Commentary: Immigration solutions lies with those who employ
SAN DIEGO -- The minute I saw the harrowing video of the scaffold caught up in high winds and crashing into a Denver office building 12 stories above the ground -- with two terrified window washers hanging on for dear life -- I just knew that whe...
SAN DIEGO -- The minute I saw the harrowing video of the scaffold caught up in high winds and crashing into a Denver office building 12 stories above the ground -- with two terrified window washers hanging on for dear life -- I just knew that when the time came to get the men's statements, we'd need a translator who spoke Spanish.
Maybe it's because Denver is one of those U.S. cities with a substantial immigrant population, both legal and illegal. Or because this looked precisely like the type of job that immigrant-bashers insist that Americans are eager to do -- dirty, distasteful and sometimes dangerous.
Maybe it was because of what I saw one afternoon a couple of years ago outside the 72-story Bank of America Plaza building in downtown Dallas. Coming back from lunch, I noticed what seemed to be two Mexican immigrant men getting instructions from a third man through an interpreter. The two men were tied to a harness and had cleaning supplies. It was obvious that they were window washers, and that they were headed straight up.
As I walked away, I remember thinking that this episode was positive proof of two things -- that immigrants will do just about anything, and that I'm no immigrant. Washing windows while dangling 70 stories off the ground? Not me. No thanks. Not at any price.
Still, someone has to do those jobs. That's where immigrants come in. The fact that a lot of Americans -- like me -- won't go anywhere near this kind of work swings open the door of opportunity for people such as Oscar Gonzalez and Hector Estrada, the two men who were nearly killed on that scaffold in Denver.
In news reports, I couldn't find any mention of whether these two men are in the country legally, but it was pretty clear from their interviews with local television stations that they are foreign-born.
It's also clear that Americans have become -- because of a work ethic that diminishes from one generation to the next -- much more dependent on people like this than our pride will allow us to admit.
That's part of the honest discussion over immigration that Americans need to be having -- where we talk candidly about how we got to this point and admit that this is a problem of our making.
Don't count on Congress to lead the way. Democrats are convinced that the immigration issue will hurt Republicans, so they're just trying to stay out of the way. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to manage a split between those who want to beef up enforcement before broaching the thorny subject of guest workers, and those who want to deal with all the issues at once.
This week, the House will have a floor debate over an enforcement-only bill proposed by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
This isn't a good sign. It would be a disaster if, after all the hand-wringing over immigration reform, all we were left with was yet another bill that talked about building new fences and dispatching more border guards. There's nothing wrong with doing those things, but if that's all we do, we won't have done much to stop illegal immigration. Something must be done about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who are already here, and about the employers who thumb their noses at the law.
It's still not clear whether Bob Popp Building Services -- the company identified by Denver news media outlets as being at the center of the near tragic window-washing incident -- is one of those employers and whether the workers it hired are here illegally.
Say, there may be an opportunity for those who like to complain that immigrants -- legal and illegal -- take jobs away from Americans. Work conditions can be life-threatening, but the pay is decent: $11.50 an hour.
Not everyone at once. Don't crowd. The line forms to the right.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .