News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 5, 2006

Pete Chalos: America must maintain high standards of immigration

My father John Chalos arrived from Greece at Ellis Island in 1910 for the purpose of working in Seattle. He ended up losing his ticket while the train was stopped in Terre Haute.

Remaining in Terre Haute, he worked hard and raised a family. He also went to night school, learned English and successfully became a U.S. citizen. He was very proud upon earning his citizenship. My mother, Katherine, my wife, Ulla, and my niece, Thanasoula, also studied hard to earn their citizenship papers. They learned the language, they studied the history and the government, they passed their exams, and they became productive, taxpaying citizens.

There are 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States, half of them from Mexico. All of these immigrants are afforded the same opportunity my relatives had to study hard, work hard and earn U.S. citizenship. If they are willing and able to do so, they can become legal and legitimate citizens of this great nation. Instead, these 12 million illegal immigrants want to take a shortcut around the law of the land. They want to circumvent the process and sneak in without paying their dues.

Now they are here among us, 12 million people who can barely speak English (if they can at all) and have no clue how our government functions are living in America, working for peanuts and becoming a burden on our social services programs. Some estimates put the number as high as 20 million illegal aliens.

These aliens are no longer jailed to await deportation. They are simply handed a notice to appear in court and released. The great majority never show up for the court date. The laws that govern these crimes are not properly being enforced. They are becoming devalued and will someday be rendered ineffective.

The companies that offer illegal aliens the incentive to break our laws, by hiring them to work in the United States, are also escaping penalty. In 1999, President Clinton’s administration collected more than $3.6 million in fines from 890 companies employing illegal workers. In 2004, under President Bush, the government collected $188,500 from 64 companies. In 2005, the Bush administration collected no fines.

Now, illegal immigrants are forming movements to protect their civil rights in America. They aren’t legal citizens of America and they are not protected by our Constitution, yet they feel they have a right to petition our government for the protection of their civil rights. Recent protests in Las Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., have been mounted in opposition to House Bill 4437. The bill would make it a felony, rather than a misdemeanor, to be in America without authorization. It will also require all employers to verify the legal status of their employees. It will also deputize police along the border to act as immigration enforcers and deport suspected illegal aliens.

This bill was introduced in December by Republican House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and has been debated since that time.

American citizenship allows a person to become a member of the greatest society on the planet. Only the hardest working, most dedicated and most well-educated individuals receive the privilege. It takes effort and it takes character. To allow such a great number of illegal aliens to circumvent the process and invade our country without earning the right to be here is creating a disaster. Instead of encouraging the best of the best to add their strength to America’s citizenship, by failing to enforce the laws of citizenship we are allowing those who can’t compete to come in anyway. It would be like giving a driver’s license to every 16-year-old whether or not he or she could pass a driving test.

Also, it neglects to filter out the undesirable or criminal elements of any society. These people have not earned citizenship. They should be required to meet the educational standards that all American citizens must meet or they should be deported.

Some will scream that we are being prejudiced against Mexicans, but that isn’t the case. We are simply asking them to earn their way here. If there is any prejudice, it is against those who want something for free that they do not value enough to work for and earn.

Some will say that illegal immigrants do all the dirty work that Americans don’t want to do anymore. They will argue that the jobs illegal workers are taking are undesirable. Meanwhile, unemployment rates are through the roof and crime is at an all-time high. When our citizens can’t find jobs, they resort to violence or end up on welfare. There are plenty of American workers who would be thrilled to have those jobs.

I’d like to encourage the Mexican government to welcome back the 6 million hard-working citizens of Mexico living in America illegally. They would also be welcoming back 6 million consumers, creating an increase in demand for local business. They would also be welcoming back 6 million taxpayers. It would be a boon to their economy.

Lowering your standards is a mistake. If America is going to successfully compete in the next generation, it will be because we have raised our standards instead of lowering them. To become an American citizen, one should be required to pass the standards of education for citizenship and be verified as a productive member of society.

Pete Chalos, a longtime teacher, coach and public servant in Vigo County, was mayor of Terre Haute for 16 years. Send e-mail to