Our immigration system has been broken for years, and the Bush Administration let the situation fester. Bush was beholden to the corporations that wanted cheap labor, and the Republican Party was held hostage by anti-immigrant ideologues who thrive on fear and xenophobia. We must get beyond demagoguery to deal with the real problems.
Our immigration system is broken and can only be fixed by comprehensive reform that benefits both foreign and native born workers. We need to protect our borders, crack down on corporations that hire illegal workers for cheap labor, and require immigrants who are here to register and meet a series of strict requirements to earn citizenship.
By enforcing existing employment laws, we will remove the incentives for employers to hire unauthorized workers. When corporations pay illegal workers low wages and force them to work under miserable conditions, all workers lose as wages come down and basic worker rights are diminished. For most of his term in office, George Bush failed to enforce the law in order to protect the companies that were benefiting from the cheap labor.
We need to turn unauthorized immigrants into taxpaying citizens. We need a commonsense solution that reflects who we are as Americans—a strong but compassionate nation. It’s long past time to stop the mindless fear-mongering.
Conservatives don’t have a realistic solution to this problem; they just want to divide and distract Americans. The idea that we can arrest and deport 12 million immigrants is absurd—and they know it. That would be almost like rounding up every living soul in New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts combined). That’s five times more than the number of inmates incarcerated in every prison and jail in the nation.
The Right is Wrong
Opponents argue that progressive plans are just a fancy way of saying amnesty. They say we can’t reward those who have broken the law. But in fact, progressive legislation would only reward immigrants who follow the rules and earn citizenship. Conservatives say they’re against illegal immigration, but they don’t have any practical solutions. If you’re really against illegal immigration, this is the only way to solve the problem.
Opponents argue that law-abiding citizens are losing money because we’re paying for social services for illegal immigrants. But in fact, unauthorized immigrant workers pay taxes on their paychecks—and can’t get refunds that they would otherwise be owed. They are ineligible for nearly all government services. And services they might receive, like police protection or treating an infectious disease at a hospital emergency room, tend to make us all more secure.
Opponents argue that immigrants are refusing to learn English and changing our national culture. But in fact, recent immigrants are not acting any different than all our immigrant ancestors did. It takes time, but they are fitting in, working hard, strengthening communities, and building a better future for all.
We must create an immigration system that protects both foreign and native born workers, and at the same time guarantees the security of our nation without compromising our fundamental civil rights and civil liberties. We can do this if we:
- Enforce our employment laws to remove incentives for companies to hire illegal workers and stop allowing employers to turn full-time, permanent, year-round jobs into temporary jobs under guest-worker programs.
- Spend the resources necessary to gain control of our borders.
- Provide a path to citizenship for the unauthorized workers here who have worked hard, paid taxes, and made positive contributions to their communities.
- Reverse international policies that contribute to the misery that forces people to leave their homes. Reform our trade policies so they raise, rather than lower, living standards for workers everywhere. And engage Mexico on ways to make that country’s economy work.
America’s immigration system is broken. About 12 million people live in the U.S. without authorization. Before 2008, about 500,000 illegally entered the U.S. every year. [Pew Hispanic Center]
Nearly half of illegal immigrants crossed the border legally. As many as 45 percent entered the U.S. with a legal visa and then stayed when the visa expired. A smaller number entered legally using a Border Crossing Card that allows short visits to the border region. [Pew Hispanic Center] So even if an impregnable wall could be built along our nearly 2,000-mile-long border with Mexico, it would have only a limited effect.
The people affected by any change in immigration policy are not just Mexicans; many, in fact, are American citizens. While 76 percent of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants are Hispanic, only 59 percent are from Mexico. [Pew Hispanic Center] And despite the status of their parents, 73 percent of the children of unauthorized immigrants were born in this country and so are U.S. citizens. [Pew Hispanic Center] Therefore, many of the harsh proposals offered as solutions would be ineffective or would devastate innocent children.
