools and colleges who give up any other citizenship and show either employment or continued education in the US? How about visas for seasonal workers who can establish that they leave the US for at least four months every year, with a potential to become a citizen after ten years as a seasonal worker?

The specifics above may be incomplete, even defective, but there is an opportunity to reduce the scope of our labor and immigration problems that will fade as W's administration becomes increasingly lame duckier (lamer ducky?). Find the niches of common ground. Act now. Do not think that this issue will get any easier when Democrats control House, Senate and White House. Immigration change is a knee jerk "no" for most labor unions and there may be no time like the present to take some productive baby steps.

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