The Vineyard community, itself immigrant in nature, has benefited significantly from various immigrant populations of various sorts over centuries, among them Azorean harpooners, Scandinavian fishermen, Irish and European summer workers, and now Brazilians. Then, as now, these visitors, many of whom became residents, then citizens, and ultimately Islanders, also became neighbors, friends, relations, colleagues, and community leaders. They embraced us, we embraced them. Some began and remained short-term visitors. Their hearts dwelt in their homelands elsewhere. Others found home here.
Although Monday's demonstrations across the country, and here as well, emphasized the prominence of all the issues surrounding immigration, there is little new in the national debate over immigration policy. As one man, a bakery owner, explained, as he took an American flag with him to join the demonstrators, "We want them to see us and hear us."
He referred to lawmakers who are struggling in Congress for a host of political reasons to find a legislative basis on which to reform immigration law, but of course ultimately the responsibility for improving the way the nation deals with immigrants lies with us, the neighbors, friends, employers, and co-workers of the immigrants who live among us. What do we, who are also voters, expect of Congress when it makes new law governing immigration? Knowing the Vineyard's immigrant population as we do, whether it is 3,000 strong or much smaller, it's clear that the prospects for legal immigrants, whether for the short-term or for a lifetime, are much richer than for those who are here illegally. Every community wants all of its citizens to share equally in the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship. That's not possible when some residents live under the constraints of illegality and fear.
So, the unregulated flow of uncounted numbers of immigrants across the country's borders must be stopped. The law must make welcome those who want to come to work, briefly or for the long term, but do not want to become citizens. Those who are determined to add themselves to the rolls of full-fledged citizens ought to have the opportunity. For those who are here illegally, the opportunity ought to be available for them to convert their status from illegal to legal, and eventually to citizenship. And the rules and costs of taking these necessary steps must be streamlined. One Island resident told The Times Monday that it cost him $10,000 and more than three years to get a green card to live and work here legally. That's too much.
For those who will not take the steps to be legal, there can be no place for them. And, employers on-Island and off- who hire immigrants without legal work papers must be penalized. Despite what they claim about the difficulty finding help and despite their claims that they pay illegals what they would pay legal workers, these employers are exploiting illegal workers. They are taking advantage of men and women who ought to have rights to all the benefits and protections afforded American employees. And employers who join with illegal workers in skirting the law are ultimately helping themselves, not the immigrant workers.
It's a national issue, of course, but as Monday's small, informally organized demonstrations made clear, it's a Vineyard issue too, and the outcome of the debate in Congress will have important implications for our Island community of immigrants as well.