Send them all back, let them stay, amnesty, prison, give them driver's licenses or don't, build a wall "¦ this is about as deep as the discussion on illegal immigration gets. Politicians have managed to confuse voters into believing the war on terror is the same thing as illegal immigration. America doesn't have a coherent immigration policy, and Oklahoma has created an idiotic law that could send business owners, housewives or any one of us to jail.
Oklahoma's elected officials want us to believe illegal immigrants are the same as the guys who flew planes into the World Trade Center. Yet, by most accounts, Oklahoma's undocumented immigrants are hardworking, family-oriented and, thankfully, doing the jobs no American worker wants. Mostly Mexican, these employees wash dishes and cook in restaurants, do some of the most backbreaking jobs in construction, work stench-laden hog and chicken farms, and perform some of the most dangerous tasks in the oil patch.
Mexican immigrants also pick our lettuce, tomatoes, apples and oranges, and make the seasonal trek to harvest the nation's wheat. Because they work for some of the lowest wages imaginable, doing work we won't do, our food prices are affordable and we have an abundance of choices in our grocery stores. If you think we should send all the illegals home, expect to pay more for food, for restaurant service to worsen, and for prices to increase because of the shortage of workers.
The notion illegals don't pay their way isn't quite right. Their paychecks, like yours and mine, have payroll, Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld. While you and I will probably be here to collect some of our Social Security and Medicare, many illegals who paid in won't be. Their contributions to these funds will support us. And the money they earn is spent at Wal-Mart, McDonald's, department stores and drugstores. That means they are paying about 8 percent of what they spend on sales taxes. If they own a home, they pay ad valorem taxes.
While politicians run from the idea of making illegal immigrants get a driver's license, it's one of the smartest things we could do. We'd know where they are since they'd have to provide contact information. They'd have to acquire automobile insurance, meaning we'd all be better protected in the event of an accident. Why not give undocumented workers a license that clearly identifies them as "illegal," and also a pathway to acquiring legal status?
If illegal immigrants are willing to pay for their own housing, food and daily needs while helping us farm, work in heavy industry and do the lowliest of jobs, we might want them to stay. Instead, Oklahoma law punishes employers for having illegal immigrants on the payroll. So, if one is cleaning your house, office or pool; doing your yard work or alterations on your clothing; or working for you, and you know that person is here illegally, you could go to jail.
Make no mistake about it: There are terrorists who want to kill us, and there are hardworking illegal immigrants who just want a job " and they are not the same thing.
Orza is dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.