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News Opinion Readers Respond

We need undocumented immigrants as much as they need us [Letter]

Commentator Jonathan David Farley feels as sanguine about detaining immigrant children in prisons before sending them back to the squalor from which they came as he does informing us of his academic credentials, proving once again that a career in academia may confer knowledge without wisdom ("#Sendthemback," July 23).

He sees the trees but not the forest. The trees are the individual kids who promise to cost us all a lot of tax dollars before they can begin to repay their debt to society. They also inconvenience us with their lack of English (perish the thought that native-born Americans might have to learn a foreign tongue).

The forest, however, completely escapes Mr. Farley and his fellow NIMBYs: We not only should let these kids in, we need them and their equally undocumented families in order to prosper.

Why? Because without immigration, the U.S. population is stagnant. This was the unequivocal conclusion of the U.S. Census data in 2010. And without a growing population, it's difficult to grow the economy.

For an example, see "rural America." Stagnant populations equal stagnant economic opportunity. We can see that in our own state, where average wealth on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland counties has declined and where the only thing trending up is the unemployment rate.

Contrast that with the counties that have experienced significant population growth and diversification — Baltimore, Prince George's, Howard, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Frederick. Where demographics remain unchanged, the economic waters stagnate. Where they churn, opportunity and growth occur.

Aside from that there's the simple fact that we can't find anyone to mow our lawn, shovel our walk or clean our house. For those like Mr. Farley, whose principal concern is clearly themselves, that should matter. It should also concern small business people on a daily basis.

We are in the service industry, and our primary business challenge is finding motivated employees willing to work for less than $15 an hour. We could, of course, pay more than $15 and hour, but then clients like Mr. Farley would complain that our prices were too high.

The shadow-effect of undocumented immigrants in this economy is everywhere — from the streets we walk to the homes we construct to the restaurants we patronize.

When we restored our house and it became clear that our contractors were using subcontractors who in turn were employing undocumented laborers to perform much of the work, it also became clear to us how high the quality of the work was, how honest the workers were and how dependent every aspect of this complicated and expensive project was on them.

We were particularly saddened when a kind, earnest and skilled plasterer was deported, leaving us owing him $500 — an unpaid debt we regret to this day.

To the NIMBYs, the challenge of illegal immigration is an abstraction. We can assure them that breaking up families is no abstraction for those involved, either when they send their children here alone or find themselves forcibly separated from their wives and children, as happened to our plasterer.

It also happened to the daughter of the woman who cuts my hair, who one afternoon not long ago found herself without a loving husband, her son without an attentive father, his 24 employees without their jobs and a major supermarket chain without its preferred vendor for interior painting.

Now the wife lives with her mother and is raising a son on her own. Her husband's former employees consume tax dollars rather than contribute them, the state has less revenue and higher expenses and the bank owns their house — all because we can't get our head around the fact that we need these people as much as they need us.

It's not merely the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do. Not In My Back Yard? On the contrary, sign us up. We'll take one of these kids if you'll let us, we'll employ the parents if you let us — and we'll learn Spanish and be better off for it.

Mark Thistel and Robyne Lyles

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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