Westerners' Split Image of Immigrants

The article "Illegals Find Backyard Gate to the US" (Nov. 5) is disappointing for its lack of insight. I expect the Monitor to do better than follow the current tide of hysteria, whatever it may be - in this case the backlash against Latino immigrants.

A deeper understanding of the complexities of the issue of undocumented workers in the US would include the history of the "border" and the Western states. Also important is the structural relationship between Mexico and the US, including the schizophrenic attitude of agricultural states toward their labor force.

I am quite sure that owners of unfenced properties on the border truly do feel personally invaded as more traditional routes become inaccessible to illegal immigrants. However, for the Monitor to print an article that quotes only angry landowners, border patrol agents, and the National Guard - who identify the border crossers as enemies, criminals, and practically subhuman (what more telling word than "alien"?) is a great disservice. These people eat food that is planted and picked by the very people they call the "enemy," in backbreaking jobs that those of us with more options are hardly scrambling for.

I live in an agricultural area in California where the Immigration and Naturalization Service has recently been conducting its usual after-the-harvest raids. The timing is key. There is a "kick them out when you don't need them anymore" attitude. It is typical of California, where every tightening of immigration law carries loopholes for the agricultural labor force upon which this state's very livelihood depends. We all count on it every time we go shopping for low-priced fruits and vegetables.

Most people who come here from Latin America work hard. They pay taxes. They walked here. As James Baldwin once said, the people who chose to come to this country came not because they were enlightened or morally superior to anyone else (or because they were criminals) but simply because they couldn't make it where they were. To think through what this really means about who we think we are, what each wave of immigrants contributes as well as what we should do about our borders, requires difficult work.

Ellen Licht

Santa Rosa, Calif.

Labor Center

Creative compensation for seniors

"Restless Retirees Help Fill Labor Gap" (Nov. 7) motivated me to write to my congressional and state lawmakers seeking authorization to establish a "work off your taxes" program for seniors in my town.

Under this concept, "restless retirees" who need part-time work and would like to devote time to the community good would be able to work off their taxes. They could tutor children, provide consultant services to a municipality, or even work in a park.

In lieu of a salary, they would receive a tax credit for each hour worked. No checks would be made out to the seniors. The tax credit should not be considered taxable income by the IRS.

There are many senior citizens who volunteer their time to the community. Federal, state, and local governments should be able to reward them with a tax credit.

Paul Feiner

Greenburgh, N.Y.

Town Supervisor

Your article on restless retirees touched a hot button with me. As director of marketing for a division of a large corporation, I was downsized about 11 years ago. I was 58 years old and had had a minor heart attack two years before. I'll admit my company was quite generous financially, but I was not in a position mentally or financially to retire. At the time companies weren't ready to hire anybody my age who had suffered a heart attack.

After a lot of soul searching, I started a small sales business as a manufacturers' representative. I wish I had done it 30 years ago. I have been happier, and believe it or not, have made more money than I ever did with a large company. I am now 69 years old and may never retire. I am having too much fun.

George Hawthorne

Bossier City, La.

Your letters are welcome. All letters are subject to editing. Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com

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