The counter-protesters were being rowdy andtried to drown out anyone speaking at the rally. And, they did egg the Mayor on with a highly inflammatory, ridiculous sign thatidentified him as”Mayor KKK.” Some may think thata politicianis an extremist if he believes thatfailing to enforceimmigration lawleaves the United Statesopento an influx of millions ofworkerswho will drive down wages and drive up taxes with their demands for social services. But such a view issurely more tame thanthe call made by some self-stated leaders in the Latino community for the “re-conquest” of California and American Southwest by ethnic Mexicans and central Americans for their “race.”
Exchanges like the ones between Cresitello and his critics are not especially productive. Rather, they keep people from having candid conversations about the consequences ofillegal immigration and the humanitarian, economic, political and practical matters that need to be considered along with the legal and ideological ones. After a spirited but unsatisfying debate on these topics earlier this year, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. failed topass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Some lawmakers in both parties recognized that they had not convinced constituents that Uncle Sam could or would stem the flow of illegal immigration into this country. Other lawmakers seemed worried about the political consequences of offending current and futureLatino-American voters if strictmeasures todeal with illegal immigration were adopted.
While there are people who want to argue aboutwhat illegal immigration means for thehealth ofthe Republic and our souls, mostfolks seem to think about the issue in more practical terms.A recent Monmouth University-Gannett Poll shows that 69 percent of New Jerseyans surveyed do believe that illegal immigration is a serious problems for the country. However, 65 percent think that illegal immigrants who have worked in the United States for at least the last two years should be permitted to apply for legal status. 30 percent of New Jerseyanswant illegal immigrantstobe deported.
These are interestingnumbersin a state that has between 400,000 and 800,000 illegal immigrants among its 8.6 million inhabitants. One is tempted to conclude thatNew Jersey’sdiversity and large legal immigrant population makesmost residentssympathize with immigrants, legal or not. However, that Monmouth-Gannett poll showed that only 40 percent of residents believe that the impact ofimmigrationhas been positive for the state, while 44 percent think it has been bad.Can these contradictory views be reconciled? Well,they seem to suggest thatmost New Jerseyansbelieve it is impractical and too expensive to send illegal immigrantsback to their native lands evenif they are law-breakers. Many Republicans and Democratic lawmakers in the national government make this same point.
But ifit is too expensive to sendthe illegal immigrants back home, can New Jerseyafford to allow hundreds of thousands ofthem to remain here?The issue of what the state can and cannot afford to do is not one that has been raised simply by nativists, ideologies, ora beleaguered, hot-under-the-collar mayor. Rather, state lawmakers in both parties have been crying poverty for years now.Since he took office in January 2006, Governor Corzine has told New Jerseyans that we have a budget crisis, a school funding crisis, an affordable housing crisis, a health care crisis, a property tax crisis, a state debt crisis, apublic worker pension fund and health benefits crisis,and an open space preservation crisis, all of which willrequire the state to come up with more revenue or cut existing programs to free up funds.
Willthe state’srevenue problems be alleviated or exacerbatedhaving more low-income workers – and their families – reside hereeven if they do start paying taxes.Well,even those folks who argue that increases in populationultimately lead to economic growth would have to admit that for the foreseeable future, the costs to governmentwill be high. Thereis health care for the uninsured, a $12,000a year tab for each new school age child,and pressures to provide even more affordable housing units.And let’s not forget the need to helpthe structurally unemployed in New Jersey – those people who can’t work, can’tfind work, or don’t want to work in the jobs that some illegal immigrants currently hold.
David P. Rebovich, Ph.D., is Managing Director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics (www.rider.edu/institute). He also writes a regular column, “On Politics,” for NEW JERSEY LAWYER and monthly reports onNew Jersey for CAMPAIGNS AND ELECTIONS Magazine.