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American society should integrate illegal workers

Immigration will be a hot topic in this year's political campaign. In a series of columns, which this one concludes, I have attempted to set out the problems and possible solutions to the question of some 12 million illegal immigrants in this country.

Unfortunately, the situation has gotten worse over the course of the last year. Men are still waiting for jobs on Queens street corners. More raids are being made on businesses which employee illegals, but those doing the employing do not suffer.

It is clear that illegals are not taking jobs away from citizens. The illegals are working the jobs citizens do not want to do either because of the job itself or low pay. Day laborers who are illegals have been cheated out of the small amount of money they have earned.

Many illegals are not married, but some are. When they are caught in raids and face prison and deportation, their wives and children — who may be citizens — are left adrift. What to do with those left behind has become a problem in many areas of the country.

It is also clear that the majority of illegals are here to work and not "game" the system. The AFL-CIO has been operating more than 100 worker centers to promote immigrant workers' rights, teach them English, inform them about their rights and help them file claims for unpaid wages. The labor federation is working for stronger safety and wage enforcement and a path for citizenship for illegals.

Much of what could sensibly be done to help solve the immigration problem was set forth in a bi-partisan, Congressional proposal two years ago. Among them sponsoring it was U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but he has adjusted his principles to the cut of the political cloth he is wearing.

That proposal — which failed for lack of, among other things, a push from the White House — called for tighter borders, better enforcement of employment laws, more visas for temporary workers and a path for citizenship for the millions here illegally.

Those ideas are still good. Yes, the illegals must pay a penalty for breaking the law, but that payment and a longer period to obtain citizenship is not an obstacle. Enforcement of current laws — with realization that individual cases must be paid attention to — is also doable.

We need these workers. The unemployment rate is not due to them. The question is how do we bring them out of the shadows and make them part of our country?

Of course, they must learn English enough to read, write and speak in ordinary discourse. The law enabling citizenship should be vigorously enforced.

But whatever we do as a nation, we should always remember that we are dealing with human beings and act accordingly.

While still a U.S. senator in 1958, John F. Kennedy wrote: "Immigration policy should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy, we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience."

He got it right.

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