The problem with immigration is that too many people think there is one problem with immigration. Therefore, most of the solutions that are proposed are generally insipid. That’s why they would do little to nothing to actually fix the immigration system, which is beyond broken, for dozens, if not hundreds, of reasons.
It is estimated that as many as 11-12 million undocumented immigrants live in this country, although the number could be even higher than that. You don’t get to 12 million because people are streaming over the southern border. If that many people were doing so, they would hardly be able to do so “undetected.” According to most estimates, just over half of those who are here without documentation are from points south in our hemisphere. And no, they’re not streaming over our northern border, either; the Canadian standard of living has pretty much overtaken ours. There are probably more people from the US streaming into Canada than the other way around. Unless they/re in show business.
So, why do we have so many undocumented immigrants in this country? Where do I start?
There are a lot of jobs here that Americans simply don’t want to do.* (note the asterisk)
I know a lot of people really hate hearing/reading this, but it’s actually quite true. Go ahead and try to hire an American nanny or housekeeper for what you can afford to pay. Ask the manager or owner of any fast food outlet how hard it is to find people who are willing to work their asses off for less than $8 per hour. Even at higher wages, there are many jobs that Americans simply won’t line up to take, while Latinos and Asians will do them happily. Ask the growers in a couple of red states that thought they were doing something smart by restricting work by Latinos. Those growers couldn’t find enough people to pick their crops, even at a rate of $15 per hour, and many of them had to be plowed under. They would bring them in on buses, only to find that most would quit within hours and hitchhike home. Americans don’t want to pick fruit and vegetables.
*This is not a problem unique to the United States. Most industrialized countries have this problem, and they have developed strong guest worker programs that invite immigrants into the country to pick fruits and vegetables or do day labor. In return, they get free or subsidized room and board and many of them are rewarded with the opportunity to stay longer. We have a few small programs like that, but mostly, the attitude is, “either they come here legally, or we throw them back.”
That said, increasing the minimum wage to something livable would alleviate some of the problem. Americans tend to be more productive, and they would have a much better attitude about their job, and would make the hiring of undocumented immigrants much less appealing. It would also make it more likely that Americans would turn in more employers who hire such workers in order to save money.
Our immigration quotas are arbitrary and actually encourage people to remain here illegally.
Yes, that’s right. Most people who are here illegally really didn’t have a choice to come here or stay here legally. Allow me to explain.
Contrary to what most people seem to believe, our immigration system is incredibly complicated and convoluted. It is not a matter of coming here on a visa, deciding you’d like to stay and then heading to an ICE office to fill out a few forms. I know that’s what many right wingers think is the case, but it’s not nearly that simple. Actually, because of the way the law is written, coming here legally is damned near impossible.
For example, there are a number of arbitrary quotas in place, and the system plays favorites. I wonder how many people realize, for example, that the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), which was passed at the height of our isolationism during the Cold War in 1952, limits the annual number of legal entrants into this country (not tourist visas) to 675,000. That’s not an amount per country, that’s for all immigrants from the entire world. And most of those available visas (about 480,000) are apportioned to family members of US citizens. That means very few are left for anyone else to get. In fact, a maximum of 140,000 work visas are granted every year, and only 10-15,000 of those are for skilled and unskilled laborers. Our quota system is so pathetic, there is a limit of 10,000 visas a year for those immigrants who come here with $500,000-$1 million to start a business that hires at least 10 US workers. Now, why would we want to discourage economic development to that extent? (Source)
Think about those numbers within the context of a nation with a population of 310 million people. Now do you understand why there are so many undocumented immigrants? Here’s a clue; most don’t scramble over the border between crossings to get here. Most walk over the border legally, or fly here from other countries on tourist visas, and they end up staying, because there is no other choice available for them. In other words, many of the people who come here would like to come here legally, and become Americans, but the law, as written, simply won’t allow it.
This is why presidents from Nixon to Obama, have had to use their executive power to deal with reality. These folks are here to work, and they are a necessary cog in our economic development. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t make it possible for them to operate within our legal system. These quotas do not reflect reality, and actually do not serve anyone.
Penalizing businesses that hire undocumented workers would not solve the problem.
There’s a school of thought in which it is reasoned that rounding up scofflaw business owners who hire these immigrants would solve the problem. That’s just silly. As noted, some businesses need workers and the law as written, forces immigrant workers to stay here illegally.
In fact, such a move could simply drive the problem further underground. A lot of states have these laws on the books already, but we know from experience that law enforcement loves nothing more than a show. They would only go after the smallest businesses and the brownest workers who need the money the most. Many of the immigrants who are here and working illegally have high-level, highly skilled jobs and are very white, so they, um, “blend in.” But law enforcement won’t even look at them.
We all know Joe Arpaio wouldn’t shut down construction work on a housing development or an office complex in “Salt Lake Mesa,” and we also know Jan Brewer would never allow a medical company to be sanctioned or charged because they hired a couple of Irish MRI technicians? They’re going to go after a mom and pop restaurant for a couple of Latino busboys. And in doing so, they will only benefit organized crime, who probably already do a bang-up business providing false paperwork right now.
I’m picking on Arizona for a reason. That state already has such a law on the books, that requires heavy fines and strong sanctions against employers who hire these folks, but instead of enforcing that law, they essentially chose to instead harass everyone who “looked like an illegal” with their “Papers, Please” law.
Arresting, prosecuting and deporting 11-12 million people isn’t even within the realm of possibility.
I know there are many right wingers who harbor fantasies that the government (more accurately, Obama!) can simply round up all 11-12 million “illegals” and send them back to Mexico, which is where they think all of them come from. But that’s just pure insanity. Deportations under Obama are up about 80%, and he’s still only dealing with the tip of a huge proverbial iceberg. Yet the courts available to deal with the undocumented immigrants already in the system are already so clogged that they have stopped setting hearing dates in many cases, and those that have been set often happen five or more years in the future.
If you could set up 1000 courtrooms and find 1000 judges to man them, and each could handle 50 cases per day, you might be able to knock these out in a few years. But you’d also have to shut down the rest of the judicial system. We also don’t have the space to detain that many people, especially in California and Texas, whose prisons are already considered overcrowded.
Republicans talk a great game, but they largely ignore the problems or make them worse.
My favorite right wing argument against Obama’s decision to act unilaterally is the one where they suggest he “work with Congress on a bipartisan bill.” He did that. The Senate passed a bill with 68 votes that is lacking, but it’s far more comprehensive than Obama’s actions will be. But Republicans in the House won’t even consider it.
They call everything “amnesty” and condemn it, but their complete inaction actually creates a virtual amnesty situation right now. They don’t address any of the problems with our arbitrary immigration protocols, they don’t take into account any of the legal flaws in our immigration system, and they operate under the delusion that we can somehow deport all 11-12 million people. To make matters worse, they keep cutting the already-strapped budget for dealing with immigration issues, based on their pretend concern for “deficits.” Strangely, all of the “solutions” they propose would actually cost a hell of a lot more than simply acknowledging the necessary economic value they bring and figuring out a way to keep the good ones here.
Our immigration system is messed up, and there are hundreds of problems with it. The basis for these laws is arbitrary and capricious, and does not reflect realities in any way. Obama’s measures won’t fix all of the problems with immigration, but it wil at least return us to treating these humans as, well, human. And that’s a start.