When I came to the United States as a young man in my 20s, I came with a substantial bundle of documents testifying to my qualifications for legal residence.
There were X-rays and medical reports to prove my good health, police reports confirming I had no criminal record, bank records to prove my fiscal stability, and fingerprint records to prove I was who I said I was. When I arrived in New York on an ocean liner, I had, along with other immigrants, to undergo some stern questioning by immigration officials in the ship's saloon before I could disembark and set foot on American soil.
I was proud, in due course, to receive my green card asserting that I was a legal resident and allowed to work. When I left the country from time to time, I was happy, as required, to pay my income taxes up to that date to the folks at the Internal Revenue Service.
Later, when I proudly became an American citizen, I underwent quite a bit more scrutiny to prove that I could read and write English, understood the Constitution, knew who my elected officials were, and was not guilty of moral turpitude.
Still later, when I served for a time as an official in the United States government, there came a lot more intensive examination as steely-eyed FBI agents interviewed family and colleagues to determine whether there was anything in my background that would embarrass the president or render me unfit to handle state secrets.
So over the years I have undergone quite a bit of this official peering into my background, and I do not bridle at it. Nor do I object to others who want to become residents and citizens having to jump through similar hoops.
But you only have to look around you in this booming part of southern Utah, or the nearby states of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Colorado, to observe the large number of immigrants primarily from countries south of the US border who have not jumped through these hoops and are here illegally. They work on construction sites, and in fast food businesses, and they clean homes and offices, and in some states work in such numbers on farms and ranches that the agricultural system would be in dire straits without them. Generally they work for wages far below average. Some of these illegals have lived and worked here for years and have produced children who, because of their birthplace, are American citizens.
Many Americans say that this law-breaking influx of people across US borders must be ended. They are right to argue that borders must be better policed and that new arrivals should qualify for residence and ultimate citizenship as legally as millions of other new Americans have over the years.
But at the crux of the problem are the 12 million estimated illegal immigrants already in the US who have merged into the system. Some call for their deportation but this is an impractical solution. How could they be identified? How can 12 million people be physically transported to their original homelands? How can parents be torn away from children who have the right to remain in America? How could all this be paid for? And how could industries like agriculture survive without their cheap labor?
The immigration issue is a hot political issue for politicians. In a rock-solid Republican state like Utah, a five-term Republican House representative like Chris Cannon is facing opposition to his nomination for reelection largely because of his support for a guest-worker program for illegal workers.
The US Senate came close last week to producing a reasonable compromise bill that would have protected US borders yet rationalized the status of existing illegals by causing them to jump through a number of hoops ultimately qualifying them for citizenship. Though the Senate and House are far apart in their respective approaches to the problem, some Republican observers believe that had the Senate bill not been torpedoed by questionable political maneuvering, the House could have been persuaded to find common cause with the Senate.
With midterm elections looming this year, immigration threatens to become a major political issue. It should not be. It is a problem of such import that it requires statesmanship, not jousting for narrow political gain.
• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News.