A call into C-Span's Washington Journal today from a former construction worker encapsulated much of the frustration and anger percolating around the immigration debate. The caller told his story to Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., whose response illustrated his belief that the blame lies not with illegal immigrants, but with the employers who exploit them by paying poor wages. Here are parts of the comments of both men:
CALLER FROM OHIO: I was living in North Carolina. We had things going good for us. We was buying -- we had our home. They started bringing the illegals in. They wiped us out. I went from being an employer to being an employee. We lost our home. We had to move back and live in a family-owned dwelling. They're not raising their standard of living; they're lowering ours. I've got friends that built houses all their lives, and now they can't get a job. They're taking jobs from American citizens. Its causing us to lose our homes. Its putting us in poverty, you know? Where's my rights? I got two Bronze Stars and a Silver Star. This is not what I fought for. I didn't fight for Mexico. I didn't fight for these illegals. I fought for this country because I love it.
REP. GRIJALVA: Inadvertently the gentleman that made the call makes the argument why we need to make reform a comprehensive issue. If we have employer sanctions, if people are registered, then the exploitation that happens many times to migrant workers in this country that are here without documents is eliminated. Part of the exploitation that's going on in this nation is taking advantage of people because they know they have no rights. They have no status.
They're in the shadows. Lets get back to what we used to do: good wages, good work for the middle class and take away the ability for large employers to exploit people because they have no status.
Here are some of Rep. Grijalva's other comments this morning:
ON THE SHARPENING TONE OF THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE: The tone has changed so much in the last six months, certainly since 1070 [Arizona's new immigration law] came on the horizon. The tone is more bitter. It's them against us. The undertone has become much more provocative in things that are said that normally wouldn't be said. We're in an economic situation right now. We can argue that point. We gave tax cuts to the very rich in this country and it helped create the deficit. We have wars that we're not paying for; that creates a deficit. So there's plenty of blame to go around as to why we're in the mess were in, without singling out a group of people, identifying them as those Mexicans and making that the sole reason why this country is in the economic mess we're in.
ON RACE IN THE DEBATE: Racial politics have always been the underpinning of the immigration debate. But there was a gentleman's agreement that that wasn't the forefront of the debate. But it was there. What 1070 did was put that issue front and center in the debate. So for many of us there was no choice there.
This became a much broader issue. You could be a Latino in Arizona 10, 15 generations. Your family has been there. You're a citizen. Been there for fifteen generations. But suddenly with 1070 you became a suspect. I think that was an affront to many people.
ON BORDER SECURITY: You can't seal the border. If we're honest with each other, that is not going to happen. So let's go beyond that, concentrate our resources, do everything necessary to secure that border. But go beyond the enforcement and say, What are we going to do with the reality that we have inside this country?
ON WORKSITE ENFORCEMENT AND VERIFICATION: I think you have to have hard employer sanctions. But before you do that, you have to give employers the ability to be able to verify who they're hiring and that this person they're hiring has passed the requirements in order to be eligible.