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Prof. Maceri's special column
US Border Enforcement Bil Too Tough, Unwise
Special Contribution
By Domenico Maceri

Numerous people poured out on the streets to protest against immigration legislation in the United States.

Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) wanted to have the family of an 18-year-old honour student deported because the young man¹s parents were in the U.S. illegally.

For Tancredo, it seems that once some people break the law by entering the country illegally, they lose every right. That is not always the case. Unauthorized immigrants actually have many legal rights in the U.S.

If you hire undocumented workers and don't pay them, it¹s you who commits a crime. That¹s what a new law in Denver, Colorado stipulates. Recently, Denver joined Austin, Texas and Kansas City, Missouri when it passed a law making nonpayment of wages illegal.

The issue came about as a result of day laborers, mostly unauthorized immigrants, doing work for small companies and not receiving their due wages. The new law makes nonpayment a crime akin to theft.

The law, passed unanimously by the Denver City Council, spells out that it's illegal to fail to pay more than 500 dollars. If a check bounces, workers will have recourse to retrieve the money owed them. Amounts of less than 500 dollars owed cannot be prosecuted.

The new law will, in all likelihood, raise wages for everyone since contractors will know that they can't scare workers who don¹t have papers to resort to legal action.

Another recent case that provides some hope for undocumented workers occurred in California. A three-judge panel ruled that a worker qualified for workman's compensation in spite of the fact that he was in the country without legal papers.

This unanimous decision gave hope to the more than 2.6 million undocumented workers in California and several other million in other states who do dangerous work and are likely to get hurt on the job site.

In essence, the judges said that unauthorized immigrants don¹t lose basic workers rights. The California ruling is not very different from others which have occurred in several states.

A number of states passed additional laws which grant rights to undocumented workers and their dependents. California, Texas, New York, Utah, and Washington, for example, allow children of undocumented workers to pay the relatively low in-state fees when they attend college.

The ability to drive an automobile is a privilege which many states grant undocumented workers. Utah, North Carolina, Kansas, New Mexico, and Tennessee don¹t require driver's license applicants to prove that they are in the U.S. legally.

Although laws provide some protection to unauthorized immigrants, many of them are reluctant to use the legal system. The fear of deportation is always present. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of laws which add to this fear. A number of other states have been passing laws limiting the rights of unauthorized immigrants.

The most dangerous, however, is the "Border Enforcement Bill" approved by the House of Representatives in December of 2005.

One of the features of the proposed legislation is the change of illegal entry into the U.S. from a violation of civil immigration law into a federal crime. In essence, the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants would become felons if the U.S. Senate were to approve the House bill.

The bill would also authorize state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws. In addition, anyone helping unauthorized immigrants to live or remain in the U.S. could be charged with a criminal offense. That means that even churches or charities giving assistance to undocumented workers could become guilty of a crime.

The "Border Enforcement Bill" is too draconian to be considered serious legislation and is probably nothing more than a message that members of Congress voting for it, mostly Republicans, are tough on immigration issues.

Being tough does not mean being wise. The U.S. Senate is expected to take up the issue of immigration soon. Let¹s hope that U.S. Senators are wiser and make laws which keep in mind we live in a country made up of immigrants.

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Other Articles by Domenico Maceri
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Domenico Maceri, Ph.D., UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. His articles have appeared in many newspapers including Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Japan Times, and The Seoul Times. Some of his stories won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.






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