There is no doubt that our immigration system has been a complete failure. Currently, more than 11 million immigrants are living in the United States illegally.
Neither party can escape the blame for this failure. Both Democrats and Republicans have benefitted from the broken system, by either seeking to enhance their electoral base, or reaping the benefits of cheap labor.
Immigration reform was a popular platform for President Donald J. Trump in his 2016 campaign. Trump’s hardline position included mass deportations, a temporary ban on Muslim immigration and a border wall paid for by Mexico. But recently, even some of the most staunch supporters of Trump’s immigration policy took pause when the current administration ended the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in September 2017.
Ironically, many of the most vocal supporters of mass deportation are often the same ones who looked away when immigrants crossed our borders, because they were in need of their services.
It is ludicrous and unjust to think that we can summarily expel 11 million inhabitants, most of whom have families and deep roots within our society. Nor can we continue to ignore the fact that at least 11 million people have broken the law that has, for centuries, been followed by other immigrants who also sought opportunity and refuge in our great nation, but who followed the legal path to citizenship.
“People who want their immigration laws enforced are not racists. They are patriotic Americans of all backgrounds, who want their jobs and families protected.” ~ President Donald J. Trump
Our immigration laws were constructed with purpose; they allow an orderly entrance into America, prevent criminals from entering our borders, and the means and time for immigrants to learn our language, history, and culture for assimilation 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 remain 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. A growing number of Americans believe that immigration reform is required 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.
Facts and Myths
Before addressing the issue of immigration reform, we must first examine a few 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. Further, undocumented immigrant workers and their employers contributed $13 billion in payroll taxes in 2010 (the most current estimate). Of the nearly 8 million that are estimated to be in the workforce as of 2014, nearly half paid Social Security taxes, even though they are not eligible to collect benefits.
Another general misconception is that all undocumented immigrants cannot speak English. Although overall numbers indicate that fifty-percent of immigrants arrive in the U.S. not speaking fluent English, fluency increases with time and in later generations. Second generation fluency has been reported at 91% and third generation at 97%.
It is also a mistaken belief that those who have entered our country illegally make up the greatest percent of incarcerated criminals. According to the National Institute of Corrections, native residents make up the greatest percentage of our prison population.
Another mistaken belief is that illegal immigration is on the rise. However, for the first time, the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. was lower in 2015 than it was at the end of the Great Recession in 2009. The origin countries of unauthorized immigrants also shifted during that time, with the number from Mexico declining and the number from other regions rising. (Pew Research Center estimates.)
This leads us to examine another belief of many Americans, that nearly all undocumented immigrants are of Mexican heritage. Approximately 50% of all undocumented immigrants in the United States are of Mexican heritage. That number is much higher in Arizona (81%), Idaho (87%), and New Mexico (91%).
However, the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico dropped from 6.4 million in 2009 to 5.6 million in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. The number of people caught trying to sneak over the border from Mexico has fallen to the lowest level in 46 years, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics.
Most Americans are not opposed to legal immigration, as our country was founded by immigrants. The problem that most Americans have is with massive, unrestricted, illegal migrations. Such unplanned influxes lead to concentration of settlements, which burden our schools and educational budgets, strain community resources and infrastructures, and tax 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 five-fold.
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.
Secure Our Borders
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 19,437 (2017 data, U.S. Customs and Border Protection). This number is at a nine year low, and President Trump has requested the addition of 15,000 border agents.
In a post 9/11 age when our country endures immigration surge and escalating terrorist threats from abroad, additional manpower is needed to curb unlawful immigration and reduce the threat of a terrorist attack.
A Path to Citizenship
To fulfill citizenship requirements, our President and Congress must devise a fasttrack 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 language mastering requirements.
We cannot allow those who have entered our country legally to be bypassed 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 and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) 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. 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 11 million immigrants into a population of over 326 million people, which is precisely why the need exists to reform the process.
“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.” ~ President Bill Clinton
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.
The White House Position on Immigration Reform
1. Border Security: Securing the Southern and Northern border of the United States takes a combination of physical infrastructure, technology, personnel, resources, authorities, and the ability to close legal loopholes that are exploited by smugglers, traffickers, cartels, criminals and terrorists.
2. DACA Legalization: Provide legal status for DACA recipients and other DACA-eligible illegal immigrants, adjusting the time-frame to encompass a total population of approximately 1.8 million individuals.
3. Protect the Nuclear Family: Protect the nuclear family by emphasizing close familial relationships, ending extended family chain migration.
4. Eliminate Lottery and Repurpose Visas: The Visa Lottery selects individuals at random to come to the United States without consideration of skills, merit or public safety.