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I always thought illegal immigration was like the weather, something we couldn’t control. There are many illegal immigrants in this country–some living in Forest Park–but I thought we were living in peaceful coexistence.

Lately, though, coexistence has led to a political war. Immigration foes and immigration supporters both agree that border jumping is a problem. Hardliners say we must first secure the border. Fine. But to do it right, we must build a 700-mile “Berlin Wall” with closely spaced machine gun towers.

These “secure the border” folks fear illegal immigrants will overwhelm our public services, take our jobs and commit terrorism. A recent New Yorker article, however, described the economic impact of immigrants.

Contrary to popular belief, immigrants do not drive down wages. Immigrants tend to work in industries that native workers avoid. Immigrant workers often complement native workers and make them more productive. A study shows that between 1990 and 2004, immigration actually boosted wages for native workers, with the exception of workers who lacked high school diplomas, (yet another reason to stay in school).

Guest workers are less likely to become permanent residents than the undocumented workers now flooding in. The majority of Mexican workers, for instance, do not plan to spend their lives in the U.S. They often come here to make money, so that they can create a better life for themselves in Mexico. Ironically, attempts to secure the border have resulted in a 33 percent decline in Mexicans returning to their homeland.

Guest workers would have more rights and better wages than illegal immigrants. They would be able to raise their standard of living while making great contributions to our economy.

Aside from the economic benefit, immigrants enrich our culture with their customs and cuisine. And they do not tend to be the criminals and deadbeats portrayed by immigration foes. A Tribune article stated that Latinos born in other countries are less likely to get divorced, or end up in prison, than native-born whites. As for learning English, the greater part of immigrant children become fluent in our lingo.

Actually, the social problems don’t come so much from the parents who snuck in, as they do from their U.S. born children. There are high rates of unwed pregnancy and low graduation rates in Latino communities. Latino men born here, the article says, are seven times more likely to wind up in prison than immigrant Latinos.

Mexican immigrants have been coming to Forest Park since the 1950s. Many have made good lives for themselves; boosting our local economy, while supporting relatives back home. We have a host of local businesses that tap into their labor pool. Instead of deporting the undocumented, we should provide them with the opportunity to achieve legal status and enter mainstream society. If that doesn’t work, we can always try the Berlin Wall.