Commentary: Schwarzenegger sends strong message in immigrant debate

Gov. Schwarzenegger faces problems with the California budget crisis.
Gov. Schwarzenegger faces problems with the California budget crisis. Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/MCT

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped by The Bee on Friday and made many interesting comments — and one amazing one:

"(We) ignore (the) contributions undocumented immigrants make," Schwarzenegger said. "Everything we eat today is picked and created by undocumented immigrants, to a large extent."

Some people grow angry at such talk, but so what? If only the governor would repeat this strong message more often.

States such as California rely on the cheap labor of undocumented immigrants. But when these immigrants go to the hospital, when their kids go to school, or when some go to jail, they become key players in the budget crisis.

Ay caramba! If only we could wave a magic wand and make these folks disappear at the end of their work shifts. If only they could clean toilets, care for infants, clean up after the elderly, slaughter pigs, pick melons, pluck chickens, gut fish, make hotel beds and landscape yards – and do it for little compensation.

Damn them.

In fact, many people do. The governor spoke of how some seem to blame the undocumented for California's $24.3 billion budget deficit.

"I think it's an easy scapegoat for people to point the finger and say, 'Our budget is out of whack because of illegal immigrants,' " Schwarzenegger said. "It's not. Our budget is out of whack because we have self-inflicted wounds that the Legislature and this state has never really sat down and had the will to go and make the necessary changes."

Words matter. The governor's words on this topic matter a great deal. Numbers matter, too, and credible research has trumped the notion that the undocumented drain the public treasury.

Venom directed toward the undocumented is pervasive to the point of being indiscriminate, like buckshot fired in the night. Any reference to ethnicity triggers invective. I've had the word "ILLEGALS" hurled at me following benign references to my Mexican ancestors.

One wonders about the mail being sent to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Her past references to her ethnic pride have people hammering her as if she were ILLEGAL, even though she's from New York and her Puerto Rican parents were U.S. citizens.

The rants are so angry and automatic that they smear even the charity that's helping young, innocent children burned Friday in a horrible fire in Mexico. Despite some of the comments under that story on sacbee.com, these kids didn't sneak up here Saturday to soak up free medical care.

Schwarzenegger has pushed back in his own way, citing "contributions" of the undocumented. He was saying they give more than they take. He wasn't advocating open borders, but acknowledging the reality of economics as the engine driving illegal immigration.

Related stories from McClatchy DC