Proposed Texas law to immigrants: Keep out … or clean my house

A lot of Americans don’t like illegal immigration. But what they like even less is the idea of having to live without the labor provided by illegal immigrants.
There you have the great contradiction that lies at the heart of the U.S. immigration debate — one that must be confronted and reconciled if it is ever going to be resolved.
Speaking of solutions, I heard a whopper a while back. I had just given a speech to a group of retirees in a well-to-do town near San Diego. After complaining that Mexican immigrants were hurting the quality of life and changing the culture, a woman suggested a high-speed rail that could, every morning, carry men and women from Tijuana, Mexico, 20 miles into San Diego County, where they would work as nannies, housekeepers and gardeners in wealthy neighborhoods before boarding the train at dusk to head back into Mexico.
It was a goofy and obscene idea. But I was glad to hear it because it illustrates clearly how some Americans see Mexico as a giant temp agency that exists to make their lives easier.
Now, a Texas state representative offers more clarity. Republican Debbie Riddle has proposed a bill that creates harsh punishments for those who hire illegal immigrants. House Bill 1202 calls for up to two years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
So far, so good. We’ll never stop illegal immigration until we start tackling it at the root by going after U.S. employers.
But wait. There’s a loophole in Riddle’s bill: The person doing the hiring has to be acting «intentionally, knowingly or recklessly.» That’s too many adverbs for me. You’ll note that hiring an illegal immigrant is already a federal offense under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, but one of the reasons that the law’s employer sanctions are rarely enforced is because — under the statute — an employer has to act «knowingly,» and that’s hard for a prosecutor to prove.
So, for 25 years, employers caught red-handed hiring illegal immigrants have claimed not to know what they were doing.
And, in the provision of Riddle’s proposal that is causing the most outrage, there is also an odd exemption: The person hiring an illegal immigrant is in the clear if he or she is doing so «for the purpose of obtaining labor or other work to be performed exclusively or primarily at a single-family residence.»