America is a land made up of immigrants. From the time of the first Pilgrims to refugees from war and famine and political unrest worldwide, this country has always opened its doors to those in need and those who want an opportunity to live free. Times have changed. Especially since 9/11, immigration- legal immigration- into America has slowed to a trickle. But, illegal immigration continues perhaps because our borders are restricted to those who have a good education, the prospect of jobs or can contribute to the economic success of the U.S. Now, there is a rise in illegal immigration, especially along our Southwestern borders in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. These are “undocumented” aliens, who come to try to find some sort of low level jobs. They often come with families, with a lack of education, little or no marketable skills, and even with criminal records.
Illegal immigration is not only an American problem. Africans are streaming into France, and Spain, Slavs into Italy, and Pakistanis into Great Britain. But, for the purposes of this examination, we will stick to illegal immigration into the US.
What we need to consider include (1) Should immigration laws be eased to allow more economically-deprived people into this country? (2) Should more resources be used (dollars, and enforcement) to (a) plug the holes where illegals now cross and (b) root out illegals and return them to their native countries? And, (3) Should those undocumented illegals who have found decent jobs and are an economic impact be permitted to remain and opt for citizenship? And (4) what is the economic impact of illegal immigrants?
When discussing illegal immigrations, we are not discussing a small number. Here is what the Federation for American Immigration reform publishes as its latest statistics: “FAIR estimates there are between 10-12 million illegal aliens residing in the country in 2005. According to the Census Bureau, there were an estimated 8.7 million illegal aliens living in the United States in 2000. According to the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 500,000 illegal aliens are added to that population every year. The immigration authorities also estimate that there are over one million temporary illegal aliens, such as seasonal workers, here at any given time” (FAIR 4).
Recently, in Arizona and New Mexico, the problems with illegal immigrants, and not enough border patrol to contain them escalated into a plea for help from the Federal government. “Last week, both governors declared states of emergency for counties along their states’ borders with Mexico. Local authorities said they needed emergency money to deal with situations as diverse as goading cattle back to watering holes frequented by migrants and storing bodies after smugglers’ vans crash on the highway…Responding to protests from state leaders in the Southwest, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has offered tighter coordination between federal agencies and police in Arizona and New Mexico to deal with problems caused by illegal immigration” (Bodzin A-17).
Despite the rising cost of safeguarding our borders, returning illegal immigrants to their native countries, President Bush has offered a “guest worker” program, where illegal immigrants already here and working, could stay under certain restrictions. Politicians refer to this program as “Mexicaid.” “Under the Bush plan, illegals would be designated “guest workers” for a period of six years, after which they supposedly would be required to return to their home countries and apply for legal readmission into the United States. As pertains to illegal; immigrants from Mexico, this would be tantamount to unconditional amnesty, given that the U.S./Mexico/Canada “Security and Prosperity Partnership” (SPP) is slated to be completed by 2010 – a year before Mexican illegals would supposedly be required to leave” (Anon 8).
In the mid-1960s, an Immigration law eased the way into the U.S. by those wishing to immigrate. But, when so many came, there were a number of measures taken to declare the Act discriminatory. And so, as legal immigration became harder, illegal immigration flourished. “Efforts to reform the law and decrease the influx of illegal aliens during the 1980’s-90’s were largely unsuccessful. Uncontrolled immigration has led to wider disparities in income, education, and health care and added to the welfare burden, especially in such states as California, Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois” (Goldsborough 89)..
One thing to be considered, especially when discussing returning illegals once they enter, is finding places to detain them. “Testimony at a recent congressional hearing and a report to House members said the lack of detention space to hold this growing category of illegal immigrants means 70 percent of them remain free until deportation. Most disappear into the United States. Last week, Congress passed a homeland security bill that included funding for 2,300 more detention beds. This brings the total to 20,300, which is 3,750 fewer than the Sept. 11 commission wanted. Long an issue between the United States and Mexico, the international scope of illegal immigration has grown substantially since 1997” (Blank 3).
Stemming the tide of illegal immigration is expensive. Proof came just this past week: “On Tuesday, Bush signed a $30.8-billion domestic security bill that includes money to hire new Border Patrol agents, improve border technology and intelligence capabilities and build more Border Patrol stations and better fencing. To please the business community and to appeal to moderate Republican legislators, the president reiterated his support for a guest worker program that would allow illegal immigrants, some already working here, to obtain a working permit for as long as six years before returning home” (LA TIMES ed. Desk 2).
