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Vermonters should care about immigration policy

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Vermont is about as far as you can get from Mexico without leaving the continental United States. So why should Vermonters care that the two countries have resumed talks on proposals to grant legal resident status to millions of illegal migrants?

Let's start with some national context. A movie called "A Day Without a Mexican" comes to mind. It's a humorous, satirical look at a day in which Californians wake up to discover that all Hispanics have disappeared.

As time goes by residents grapple with the magnitude of the impact. Without migrant farmers, food begins to rot; without construction workers, building projects stall. Cooks, waiters, gardeners, nannies, factory workers: all gone. The economy collapses. Finding all these Latinos and bringing them back becomes the state's number one priority.

Sure, it's only a movie. But it should prompt us to think about how deeply imbedded in the national economy illegal migrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries are. And yes, even Vermont, this far away from the southern border, depends on some of them. They are a big part of the national economy.

According to a recent New York Times article, there are roughly 8 million illegal immigrants in the United States and more than half of them are from Mexico. They are such an important part of the economic life of the country that Mexicans alone earn enough income to be able to send $14 billion a year to their families back in Mexico. Some of that money, by the way, benefits very popular American corporations selling goods and services to people in Mexico.

Here is one of the reasons why Vermonters should care about these talks on immigration policy. As a border state in post 9/11 America, Vermont has taken steps to secure the border with more border patrol agents, more equipment, surveillance aircraft and a checkpoint south of White River Junction.

All good things if they make the country safer from potential terrorist attacks. But Vermont has also continued to arrest illegal immigrants. In the past three years, 6,154 "deportable aliens" have been located by the Swanton sector responsible for this region, about 500 more than in the previous three years.

And why shouldn't they be arrested. They came to this country illegally. They were breaking the law. Right? Sure. But let's consider for a moment that the reason they are illegal migrants is simply a matter of national policy.

If Mexico and other countries farther south were Communist regimes, we would be welcoming those brave enough to escape with open arms. They would be granted political asylum. The solution, I would argue, rests on simple supply and demand economic principles.

The vast majority of these millions of immigrants are friendly, honest, hard-working people with a desire to help their families back home. They find jobs because there are jobs. American farmers, contractors, restaurant and factory owners depend on their labor to survive. Legitimizing their important role in the economic life of our country may also lead to improved working conditions.

I am by no means suggesting an open-border approach. I am simply suggesting it is time to make changes to our immigration policies toward Mexican and Latin American immigrants. Subject them to thorough background checks to ensure they don't pose a threat to society. Limit the number of work permits to the number of jobs economic analysts identify the country needs.

But let's finally acknowledge that this country's economy depends on their hard work. Let's shift our energy and resources away from catching them and sending them home, and toward foiling the next major terrorist attack on our country.

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