Michigan Radio's Jack Lessenberry has been thinking about our attitudes toward immigrants.
One of the better things to happen in my lifetime is that it is no longer permissible, at least in polite company, to show open disrespect for minority groups. Fifty years ago you could say absolutely outrageous things about blacks or Hispanics, the disabled or even women, and get away with it. When it came to gay people, you got in trouble only if you said something nice about them.
Today, however, there is still one group who you can trash with impunity: illegal immigrants. If someone were writing the poem on the Statue of Liberty today, they would probably have it say, "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore -- and we'll kick them out."
Actually, we don't really want to throw them all out, since many of them help keep the economy humming by doing the jobs that we don't want to do. We geniuses, that is, who had the foresight to be born in the Estados Unidos.
Illegals are the last hired, first fired, and usually the worst paid, but when times get tough, we love to bash those undocumented aliens. Which brings us to a new bill in the Michigan Legislature, sponsored by State Rep. David Agema, a Republican from Grandville. Agema wants to require any Michigan firm that does work for the public sector to screen their new hires. Not just screen them; he wants to make them use an electronic, Internet-based system devised by the Department of Homeland Security.
Yes, it sounds like something out of 1984, but the idea is to catch those awful illegals and prevent them from getting jobs. Agema says this could save the state $600 million a year in uncollected income taxes. However, there are few problems with this scheme.
First of all, the system, called E-Verify, sounds high-tech, but in reality relies on matching records based on paper documents that could be faked. Early indications show that E-Verify has a four percent error rate, which means one out of every 25 results is wrong. One can just smell the lawsuits coming.
Plus, anyone with common sense would realize that this system would actually encourage unlawful behavior. If it came into use, it would encourage employers to pay illegals in cash, under the table, as they say.
The good news is that Agema's bill is probably not going anywhere, despite our fondness for immigrant bashing. Democrats control the House, and they aren't rushing his bill along.
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce opposes it, saying it would force employers to become the immigration police.
And there are a few of us who know that there is a little hypocrisy in all of this. After all, virtually all of us are descended from people the local Chippewas regarded as illegal.
By the way, Mr. Agema isn't totally against other countries. Two years ago, when the state briefly shut down after a bruising budget battle, Agema was about the only member not to vote.
Why? He was off in Siberia for three weeks hunting wild sheep. Well, we all have our priorities. You just can't make this stuff up.