In case one thinks that the drive to curb illegal immigration is something Hispanic Americans are fighting, one would be wrong. In a recent article, one startling fact emerged: “Even as more Latinos protest the border patrols, the Friends of the Border Patrol, a small but vocal group of Hispanics are taking a hard line against illegal immigration. The participation of Latinos in the anti-immigrant movement remains atypical, but nonetheless stands as a reminder of how Hispanics are taking a variety of roles in the ever louder debate about immigration” (Delson 19).
One has to take a moment and also consider that not only Hispanics from Mexico, Central and South America are entering illegally. Since the end of the Vietnamese War more and more South Asians- from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar have tried to escape political and economic problems in their native lands. While many have been allowed to enter legally, there are untold thousands who were smuggled in, often from Canada, especially Vancouver and British Columbia which has a large Asian population.
One also needs to take a closer look at the economic impact of illegal workers. For the most part, they are unskilled laborers, many migrant farm workers, others willing to take on low-paying jobs that even American minorities may not want- everything from trash hauling to fast-food restaurant kitchen help. So, it is difficult to properly answer the comment that illegals are taking away “good American jobs” from legal citizens who need them.
“It’s one of the most frequently voiced concerns about illegal immigrants:
They’re taking our jobs….And when illegal immigrants from poorer countries will work for less pay or, in the case of some, for cash under the table, allowing employers to avoid payroll taxes workers already here are at a significant disadvantage…The impact is greatest among workers in fields classified as “low-skilled’ agriculture, the service industry and some forms of construction work” (Shockstill 8).
We need to face some real-life facts: There are many low-profit industries (agriculture for one) that depend on the lowest possible type of worker- guest, illegal, or documented. “Immigration, however, is very different from what this image suggests. The labor market is not designed for any specific level of immigration, or even a specific number of unskilled jobs. It is not a static system, but rather a dynamic one that responds to price signals and substitutes factors of production when appropriate… Of course, this is cold comfort to those employers who have relied on the expectation of continued non-enforcement of the immigration law, and they can be expected to fight efforts to restrict the flow of foreign labor” (Krikorian 72).
There are many more problems than economic ones, but that is the one most experts seem to focus on. Even with the proposed Bush Guest Worker program, there are many who try to explain the consequences of open immigration: “That way of looking at immigration, penned by the late economist Garrett Hardin in 1974, is no doubt too alarmist. But part of me fears that Hardin may be partly right-that in the long run, the massive legal and illegal immigration of the world’s poor, huddled masses will swamp our nation’s prosperity Metaphorically each rich nation can be seen as a lifeboat…. In the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world…. What should the lifeboat passengers do? … Suppose the 50 of us in the lifeboat see 100 others swimming in the water outside, begging for admission to our boat…. We could take them all into our boat, making a total of 150 in a boat designed for 60. The boat swamps, everyone drowns. Complete justice, complete catastrophe” (Taylor 146).
Economists aside, a Gallup poll shows that most Americans don’t want illegal immigrants to remain and work. “Two-thirds of Americans are convinced that immigration mostly hurts the US economy by driving wages down, and three-quarters say that the US should not make it easier for illegal immigrants to become US citizens. A majority also opposes the recently proposed Bush administration plan that would allow some illegal immigrants in the US to stay in this country if they took jobs that citizens did not want” (Newport 11). Are they taking “our” jobs? As was mentioned earlier, illlegals are doing the dirty work most Americans don’t want, and they are willing to work at the lowest possible wage levels.
What about the children illegals bring with them? There is major problem in many states where such undocumented families want to go to school. Who pays for the education, since their parents are not legal tax payers? And, what is the cost in English-As-A-Second Language courses in everything from Spanish (various dialects) to Vietnamese, Annamese, Thai, Tagalog, and various Chinese dialects? There are the negative people who say “Why bother teaching these kids, because who knows where they’ll be next year?” Others, of course, are willing to shoulder the burden, saying that children should not be deprived because of the illegal actions of their parents. This is a truly unresolved issue that will linger for some time.
