I know I haven’t spent much time in this column talking about national issues, but I’m going to make an exception today and discuss illegal immigration.

Of course, part of America’s greatness is that we have invited people from other countries to come here and enjoy our freedom. Make of themselves what they are capable of being.

And, in many ways, we have skimmed the cream – the ambitious, the visionaries, the brightest and the best.

The lazy, comfortable and dull are not likely to make an arduous trip to get here, place themselves in unfamiliar surroundings and work like thunder to improve their lot.

Immigrants are something we always should welcome as we skim the best from around the world.

The latest debate, however, has me perplexed. It always begins with a premise: Illegal immigrants take jobs Americans won’t take. And I wonder, just wonder, why Americans won’t take these jobs.

My mother, 82, went to Brush Valley in Indiana County two weeks ago and picked too many strawberries for both of us. I put them on sugared cereal and judged them to be the best strawberries I have had in a long time – much better than the store-bought.

Did she do a job Americans won’t do?

I have some experience with Americans. I was a reporter for 11 years. I have become familiar with farmers who work long, hard days.

I know coal miners who endanger their lives in depths that I find scary. They come out so filthy after a hard day’s work that the availability of showers when they emerged was an issue in their early strikes.

I know steelworkers who, despite stories of laziness, did a hard job of producing steel in a super-heated environment.

And I remember a childhood friend whose father worked at the Dornick Point sewage-treatment plant. His dad would remind his family that he worked there to put food on the table.

So it perplexes me when the premise starts with, “These are jobs Americans won’t take.”

Americans work hard and take jobs that are dangerous and difficult. I suspect these jobs that Americans supposedly won’t take have nothing to do with the work, but with the pay. 

Americans won’t take them because they pay too little.

What if they paid more, a wage that Americans would accept?

Well, then, Americans would take them and they’d protect their jobs as they have done for decades. There would be no need for a border patrol and a fence or anything of the sort.

Americans do fine, thank you, protecting what’s theirs if it’s worth protecting.

Could we take all that money we spend on attempting to control the borders to enhance the wages for the “jobs Americans won’t take”? If we en-hanced them enough, wouldn’t Americans take them?

One of the secrets of America could be put into full effect – the system needs no enforcement or fences or patrols, just let people be who they are, people who look out for their own self-interest. Give them a job worth protecting and they’ll protect it come hell or high water.

If it became a problem with illegal immigrants filling jobs, Americans, particularly if they are unionized, would see to it that the problem was solved.

Yes, some free-market people say, “But do you want to pay $3 for a head of lettuce?”

I hear an echo from our history. Are these the same arguments made to support slavery?

I’ll pay $3 for a head of lettuce, or $4 – whatever it takes to provide a fair wage for any product or service.

We need to stop winking at employers and illegal immigrants. We need to say that, if there is a job an American won’t do, then, obviously, the wage isn’t high enough. We need to ensure that workers are getting a fair wage – a wage that Americans will accept.

My mother picked strawberries. I’d pick them, too, if it paid enough. When our local farmers need something harvested, why don’t they advertise for workers? I’d pick apples in Bedford County if the orchard owners paid me enough. Or is it just too difficult to get Americans, and easier to get immigrants?

I don’t see that these immigrants are doing anything other than giving those with money a higher profit margin and easier management.

Those on top should sacrifice their marginal improvements in cash flow and hassle-free work to protect the country.

They need to work hard, too, and if that means they need to coordinate and advertise for Americans, well, wouldn’t that be a shame?

We’d save a ton of money in border-patrol expenditures and fences. No need for the National Guard, either.

Individual workers will protect their jobs if they’re worth protecting. Then our world would be a saner place.

Lee Wood is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. His views do not necessarily represent those of the university. He worked for 15 years as a reporter, bureau manager, business editor and city editor at daily newspapers. He writes an occasional column for The Tribune-Demo-crat.

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