One of the more interesting developments in California’s gubernatorial race: allegations that Meg Whitman hired an illegal immigrant to clean her house despite her policy stance that employers must be held accountable for hiring illegal labor and her pledge to be tough on illegal immigration. True, Whitman did fire the housekeeper, but the damage to her campaign has been done.
Whitman should probably not be faulted for this episode, which should not really have become a scandal at all. In the first place, it’s still unclear whether or not Whitman knew that Nicandra Diaz-Santillan was in California illegally.
Furthermore, I do not believe that Whitman truly has strong feelings on the illegal immigration issue. She has never tried to make it a driving point in her campaign, and nothing in her background suggests that it would be a major priority for her.
The campaign has been consistent in its emphasis on three main policy issues: creating jobs, cutting spending and fixing education. Addressing illegal immigration is at best peripherally relevant to these goals.
Instead, it is likely that Whitman took the stance on illegal immigration that was most politically expedient for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in California, namely to talk tough to appease the conservative base without presenting a real enough threat to alienate Latino voters or Californian agribusinesses, which are major constituencies that traditionally swing Republican.
What all this means for policy and the race is that if Whitman is elected, it is likely that very little will happen in regard to illegal immigration. The status quo will prevail as it has for so long because changing it would seriously disadvantage a number of groups. Maintaining it, on the other hand, does not do enough damage to send any politician out of office.
Thus, the immediate outcome from the Diaz-Santillan scandal is more of the same. However, the controversy also holds a greater lesson about the complicated nature of resolving illegal immigration.
Approximately 11 million illegal immigrants currently reside in the United States, about 3 million of which are in California. Right now, illegal immigrants are in what can best be described as a state of limbo.
Although the law says they are not permitted in this country and that they are subject to deportation, everyday reality shows that illegal immigrants are not likely to be sent home en masse because they provide labor crucial to our economy that many American citizens are unwilling to do.
Because of this, most illegal immigrants go about their daily lives in the same way as legal residents of the United States, although they often lack access to basic services and are constantly threatened by the black cloud of deportation.
There are two possible ways for policymakers to end the limbo — allow illegal immigrants to stay here legally, which means creating a pathway to citizenship, or undertake the major task of finding and deporting as many of them as possible.
Whitman’s “maidgate” story demonstrates the inherent problems with each of these solutions.
The only practical and sensible way to move illegal immigrants out of limbo is to somehow allow them to become citizens. Proponents of this view, however, should give due deference to the fair and logical sensibilities of the opposition, which many left-wing politicians today do not.
A pathway to citizenship would certainly solve the problem, but there is a large group of Americans who justifiably feel that it would be a blatant violation of the Constitution and undermine the rule of law. This viewpoint is hard to argue with because it is right — those who disagree generally do not contend that a pathway to citizenship is lawful, but only that it would be worth it.
Deporting our country’s illegal immigrants would be extremely difficult from a practical, political and economic standpoint.
However, more important is the fact demonstrated by Whitman’s story — it is easy to talk tough on illegal immigration in public forums but much more difficult to actually take actions against one who might be an employee, neighbor or friend. It would take an unusually cold-hearted person to report an acquaintance as illegal to the authorities, an issue Whitman discovered personally while trying to uphold her stance on illegal immigration.
There is not now, or will there ever be, an easy answer to this country’s illegal immigration issue, which means that those who are working to solve it must be aware of each side’s concerns and search for the solution that causes the least harm to America’s economy and its public.
Daniel Charnoff is a senior majoring in international relations (global business). His column, “Through the Static,” runs Wednesdays.