And Health Care? Many illegal men bring their pregnant wives so their child can be born in, and be, an American. Who pays for neonatal care, pediatrics, and any complications?
During the special election in California, another issue that separated liberals from conservatives was granting aliens (illegal or otherwise) the ability to obtain a driver’s license. The excuse was simply “They’re driving around now, anyway, without a license and without insurance.”
While some crackdown on illegal aliens infuriates those of the same ethnic backgrounds, with some exceptions as I have shown earlier) nevertheless, the cost of illegal immigrants is too high .. It is simple economics that is causing restrictive measures to be strengthened. Here’s one reason why: “Illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes but do consume government services, especially medical care and education. …Senator Dianne Feinstein of California estimates medical costs for illegal immigrants are running about $1 billion a year in her state” (Colvin 44)…
Why should one be against allowing the poor from other countries to find their way into our country for even the lowest paying jobs? The fact lies in the very title of the subject ILLEGAL Immigration. ILLEGAL. It is against the law to enter the U.S. without a valid visa or passport. It is illegal for so-called coyotes to smuggle busloads of Mexicans and Central American men, women and children through loosely-guarded borders..
The law aside, why should honest citizen tax-payers spent billions for everything from health care to education, to welfare and housing for people who entered the country surreptitiously and without any need from American businessmen to have them here. Has America is a compassionate land. But, the buck has to stop somewhere. We cannot be the country of last resort for everyone who fears political problems, economic downturn or religious persecution. There isn’t a day that people still try to sneak into America by boat from Cuba or Haiti, smuggled in containers from Thailand and Myanmar and Vietnam, and even from both Chinas..
The excuse by some, farmers in California for example, who love these off-the-tax rolls workers they can pay low wages, or others that we should show some compassion, are baseless. There are unemployed workers- men and women- who are citizens, who came here legally or were born here, who need living wages and decent jobs. To abandon them in order to save a few dollars per worker by fast food chains and other low-skilled industries is unfair and inhuman, and- frankly, un-American.
If the Administration so wishes to hire “guest workers”, then this should be done on a strictly limited and tightly controlled atmosphere, which means- when their “terms of work” are over, they MUST return to their native countries. While we should be proud of equal opportunity (in law if not in actual practice) that opportunity should be reserved first and foremost for citizens who have earned those rights.
We cannot be all things to all people, We cannot be compassionate to those who disrespect the law, and who use working in the U.S. simply as an excuse to earn some money and then return, without paying taxes and often at the doors of welfare officers and hospitals, then either return home (to try again) or hide in the teeming barrios of the Illegals.
Blank, Chris: “Deportation often an empty threat, as illegal immigration rises” The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) (via Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service), Oct 17, 2005.
Bodzin, Steven: : “U.S. Responds to Governors’ Illegal Immigration Appeals
New Mexico and Arizona, which declared states of emergency, are promised better coordination with federal agencies” Los Angeles TIMES, Aug. 24, 2005
Colvin, Jeffrey: “Introducing the New Third Rail: Immigration” New York: FORTUNE, Jan 12, 2004
Delson, Jennifer: “Divided Over Immigration” Washington DC: Hispanic Oct 2005.Vol.18, Iss. 10;
Editorial Desk: “THE POLITICS OF IMMIGRATION Broken border, broken record” LA TIMES, October 22, 2005
Goldsborough, James: “Out of Control Immigration” Foreign Affairs 2000 79(5):
Krikorian, Mark: “Borderlilne Insanity” Washnin gton D.C.: National Interest Quarterly, Spring 2005
Newport, Tom: “Americans Worried About Economy….Majority Says Immigrants hurt Economy” Gallup Tuesday Morning Briefing, Jan., 2004
Schockstill, Charles: “force in U.S. labor market Immigrants vs. natives a complex dilemma” San Bernardino SUN October 29, 2005
Taylor, Stuart W. “Bush Immigration Plan: A Step in the Right Direction” Washington D.C.: National Journal. : Jan 17, 2004.Vol.36, Iss. 3;
Anonymous author: “Mexicaid” Appleton WS: The New American. : Oct 17, 2005.Vol.21, Iss. 21
Anonymous author: “U.S. Immigration Policy Washington DC: Federation for American Immigration Reform www.fairus.org/site/ PageServer?pagename=iic_immigrationissuecenters7443