What is America without immigrants? I'm picturing India's biggest global competitor, an upstart economy with an impressive system of buffalo slaughtering and processing plants supplying Cherokee-speaking schools with low-cost lunchmeat. Or something.

In other words, not European. A nation of immigrants has a moral duty to welcome other immigrants, does it not? Or at least not discriminate against them. But you can't have half the world show up in one country looking for a job and expect things to go well, either.

As this editorial points out, illegal immigration is the magic ticket of unscrupulous businesses -- it keeps labor costs low and laborers subservient. It's hard to blame an individual for doing everything he can to better his situation, and better his family's situation, by finding better-paying work wherever he can find it. But this isn't always about individuals -- it's also about economies and systems and how one group coming in to work for low pay with no rights reduces the ability of all people to get good pay and have their rights respected.

We don't want to persecute people who are working hard and doing what is, in the big picture, the most moral thing, even if it is illegal. But we can't let them come.

The solution, of course, is simple: persecute businesses that hire them. Businesses caught hiring illegally should be fined out of existence and replaced by businesses that hire Americans and legal residents. If there are no jobs waiting for illegal immigrants, they'll stop coming.

The issue gets clouded because there are a lot of people who are biased against poor, different-looking, different-speaking people. It's a barrier we went through once before, with slavery: lots of people knew that slavery was wrong and that the slaves themselves were not to blame, but, durn it, they just didn't like black people. So that "complicated" their vision: they saw scary hoards that needed to be controlled instead of a system that needed to be changed.

We have a similar problem now: people allow their "fear" of immigrants to cloud their vision: instead of seeing a system that needs fixing, they see a great moral dilemma about where people "belong," and what's "ours" and "theirs," and people "taking over," and "stealing jobs," and so on.

But if businesses are policed and punished severely for trying to benefit from the modern equivalent of slave labor, they will stop hiring illegals. And if men and women looking for a better life see no opportunities in North America, they won't take on the danger, expense, and inconvenience of coming here. And if you offer American teenagers summer work picking tomatoes for minimum wage, they will pick tomatoes. And if you pay Americans to work in slaughterhouses, those slaughterhouses will become safer and more humane, because workers who have rights will not put up with less.

Now: what would happen if we redirected the money being pissed away on useless border fences and inevitably inadequate border guards and used it to hire job police: police who investigate businesses suspected of hiring illegal immigrants? We'd have to refine the law: who's responsible when a meat processing plant is peopled by Central American Indians? The guy who did the hiring? The owner? Both? We have to figure that out. But so long as the penalties are heavy and swift, we can fix this problem.

America needs jobs. We're hearing it every day. I say the jobs are right here. We just can't get all confused and start persecuting poor people who are just trying to do the best they can for themselves and their families -- we have to prosecute greedy business owners trying to inflate their bottom lines with something close to 21st Century slavery.

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