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SCOTT HARRIS

Readers Take the Offensive, for Pete's Sake : 'What would be the effect of denying citizenship to newborns of illegal immigrants? Would it really do a lot to discourage such immigration?'

September 05, 1993|SCOTT HARRIS

K. Corbett of the Mid-City area writes: Your name is going on my list of top-notch jerks who support illegal immigration . . . . I, like others, am sick to death of people like you who would (tell) the world's 4 billion people who don't have the "opportunity" to come to the U.S., it's OK, we should welcome and support them all . . . .

If people think you're a jerk, isn't it better to be "top notch" than low-grade?

I knew this would happen, even if I don't recall expressing support for illegal immigration. To my mind I was defending the rights of children of illegal immigrants. But then, as some readers would say, what's the difference? Several letters came my way. Some were thoughtful and on-point; a couple slipped into the gutter of racism. In any case, Gov. Pete Wilson may be comforted to know that every one of them agreed with him and disagreed with me.

This all started when I visited the Pacoima Health Center a couple of weeks ago, planning to do a story about birth control and prenatal care programs for the poor. Then I met an illegal-immigrant-turned-welfare-mother. More to the point, I met her 10-year-old daughter, Brenda, a girl who dreams of growing up to be President of the United States.

This made me think about Gov. Wilson's recent proposal to amend the Constitution to deny citizenship to the newborns of illegal immigrants. In this nation born of immigration, children born on U.S. soil are conferred citizenship under the 14th Amendment, regardless of their parents' legal status.

For better or worse, it's a distinctly American idea and the tale of the Segoviano family is a very American story. After Brenda was born, her mother, Carmen, qualified for amnesty under the 1986 immigration act. Carmen told me she went on welfare to support her two daughters after the deportation of her husband, who didn't qualify for amnesty.

In chatting with Brenda, a bright, articulate fifth-grader, it struck me that nothing is more American than a kid who wants to grow up to be President. As I wrote then, I still wonder if Wilson would tell children like Brenda to go back where they came from.

*

David Abbitt of Sherman Oaks writes:

I really must ask: What rock have you been living under?

As one who could be termed a "conservative Democrat," I applaud Gov . Wilson. For the first time since he has taken office he has put his foot down in an area where it is desperately needed. . . .

Nope, this story of the little-girl-who-wants-to-be-President did not make every reader misty-eyed with thoughts of the Statue of Liberty.

Although I disagree with some of Wilson's proposals, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Abbitt that it's good to see Wilson finally trying to become a leader on this issue. Indeed, shortly before Gov. Wilson unveiled his new manifesto, the conservative pundit Patrick J. Buchanan warned that Democrats such as President Clinton and Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer had taken the lead in advocating stronger border enforcement.

Where has Wilson been all these years? When he was mayor of the nation's largest border city, he wasn't known for pushing bold immigration reform. As a senator, his contribution to the 1986 immigration act was an amendment that gave permanent residency to nearly 1 million Mexican farm workers.

If Wilson's citizenship measure is a good idea now, why wasn't it a good idea 10 years ago? Five years ago? Five months ago?

Indeed, Gov. Wilson wasn't playing "Quien es mas macho?" on this issue this spring. Five months ago, as the San Diego Reader reported on Aug. 19, a San Diego resident sent the governor a letter suggesting that the National Guard be assigned to patrol the border. Wilson wrote back saying "restricting access to immigrants by closing our borders may be an attractive solution, but it runs contrary to our country's whole history. Comprehensive control over our borders will probably only be achieved when our neighbor nations can provide an improved standard of living for their people."

So it's hard not to attribute Wilson's tough new attitude to the politics of self-preservation. His low standing in the polls coincides with increasing public clamor to do something about illegal immigration. Indeed, some groups want a moratorium even on legal immigration.

Given California's current economic woes, it's easy to forget that immigration historically has fueled economic growth. And it's worth remembering that during the artificially affluent '80s, Presidents Reagan or Bush didn't seek to deny citizenship to the newborns of illegal immigrants.

America's interest in immigration is both sentimental and economic. Contradictory policies and lax enforcement reflected the ambivalent political will toward illegal immigration. Until recently, much of the business community and suburbia were pleased that Latino immigrants worked so cheaply. Few people bothered to ask: "May I see your green card?"

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