Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau released 2004 data showing that Indiana had 264,936 persons of Hispanic origin among its 6,058,930 population. That would mean 4.37 percent of Hoosiers, themselves or their ancestors, came from Mexico, Cuba, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Panama, Chile and other Spanish-speaking nations.
Don't you just love that precision? 264,936 and 6,058,930 are merely estimates, not census counts. Anyone who has worked with numbers should be embarrassed to be more specific than 265,000 and 6,060,000. The pretense of detail gives the numbers an authority they do not deserve.
Then there is the wonderful tendency we have to lump all these Hispanic or Latino persons together as if they all have been here just a few weeks and all behave the same way. It is just as wrong as imagining that all Poles, Germans, Chinese, Irish, Danes and Greeks arrived yesterday and behave alike.
What would I do about the "immigration problem"? I would declare that no problem exists. Make it legal for all persons to enter this country as long as they are documented. Those who failed to pick up such documentation in the past would be given six months to do so.
"What about the terrorists?" They will get as much documentation as they want, just as they have in the past. The problem with the 9/11 terrorists was not a lack of documentation, but a failure of our existing systems to work as they should have.
"Won't all these immigrants take jobs from Americans?" No. They will help our country grow and keep jobs from going abroad.
"But they don't learn our language and become real Americans." False. That applies only to a part of the first generation and only if they remain concentrated. My Hungarian grandfather learned English because he had to when he moved to a small enclave of Hungarian miners in Virginia. He died a Mason, a former bootlegger and a true American.
"Don't these immigrants degrade our communities by failing to obey our traffic laws, spreading their garbage everywhere and making neighborhoods into slums?" Are you saying these immigrants are different from folks who come here from Kentucky, West Virginia and Arkansas?
"But these immigrants put stress on our schools and our social services without paying their share of taxes." Many of our schools would have to close if it were not for our immigrant populations. Many of the social services immigrants need are the result of their illegal status because they fail to get the attention they need before problems become crises. As for taxes, it is the good old, God-fearin' Chamber of Commerce Rotarian who pays immigrants in cash and does not remit withholding taxes who causes the revenue shortfall blamed on immigrants.
The key is documentation. We can require that all visitors (students, travelers, workers) to this country notify the government when they change location. This can be accomplished easily at any post office or public library. Then our job is not patrolling the border but verifying location, which can be an easier, less costly proposition. Plus, it fits with the philosophy the Bush administration seems to desire applying to citizens.
If a person violates the documentation rules, we talk about permanent deportation and permanent branding. Oh, branding sounds so punitive, but I foresee nothing more terrible than a highly visible, permanent tattoo on the forehead. Remember, we are dealing with a national panic and extreme measures will be supported by voters and justices. It happened 70 years ago in a very civilized Germany; why not here, now?
Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.