By John W. Schoen Senior Producer
msnbc.com
COMMENTARY

The recent spotlight on immigration reform has drawn lots of mail on the issue. And most of it centers on a pretty basic question: Is the recent surge in immigration good or bad for the U.S.?

The U.S. has "exported" hundreds of thousands of mid- and high-tech jobs around the world. Now we are asked to open our borders to millions of low-tech and no-tech "illegal" immigrants. Do the math. We're socializing ourselves into becoming a third-rate banana republic. In light of China, Japan, India and stupid U.S. policies, it looks like it's too late! Your thoughts?
Rick Y. -- Yuma, Ariz.

There’s little question that U.S. immigration policy needs a major overhaul. The recent surge in immigrants is overwhelming the social services of many border counties like yours, especially in states with relatively small budgets where resources are already stretched thin.

One recent study, by the University of Texas at El Paso, helps put that economic impact in perspective. The study looked at the 24 counties along the U.S.-Mexico border and asked: what would these counties look like if they became a 51st state? Among the findings: This state would be the 13th largest in terms of population, ahead of Massachusetts and behind Virginia. But it would rank first in crime, largely because of drug and immigration arrests. It would rank 39th in per capita income. This "state's" education and health care systems also would be strained.

Clearly federal assistance to these border counties is urgently needed. But as President Bush pointed out last week, building walls along U.S. borders won’t work. As we found with efforts to stop illegal drug importation, those who wish to find a way in will do so. Every time you build a 10-foot wall, someone will come along with an 11-foot ladder.

One of the ironies of the current debate is — unless you can trace your family tree to a native American — that you, too, are an immigrant. My own family came to this country in the wave of immigration from Europe at the end of the 19th century. Between 1880 and 1930 over 27 million people entered the United States, about 20 million of them through Ellis Island in New York city. Only 2 percent were turned away.

That influx placed similar strains on New York and other cities where immigrants settled, and many new arrivals faced the same hostility and ill treatment that many Americans today display toward the new wave of immigrants (especially toward those coming from Mexico, Latin America and South America).

But the wave of immigration a century ago also brought to this country some of the most important contributors to American culture, science, business, education and health care, to mention a few. Coping with the current wave of arrivals requires an appropriate federal response. But building walls around the country to stop further immigration (never mind the mass deportation some seem to be suggesting) won't get us anywhere.

As for the threat immigrants pose to American workers, the failure of our education system to adequately train American citizens for highly skilled jobs has little to do with our immigration policy. As you point out, American workers face the same competition from workers born in other countries whether or not those foreign workers move here. If that's the case, aren't we better off having those foreign workers come here and pay taxes like the rest of us?

So my thoughts are that immigrants are — and have always been — a critical resource that have kept America a vibrant, entrepreneurial and forward-looking country. The immigrants I’ve met seem to be hard-working, honest, decent, family-oriented people — many of whom would make better citizens than some American-born citizens I know.

My name is Eric. I grew up in an African Country called Ghana. As a young boy, I dreamt of coming to America to achieve the goals that I had set for myself. I came to America, went to school and I am now about to graduate. One thing that I did learn about life is that it is not always a person's ability to control the events that goes on in one's life. While I was in college I met a very beautiful young girl of my age. She is from Russia. To cut a long story short, I completed pharmacy school and she is now completing medical school this year. I went through a difficult time in school financially, but I will say I am doing fine now. The only problem is I want to propose to her. I have found the ring, the price I know (within my budget) but the problem is I have to finance this ring.I have the money to make a down payment but my bad credit is preventing me from getting approval to finance the ring. Nothing is more important to me now than making her the happiest person at her graduation day. I know it's too short a time for anyone to help me, but making this possible makes a big dream come true to me.

Eric A. -- Address withheld

It does sound like it’s too late to fix your credit in time for your beloved’s graduation date. (Though if you have to finance the ring, it may not be exactly “within your budget”.)

Deciding how much to spend on a ring is always difficult. After all, your love knows no bounds, so why should your budget? But if you and your soon-to-be betrothed (how can she say no?) are about to embark on a life together, you probably have other financial goals and obligations that need attention, too. It sounds like one or both of you, for example, may have student loans to pay off.

More to the point, when you do propose, the size of the ring really won’t make a lot of difference when compared to the combined joy of completing school and agreeing to marry the love of her life.

So here’s wishing both of you a long and happy life together.

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