Unauthorized immigrants pay taxes and contribute to our economy. It is estimated that unauthorized workers paid nearly $50 billion in federal taxes between 1996 and 2003. [Drum Major Institute] Between one-half and three-quarters of unauthorized immigrant workers pay federal and state income taxes, Social Security taxes, and Medicare taxes. [Immigration Policy Center] Even low estimates put unauthorized immigrants’ contribution to the nation’s GDP at $428 billion a year. [Associated Press]
Without major reforms, immigration authorities cannot fix the problem. Despite the fact that the budget for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency grew from $3.7 billion in 2004 to $5.1 billion in 2008, the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States increased during that period by more than 30 percent. [Department of Homeland Security, Immigration Statistics]
The idea that we can round up 12 million immigrants is absurd. Conservatives know perfectly well that it is impossible to arrest and deport 12 million people. That would be almost like rounding up every living soul in New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts combined). That’s five times more than the number of inmates incarcerated in every prison and jail in the nation. [Washington Post]
Americans strongly favor immigration reform that provides a path to legal status. Sixty-six percent of Americans believe we are “better off if people who are illegal become legal taxpayers so they pay their fair share,” while only 23 percent believe we are “better off if people who are illegal left the country because they are taking away jobs that Americans need.” [America’s Voice] Similarly, 61 percent support giving illegal immigrants “the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements,” according to ABC News. That’s up from 49 percent in 2007. [ABC News/Washington Post Poll]
Americans think immigration is a good thing.
“On the whole, do you think immigration is a good thing or a bad thing for this country today?”
Good thing 64%
Bad thing 30%
No opinion 2%
Gallup Poll, June 5-July 6, 2008
The public believes that illegal immigrants are not taking jobs Americans want.
“Which comes closer to your view, illegal immigrants mostly take jobs that American workers want, or illegal immigrants mostly take low-paying jobs Americans don’t want?”
Take jobs American workers want 15%
Take low-paying jobs American workers don’t want 79%
Neither/both/no opinion 7%
Gallup Poll, June 5-July 6, 2008
Two-thirds think illegal immigrants should become legal rather than be deported.
66% of Americans believe we are “Better off if people who are illegal become legal taxpayers so they pay their fair share” while only 23% believe we are “Better off if people who are illegal left the country because they are taking away jobs that Americans need.”
America’s Voice: Immigration, BSG, February 19, 2009
Support is rapidly growing for creating a path toward legalizing unauthorized immigrants.
61% of Americans support giving illegal immigrants “the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements.” That’s up from 49 percent in 2007.
Over the past two years, support for legalization is up 9% among Democrats, 17% among Republicans, and 14% among Independents.
ABC News/Washington Post poll, Thursday, April 30, 2009
Rep. Tom Tancredo is the loudest anti-immigrant zealot – except when it comes to his home. Undocumented immigrants helped remodel U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo's Littleton basement, two of the workers told the Denver Post.
The workers said they were among a crew of five or six people who labored for contractor Creative Drywall Design of Denver, creating a home theater with terraced seating, a billiards table and game area, and a bedroom for Tancredo, a Republican and one of the nation's most vocal immigration critics. All but one of the crew were undocumented immigrants from Latin America, according to two of the workers…Tancredo didn't break any laws, according to immigration lawyers briefed on the case. He never asked whether the workers – only two of whom spoke English – were in the country legally, said Eric Givan, project manager for the company…
… Tancredo "doesn't want us here, but he'll take advantage of our sweat and our labor," said one of the workers. "It's just not right." [Denver Post, September 19, 2002]
An immigration raid at a major North Carolina pork-packing plant provoked protests yesterday from union officials, who said the company, Smithfield Foods, had collaborated with the authorities searching for illegal immigrants to discourage its workers from organizing. 18 Mexicans and 3 Guatemalans whom the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers said were in this country illegally were deported. Gene Bruskin, an organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said the company had started to cooperate closely with immigration authorities after a walkout by immigrant workers last summer. He said, “My concern is the company is using the immigration issue to manipulate this long fight over workers’ rights.” [New York Times, January 26, 2007]