By Roy Eaton
There is no doubt that our immigration policy has been a complete disaster. It is estimated that over the last several decades, between 7 and 20 million immigrants have entered our country illegally, although 10 million is the most widely accepted estimate. Ironically, several of the most vocal among us, who express utter contempt for their presence and wish to immediately expel undocumented individuals from our shores, are often the same ones who looked away when immigrants crossed our borders, because they were in need of their services. Neither political party can escape blame as well, for members among both parties sought to either enhance their electoral base, or reap the benefits of cheap labor.
It is ludicrous and unjust to think that we can expel over 10 million inhabitants, most of whom have families and deep roots within society. Nor can we continue to ignore the fact that at least 10 million people have broken the law that has, for centuries, been followed by immigrants who also sought opportunity and refuge in our great nation, but selected the legal path to citizenship. Our immigration laws were constructed to allow an orderly entrance into America, which included preventing criminals from entering our borders and the means and time for immigrants to learn our language, history, and culture and to assimilate into society. Many believe this massive circumvention of law has strained our judicial and penal systems, has deprived the government of billions of dollars in payroll and income taxes, has strained our healthcare system, and has dire economic and social ramifications yet to be fully realized. Americans are divided on the subject. Some want all immigrants to follow the due course to citizenship, while others believe violators should be deported to their native lands. But, there is a growing number of Americans who believe that immigration reform is required to properly address the non-citizen issue in order to expeditiously direct undocumented individuals toward a simpler, less intimidating path to citizenship, which will allow their wholehearted assimilation into our general population. Before this can occur, most Americans agree that in order to prevent such a mass influx from occurring in the future, government must secure our borders and strictly control migration from foreign lands.
Before I address the issue of immigration reform, I wish to direct attention to a few of the facts and myths pertaining to undocumented immigrants living within our borders. Many Americans believe that those who have entered our country illegally pay no taxes. This is incorrect for a vast majority pay consumer taxes such as sales taxes and property taxes, and between 50-60 percent have payroll taxes deducted from their pay checks. Collectively, undocumented immigrants have contributed over 7 billion to Social Security, even though they are not eligible to collect benefits. It is a general misconception that the majority of undocumented immigrants cannot speak English, for 67% speak our language fluently. It is also a mistaken belief that those who have entered our country illegally make up the greatest percent of incarcerated criminals, because according to the National Institute of Corrections, native residents make up the greatest percent of our prison population. Most Americans believe that nearly all undocumented immigrants are of Mexican heritage. Although they represent the fastest growing segment in our population, only 57% of undocumented immigrants are of Mexican heritage.
During prosperous times, migration from foreign lands is driven by employer demand as people follow the jobs and travel to America, the “land of opportunity.” While economic expansion attracts, periods of economic contraction can slow immigration. It is not unusual to see migrations from specific geographic areas such as those which occurred from Europe during the 19th Century, or from particular countries like Ireland after the “Great Potato Famine” of 1845, when a potato blight destroyed their staple food crop, from China during 1865-1869 to work on our Transcontinental Railroad, and from South Vietnam and Cuba during the last half of the 20th century to escape communist rule and persecution. Because of our shared boundary, America’s previous housing boom, split families living on opposite sides of the border, deplorable living conditions, and drug cartel violence, it is not difficult to understand why such a massive migration from Mexico took place during the latter part of the 20th century and first decade of the 21st century.
I am not condoning illegal entry, but rather trying to explain the aberration that occurred, especially from 2000-2005 when 8 million people migrated to America, 3.7 million of whom entered illegally, a number far greater than during any 5 year period oftime in our history. Although the vast majority of undocumented entrees were from Mexico, large percentages were from Brazil and India.
The United States has been accused, by some nations, of being prejudicial and anti- immigration, which is ironic since America was colonized by immigrants, and in 2006 alone, America accepted more legal migrants than the remaining countries of the world combined. The problems that most Americans have with massive, unrestricted, illegal migrations are real and understandable. Such unplanned influxes lead to concentration of settlements, which burdens our schools and educational budgets, strains community resources and infrastructures, and taxes emergency care centers. It also disrupts our voting processes, and poses serious concerns pertaining to social behavior and crime.
Suggested Immigration Reforms
What must be done to reform illegal immigration is fivefold. First, we must take control of our borders. If we cannot screen and restrict who enters our country, than there is no need to further address the problem, because illegal immigration will remain a rampant, unmanageable problem. Secondly, we must address the path to citizenship for those living within our borders. If undocumented immigrants fear disclosure, they will remain in the shadows, continuing to derive income from unrecorded sources, while failing to properly integrate into society. Thirdly, we must do thorough background checks and expel those who have felonious criminal records. Fourthly, we must economically punish employers who hire undocumented workers. Lastly, we must levy sanctions against countries that attempt to deport felonious citizens to our shores, refuse to abide by our laws of immigration, and fail to readily support our deportation of those who either entered our country illegally or have committed violent crimes while awaiting the granting of U.S. citizenship.
