Opinion: Don’t “Turn Out the Lights” on Immigration Reform

As the immigration debate rages on in America, one recalls a recent quote from Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (R), who authored an employer sanctions law, and said it was designed to force illegal immigrants to “self-deport.”

He went on to use an interesting comparison to describe his view of the law’s intended effect: “Just like Disney, turn off the lights, shut down the rides and the crowd goes home. No more free stuff.”

Perhaps Rep. Pearce will allow us to borrow from and extend his simile in an attempt to reflect the dilemma that immigrants face in Arizona, and elsewhere in America.

If, as Pearce and others suggest, America is something of a Disneyland for immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere, then we would have to suggest that for years, “The Happiest Place on Earth” sometimes encouraged, sometimes looked the other way, but clearly winked as thousands and then millions of patrons walked into the park without being asked to pay the requisite entrance fee.

As a matter of fact, many of the people who inhabited Disneyland had the entry charge waived because they were  asked to work to keep the park open.

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No, they weren’t employed as the managers or sparkly-toothed dancers, or even the robotic greeters who constantly reminded you that life is always perfect here.

Instead, they were sent to the kitchens to cook, to the restrooms to mop the floors, behind the scenes to repair the creaking machines, sew Minnie’s fraying dress and ensure that the wrappers from the $8.00 ice cream bars were promptly removed from the pristine streets.

How Disneyland loved the diligence of these new visitors! Profits at the park increased, as labor costs were kept to a minimum and ticket prices only rose to stuff the pockets of profiteers. The new workers were cautioned never to complain about pay or working conditions; after all, they did get in for free, didn’t they? That free pass certainly more than compensated for any of the hardships they may have to face in this land of promise.

All seemed well until one day when one of the managers looked around the park and was shocked to find that far too many of the new visitors had been allowed through the gates. “What have we done?” he cried.

Disneyland’s inherent core had surely been changed. People worried about the “browning of Disneyland” and fear spread that the new guests would somehow dominate the culture and shift the established values of this joyful place.

New managers called meetings and demanded to know who had allowed all these people to enter the gates without tickets. Filled with righteous indignation and armed with Disney’s laws, they now turned on the guests they had once welcomed. Here’s what we’ll do: “turn off the lights, shut down the rides and the crowd goes home.”

Don’t the supervisors at Disneyland bear some responsibility for encouraging the guests to come? Is there nothing to be said for the work that they have done over the years to keep the park open and functioning for all to enjoy?

Is America, a country founded on principles of justice and dignity, going to allow others to simply “shut down the rides” or expel all who “do not belong” from the freedom of the park?

Our hope is that—with the rule of law as a guiding principle and compassion in our hearts—we will work together to create meaningful reform that honors our past and creates a pathway for the future.

Dr. Carlos Campo is a member of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and president of Regent University

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