[VIEWPOINT]The U.S. takes slap at helping hands

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[VIEWPOINT]The U.S. takes slap at helping hands

I have had a few embarrassing experiences since I came to Washington, D.C. in the United States one month ago. One happened when I called the gas company to request heating service. I was asked for my Social Security number, similar to a resident registration number in Korea.
So I gave them the Social Security number I acquired during a previous one-year stay at a college in the States.
At this, the gas company told me “Your number cannot be confirmed on the computer. Come in person with the ID card.”
I said I could not understand why the Social Security number the U.S. government had issued could not be confirmed, but the other party on the phone said, “Because we cannot confirm your identity on the phone, we cannot provide the service.”
As I hated to visit an unfamiliar place, I asked a favor of my wife, who was undergoing vocational training in North Carolina. I asked for her Social Security number.
But the gas company said, “The number is correct but we need to see the ID card, so come visit the company.”
I was upset but had no other choice but to do so. More than 20 people were waiting there. I wondered, “Why is there only one white person and the others are all colored people?”
About an hour passed and my turn came, and I presented my passport and applied for the service, but I did not feel comfortable.
Many demonstrations are being staged in the United States these days to denounce the anti-immigration bill called the “Sensenbrenner Act” that has been submitted to the House of the Representatives.
Watching the demonstrations, I thought, “When I, with legal status and a visa, had to undergo such inconveniences just to apply for gas service, what difficulties would illegal immigrants meet with?”
Conservatives in the U.S. have reasons to crack down on illegal immigrants.
They believe that when more illegal immigrants come in, there is a higher possibility that terrorists will be among them.
They are worried that if they allow illegal immigration to continue, disasters like the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks may occur again.
They also say that illegal immigrants take jobs from their people. They contend it is unreasonable for illegal immigrant families to receive welfare benefits, which come from taxes paid by American citizens.
They do have a point. It is also fine for them to be concerned about national security and economy.
The problem lies in the fact that their thinking is unrealistic and inhumane.
In the United States, there are already 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants. Among them, about 200,000 people are said to be Koreans.
The anti-immigration act tries to punish and expel them by treating all of them as felons. The act says that it would punish companies that hire illegal immigrants, as well as organizations that help them, some of which are religious. Can this be the right way to handle the problem?
How could the U.S. government authorities ever find, punish and expel more than 10 million illegal immigrants? If they had the ability to do so, how could illegal immigration have increased so much?
The idea of punishing those who help them goes against humanitarianism, a value that the United States pursues. In many countries, including the United States, there are the “Good Samaritan Laws.” They aim to encourage people to help others in trouble.
The Sensenbrenner Act does not fit in with such ideals. That is why the act has been criticized as a “bill that makes even Jesus guilty” by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
It is fortunate that the Senate Judiciary Committee did not accept the act. It was also good that a new bill was proposed that would give illegal immigrants new ways to acquire a legal status.
But no one can tell whether the bill put forth by the Judiciary Committee will stay the same during deliberations in Congress.
Former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, whom Americans respect, said, “Including our ancestors who came to this land on the ship Mayflower, we are all immigrants or their descendants.”
This is a wise saying that members of both the Senate and the House should bear in mind.

* The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Sang-il
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