It is estimated that the nautical coastline of America’s 50 states is 12,383 miles. The combined land borders with Mexico and Canada, excluding Alaska, is approximately 3,471 miles, for a total border length of 15,854 miles. The number of U.S. border agents is 21,441, or roughly 1 per 2.2 miles per shift if evenly distributed. But, eighty-six percent of the total force is located on our southern border, leaving 3002 agents to cover 13,921 miles, or one agent per 13.9 miles if evenly distributed per shift. In a post 9/11 age when our country endures immigration surge and escalating terrorists threats from abroad, it is obvious that additional manpower is needed to curb unlawful immigration and reduce the threat of a terrorist attack. Our country has withdrawn from Iraq and is in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan. In 2012, the unemployment rate for returning troops departing from active duty was approximately 13%. Many of these veterans are deactivated national guardsmen who could be assigned to border patrol, which would firm up security, dramatically reduce illegitimate immigration, and lower unemployment.
By executive action, President Obama recently put in place a stop-gap measure which allows illegal immigrants under the age of 30, who have no criminal records, came to this country before the age of 16, are students, or have completed high school, or are vets in good standing, to remain in the country. This is a start, but does not address the remaining members of the families who wish to stay, but live in fear of deportation
To fulfill citizenship requirements, our President and Congress must devise a fast-track method to facilitate and expedite the naturalization process so families can live without fear, and qualified applicants can be properly integrated into our society with an understanding of our culture and history, and a mastering of our language. Comprehensive integration will eliminate the shadow economy that circumvents fair wages and minimizes the chances of securing a decent standard of living and a higher level of education, prerequisites for a human being to develop a sense of security, an enhancement in social standing, and the development of a sense of national pride, requirements for a person to be a productive member of society. In the long term, proper assimilation will reduce the need for Medicaid and increase contributions to our tax base, and to our Social Security, Medicare, and universal health care systems. It will also permit those who have paid payroll taxes to qualify for benefits such as Medicare and Social Security as long as they can prove that they have filed and paid income tax on all prior earnings. It should also include a provision to allow those who have not done so to be given the opportunity to pay back-taxes on unreported income. And, it should provide a provision for allowing the elderly and those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease to be exempt from restrictive languagemastering requirements.
We cannot allow those who have entered our country legally to be by-passed for following the accepted path. Legal and undocumented immigrants without a criminal record should be required, within a three month period, to petition the Federal Government for a Pending Naturalization Certificate. If the background check is clear of felonious conviction here and abroad, a certificate will be issued. Failure to file a petition or disclose a felony conviction will result in the immediate removal of the applicant from our academic systems and from any local, state, and federal assistance programs. Vehicle and professional licenses will be nullified, and proceedings will be expedited to deport felons and non-participating, undocumented immigrants from our borders. Any applicant who is convicted of a felony during the naturalization process will also face immediate deportation.
Applicants who participate in this program will be allowed to remain in school and in any government assistance program in which they are currently enrolled. Under this program, all immigrants will be allowed to seek employment and apply for vehicle and professional licenses, and will be eligible for accelerated citizenship, a one time exception to naturalize those who desire to make America their home.
Unlike the Immigration Reform Bill of 1986 when Congress stripped many of the strong sanctions against employers who hired undocumented immigrants, this legislation must fully address the issue of employment. Employers should be granted three months to check and verify documentation of workers, but will be permitted to hire and keep immigrants who show they have petitioned and been accepted for this accelerated path to naturalization. Employers will receive a one time tax credit based on the number of employees to offset administrative costs incurred during this period of verification. Any employer who cannot show valid documentation after three months will be fined $25,000 for each invalid worker for the first fine, and $50,000 per worker thereafter. The one exception to this rule will apply to hiring talent from abroad in highly technical areas with proven shortages of qualified applicants. Provisional work permits will be granted to employees as long as these workers abide by our laws and receive pay equal to that of their American counterpart.
Applicants failing to gain citizenship through this fast-tracked program will be deported and will not be issued another Pending Naturalization Certificate. Individuals who immigrate from this date forward will not be eligible for a Pending Certificate or the augmented program.
It is not unprecedented to either grant amnesty or invoke exceptions to our Immigration policy. In 1986 President Reagan introduced the Immigration Reform Bill that granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants who entered America before 1982. In the latter half of the 20th century, put in harm’s way by our nation’s political actions, Vietnamese and Cuban immigrants escaping Communist rule and persecution fled to our shores and were rightfully granted refugee status and asylum.
In a 1984 debate with Senator Mondale, President Reagan said of illegal immigrants living within the United States, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”
Although the current number of undocumented people living within our borders is estimated to be at least four times the number in 1984 and their conditions for migration different, the issue is the same. However, it is highly unlikely that Congress will approve an unqualified amnesty, for it alone will not rectify the complex problems associated with naturalizing and integrating 10 million plus immigrants into a population of over 300 million people, which is precisely why the need exists to reform the process.
Bill Clinton said “America has constantly drawn strength from wave after wave of immigrants. They have proven to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative, and the most industrious.” Yes, time has come to introduce meaningful and enforceable immigration reforms that will prevent mass incursions across our borders, deport non-naturalized criminals from our shores, and discourage undesirable migrants from entering our country. But, equally important is the need to formulate a policy that will encourage and allow those who have toiled our land and worked in our factories, raised families and developed deep roots within their communities, enhanced their education and social standing and have a burning desire to make America their acknowledged home, to come forth from the shadows with no fear of reprisal. In doing so, we unify our people, strengthen our economy, and show the nations of the world that the United States continues to be a beacon to those who possess the commendable qualities that have made our country an admired and enviable nation.
Summary to Follow in the Next Issue