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Berman's signature work in the area of citizenship will be his bill requiring candidates for president or vice president of the United States to present their own birth certificates to the Texas Secretary of State before their names can be placed on the ballot in Texas, thus assuring that a foreign-born person will not be able to sneak into either of the two high offices.

King, in the U.S. House, already has signaled that he will introduce immigration bills in Washington parallel to several that Berman and Riddle will bring with them to Austin next January.

If you only knew Berman from his birther bill, you might be surprised by him in person. He does not come across as a Gomer-talking demagogue, at least not at first. A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, son of Latvian immigrants who entered the country through Ellis Island, Berman is genial and speaks with faint echoes of a Northeastern accent. But when he opens his mouth, he does pour out the heart and soul of the region that elects him to the Texas Legislature every two years.

Berman depicts a Texas awash in illegal aliens, the entire state on the verge of sinking beneath their weight. "They're using every emergency room in the state," he says earnestly. "If a Texan actually gets sick or gets injured and needs emergency room care, he's usually sitting in there with a roomful of illegal aliens, waiting and waiting for hours.

"But the hospitals don't charge illegal aliens anything. They get free healthcare. U.S. citizens can't enjoy that benefit."

He describes the burgeoning immigrant population in Texas as if it were anthrax. "You've got one illegal alien that comes in. They've got enough money to buy a rent house. And you get a half-dozen families living in a house. And these people are sending their kids to our schools. They're dumbing down our schools."

He sees the problem in Texas as emblematic of a national crisis. Clearly, Texas is the place to look for leadership, he believes, unlike other more liberal climes that have already humiliated themselves.

"I think Los Angeles is probably governed by illegal aliens right now," he says. "I've heard there are more illegal aliens in Los Angeles than there are Californians."


Berman and Riddle's cause fits on a bumper sticker: Get 'Em Out. The complex case for the moderate side is made of many arguments, but taken one at a time, each can also be direct, persuasive, even simple.

Craig Regelbrugge, whose national group, ACIR, represents labor-intensive agriculture, starts with a simple fact: Most ag workers in this country are foreign citizens, here illegally, working with fake IDs.

But the next thing he says is that his industry is totally dependent on them to harvest certain kinds of crops. Native-born American workers won't do the work, he insists, almost at any wage, certainly not at a wage that would allow American growers to compete with imported products.

"There are somewhere on the order of 1.6 million farm workers who are seriously engaged in agricultural work in the U.S.," he says. "Current estimates are that certainly more than half and probably upward of more than 75 percent of those workers lack proper immigration status."

So if they're not here legally, and it's a crime to hire them, why don't the growers all get arrested? It's a question that has been answered in the courts.

The courts have ruled that if a worker shows an employer credible-looking citizenship documents, the employer breaks no law by hiring him. Regglebrugge says the foreign workers his industry hires all have expertly forged citizenship documents.

Another question: Even if it's legal, why take the risk? Agricultural businesses typically have big loans to pay and must put up with plenty of Vegas-style uncertainty in the matter of weather alone. Why would they volunteer for the additional risk of a big federal roundup of their entire workforce right at harvest time?

"That's a very good question," Regelbrugge says, "and it allows me to dispel a common misconception that farmers somehow prefer the system they have."

He says they hate the system. But farmers have to hire the people with fake IDs or go out of business. It's why they want reform.

"It's pretty much become a settled matter that foreign-born workers are going to be doing much of the agricultural work in this country. Nobody who is informed is really disputing that.

"Anti-immigrant groups will argue that if things were different, wages were higher, and working conditions were different, Americans would do this work."

But Americans, Regelbrugge counters, don't do hard outdoor seasonal work anymore. They will work for less money to work indoors at Walmart or McDonald's.

It's not even about money. "We can all argue about where the cheap-labor line exists," he says. "But the average wage in agriculture is over $10 an hour and substantially higher than the federal minimum wage. Good strawberry pickers can make $18 dollars or $20 an hour."

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Jim Schutze
Contact: Jim Schutze