Community Columns

Immigration debate should turn from money to people

When I hear people around town talk about immigration, they talk about the costs, the impact of the children of illegal immigrants on our schools, the impact on our health care system and the effect on public welfare. What is more striking to me is the big issue they are not talking about, that they refuse to talk about -- the fundamental change of the social makeup of our community.

By and large the majority of illegal immigrants entering the country are from Mexico and other Latin American nations. They have been coming by the tens of thousands for dozens of years. They are changing the makeup of the population and creating social issues that our government deals with on a daily basis.

As they settle down, they have families and as their next generations mature, they are beginning to have a real impact on the outcome of elections. When change happens this quickly, it brings fear and resentment; these feelings are the true drive of the anti-immigration movement.

After weighing both sides of the argument, I support the immigrants. Many hysterical Web sites scream about Social Security, health care and the like, but the truth is pretty simple and borne out by the facts: The positive economic impact of immigrants far outweighs the costs associated with having them here.

In addition, the taxes and payments we receive from immigrants and their offspring are the only way we're going to have even the slightest hope of paying for the exploding number of baby-boomer retirees.

Children of immigrants are educated in our schools; by the second and third generations, they are as much a part of American culture as anybody. When I look at the Latino businesspeople I deal with daily, I can't separate them from "real" Americans.

Many of my associates' parents are still illegal, but their plans for the weekend or the holidays are no different than what I would expect from my own family.

I agree that there should be better controls on the border and broader enforcement of our current laws. However, I also think that we as a country are ignoring the huge opportunity provided by the large flow of new blood into our country. We are competing on a global scale with up-and-coming countries like India and China that have populations three times ours.

In Stanislaus County, a huge percentage of our economy is in agricultural enterprise. Inexpensive, unskilled labor is hard to come by and immigrants offer us economic advantages we simply cannot match without them.

It is time for us to get over the fears and embrace our neighbors. Eight generations ago, nearly every American was an immigrant. Our governor is an immigrant. Together, we can continue to move forward and keep the American Dream alive for everyone, whether they were born here or not.

Ricci, a Modesto businessman, is a visiting editor with The Bee. E-mail him at