As I stood at the corner of Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue Saturday morning and watched more than 200 immigrants’ rights marchers head west on their way to Melrose Park, I was, as they say, not of one mind.

Fitting, really, since America hasn’t been of one mind regarding immigration for decades, if ever. Immigration means not just change, but novelty and uncertainty. Immigrants are, by definition, alien. Whether Irish, Italian, German, Polish or Japanese people coming to this country as immigrants are outsiders speaking a foreign language and bringing with them cultures often strange to Americans.

They are, of course, also fellow human beings-though that fact tends to get lost in the emotions that seem to inevitably churn and boil around the issue. The one thing there’s no excess of is honesty.

Immigration is an issue that will continue to affect America, Illinois and Forest Park for decades to come. We can either address it honestly, intelligently and comprehensively, or we can continue to react like mindless invertebrates and suffer the consequences. There’s plenty of self-serving garbage being spouted on both sides of the issue. Both sides of the issue need to work harder at telling the truth.

Immigration opponents-primarily but not exclusively conservative Republicans-rail against the hordes of illegal immigrants coming unchecked across our southern borders. They complain these illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans. What they don’t bother noting is that many Republican business owners are more than happy to hire undocumented aliens, at markedly lower wages, of course.

Most Americans benefit from the arduous labor that illegal immigrants perform. Every industry from restaurants and groceries to more labor intensive services as landscaping and roofing work has benefited from foreign labor. It’s all cheaper due to the exploitation of undocumented workers.

Immigrant groups, though, often play just as fast and loose with the truth as any politician or chamber of commerce type. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which organized the Labor Day weekend march to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert’s Batavia offices, blasted a National Republican Congressional Committee mailing that criticized the idea of granting amnesty as simply encouraging “another wave of immigrants.

ICIRR officials responded that that stance refers to immigrants “as if immigrants were some type of disease.” The Republican’s statement didn’t use that sort of language, though, and it’s dishonest of the ICIRR to resort to putting words in people’s mouths.

Groups like the ICIRR also prefer to gloss over the fact that millions of immigrants have entered this country illegally, outside of any legally accountable system, since the first amnesty in 1986.

“We are all Americans,” read one sign in the march. This is patent nonsense. Many of them are Mexican citizens in America illegally. Americans have good reason to be concerned that those pressing for yet another amnesty have no intention of ever respecting our laws. In 1986, Congress passed an amnesty excusing some 2.7 million people here illegally. Five subsequent bills, the last in 2000, gave a pass to another 3 million people here illegally. Now, immigrants rights organizers are advocating, and Congress is considering, an eighth amnesty, this one excusing between 10 and 12 million illegal aliens-fully twice the number of people granted amnesty in all the amnesties of the past 20 years.

At what point do we begin to demand that people take our immigration laws seriously? In light of the past 20 years, why would anyone considering entering this country in the future bother respecting existing laws? Given that America apparently always relents and excuses those who can’t bother to obey its laws, why not just wait them out?

As for basic fairness, those Mexicans currently decrying the perceived callousness of our immigration policy should look to the Mexican government’s attitude toward its own southern border. They too have “hordes” of impoverished human beings clamoring to enter what they see as a land of greater opportunity- or at least a less oppressive political environment. But Mexico has consistently blocked entry into the country for most residents from Central America. Seems they don’t want the destabilizing effect of millions of poor, uneducated people on their economy and society.

In the meantime, Mexico lobbies for an open door policy on its northern border. Apparently human rights are relative to Mexico’s President Fox and his government.

Make no mistake about it a burden is exactly what Mexico considers the millions of people for whom it can’t provide employment and other basic human needs.

The Labor Day weekend marchers were walking for, in part, a just and fair immigration law. They should get just that-a law that is both fair and just, one that establishes a clear path for Mexicans and others to gain United States citizenship while assuring that immigration into our country is well regulated. But those desiring to enter this country must respect our laws and accept that America needs to handle immigration in an orderly, predictable, manageable fashion.

No respect is due anyone whose very first act in this country is illegal, and is then more likely than not to commit a felony by purchasing and fraudulently using other people’s social security numbers. America has a right to insist that those coming here respect our laws.

The various issues attendant to immigration aren’t going away. The sooner we get serious about addressing them thoughtfully, sensibly and honestly, absent the sort of overwrought emotions and twisted half-truths currently employed by both sides, the better off we’ll all be.