Summer 2005 has begun like any other in recent memory at the U.S./Mexican border.
Summer is the season of death.
Body counts are made as migrants die in the desert on their way to work in the United States.
A pregnant woman was among those already tallied this year.
People die crossing the border year-round.
They freeze in the mountains at night. They drown in polluted water.
But most succumb to heat; their bodies slowly dehydrating. And that gruesome process happens more in the heat of summer.
In Arizona alone, about 200 people died during the last two summers.
Despite increased efforts by both the Mexican and U.S. governments, it is unlikely the numbers will be drastically changed this summer.
The summer of 2006 does not have to repeat the pattern.
Congress has before it the best chance proposed in years to realistically address the nation’s immigration quandaries.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and their House counterparts, Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., have introduced the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005.
The bill could do what has been missed for years: honestly admitting realities about immigration and offering viable answers.
Admit: North America needs the labor of low-skilled workers.
Answer: A new visa category that will provide 400,000 temporary three-year work visas that can be renewed once.
Admit: The labor needs of the United States will shift in future years as baby boomers retire and through other economic forces.
Answer: The number of temporary work visas can be adjusted in future years.
Admit: Immigrants in some jobs are used to undercut willing American workers.
Answer: The new temporary visas are given only when jobs have first been advertised to American workers. And employers will be held to all guidelines on taxes and withholding on paychecks.
Admit: Immigrants do not learn English overnight or without instruction.
Answer: English language classes for migrants and civics classes for immigrants attempting to permanently stay in the United States.
Admit: Human nature will always try to scam newcomers who are vulnerable.
Answer: Allows the Department of Labor to conduct random audits of employers and enhances fines for illegally hiring immigrants.
Admit: Thousands of people caught in a no-man’s land of not quite illegal, but not quite legal status because the United States is backlogged with applications.
Answer: Allow people with immediate relatives legally in the United States to gain faster enter into the country without taking visas needed by other immigrants.
Admit: Increased border security alone does not decrease illegal immigrant crossings.
Answer: Continue to implement the latest technology; but at the same time work on creating legal, safe ways for needed workers to enter.
Admit: As long as Mexico is economically underprivileged compared to the United States, people will try to enter, legal or not.
Answer: Continue to press the Mexican government to provide a better economic situation for its people.
This last answer comes with a caveat. The dramatic economic reform that North Americans wish for Mexico is not within Mexican President Vicente Fox’s reach.
Fox is close to retirement in Mexican terms.
He has only one more year as president. Mexico allows only one six-year term. And Mexican presidents have a tendency to slip into oblivion once they leave office, often due to scandal.
The best hope for change resides in the United States, with Congress.
The clock is ticking with each summer day that reaches above 100 degrees in the desert.
Summer 2006 does not have to be the same.
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