Immigrant-baiting is as loathsome as race-baiting, and it is used for the same ugly political purposes. Expelling illegal immigrant children from public schools is self-defeating public policy. So is denying federally funded AIDS treatment for legal immigrants. Both these ideas were dropped from the recent immigration bill, thanks to White House pressure. But that's not enough. The new welfare bill penalizes legal immigrants by curbing access to Medicaid and food stamps. Stigmatizing immigrants by pols playing the blame game cannot be tolerated.

Truth is, the average education of incoming legal immigrants is higher than the average education of the U.S. workforce. Most have the equivalent of a high school diploma. Many have advanced degrees in engineering, science, and math. Where would America's high-tech industry be without immigrants? Immigration also boosts the country's entrepreneurial energy. Immigrant entrepreneurs are revitalizing neighborhoods in cities all over the country.

That doesn't mean there aren't problems. Up to 300,000 illegal immigrants arrive in the U.S. every year, and they tend to be poorly educated. Border states, such as California, bear the financial brunt of educating and providing health care for illegal immigrants, even though it is a federal responsibility to police the borders. Washington must do its job.

It is also time for small businesses and agribusinesses to stop using illegal immigrant labor. California taxpayers bear a financial burden for illegal immigration because California businesses want their low-cost labor. It's as simple as that.

Aging boomers will need all the hard workers they can get to support them in their retirement. Those workers won't be there in 10 or 15 years if the country relies solely on domestic population growth. Accepting the current level of 1 million legal immigrants annually is the right course for America. Changing the mix to include more skilled, educated working-age immigrants might reduce social tensions while raising economic growth for the entire nation. That is something we can discuss. Immigrant-baiting is something we cannot.

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