A Reasonable Approach to Immigration

A Reasonable Approach to Immigration

April 2013 pro-immigration protest at US Capitol. (Source: rt.com)
April 2013 pro-immigration protest at US Capitol. (Source: rt.com)

Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.

G. K. Chesterton

In 1949, a delegation of Native Americans went to Capitol Hill to discuss their conditions with lawmakers. After meeting with Vice President Alben Barkley, the Sioux leader Chief Ben American Horse said to the Barkley, "Be careful with your immigration policies; we were careless with ours."

To say we are a nation of immigrants may be an overused expression; however, it doesn’t discount the realities of who we are as a nation. The 2000 Census Bureau reported that 99% of the American population can trace its ancestry to origins from a foreign country. Despite this realization, immigration remains contentious. Tensions rage between opponents and advocates, especially when discussing the southern US border.

Culture warriors stoke anti-immigrant tensions demagoguing immigrants as “illegals,” making assertions that they mock our customs and traditions. Meanwhile they imply that the immigrants not only all end up on welfare, but that they are also lawbreakers and criminals.

Then there are the cable news channels, who draw the ideological line, devoting countless segments to the border clashes between advocates and minutemen that sit in their pickups with guns on their laps as the American flag flaps in the breeze. Finally, there are provocative border sheriffs like Joe Arpaio who “cuff em up” and deport them, or border states that try to pass restrictive measures, such as "papers, please" and "English only."  

Whether you watch the news or are at the border, the immigration battle has polarized our nation. No matter how we try to balance the need for immigration, the cultural, ethnic, and economic impact has led to complications throughout our history.

Between 1870 and 1920, there was a mass immigration where more than 26 million came to live in the United States. Fear of East Asian and Western European immigrants caused Congress to pass the National Origins Act, which established a quota based on the makeup of Americans. The policy of quotas ended when The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 gave preference based on skills and family relationships, instead of race. Through the early part of our history, the major portion of immigrants came from Europe. By the turn of the twenty first century, the majority of immigrants came from Central and Latin America, where Mexico accounts for over 57% of our immigration demographics.

As more immigrants came from Latin America, cries to curb immigration grew louder. As a result, Congress passed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which granted amnesty for those in the country before 1982, in return for border security and stiff penalties for businesses hiring undocumented workers.

This compromise was in the hope that those here illegally would "come out of the shadows," pay taxes, and become citizens under the belief that stringent border enforcement would deter people to enter illegally.

However, this did not curb illegal immigration. Although three million undocumented immigrants applied for legal status as a result of the passage of IRCA in 1986, by 2012 it is estimated that 10.8 million undocumented immigrants are living in the U.S. today.

This is one of the main reasons that there is vehement opposition among conservatives who believe any reform would be a repeat of the 1986 bill.

However, those on the left are fighting back, not only demanding a broader bill than the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, but also advocating for a provision that would allow gay couples to sponsor their spouses or partners for a visa, which had previously been prohibited by the Defense of Marriage Act. However, family reunification is contentious, and conservatives say they will veto such a bill. Although the current bill allows legal citizens to bring over family members, it makes it difficult for siblings to obtain a visa.

Then there are disputes between labor and the pro-reform business groups. Industries, such as construction, are unhappy with guest worker programs and the wages they must pay.

As someone of Caribbean descent, I believe there should be a "pathway to citizenship." However, I am skeptical of advocates who are pushing for comprehensive reform without thoroughly addressing everyone's concerns.

Where are the town hall debates and meetings with our Congressional representatives addressing the fears and worries about a comprehensive immigration bill? I believe the debate has been hijacked by partisans and special interests, instead of evaluating the benefits and mistakes of past immigration bills.

It wasn't just Republicans but Democrats who clamored for a Free Trade Agreement, which allowed corporations to plunder, exploit foreign workers, and put Third World countries into devastating poverty. All of this created an environment which made many immigrants feel the need to build a better life elsewhere.

If we ever are going to solve the immigration problem, we need to demand from the Mexican government the same empathy for immigrants that they demand from us.

Mexico's government has filed numerous lawsuits in order to force states to relax their border restrictions; meanwhile, they have some of the most stringent immigration policies in the world. Former President Felipe Calderón has condemned us for putting up measures to keep their citizens out; meanwhile, the Guatemalan government has severely criticized Mexico for planning to construct a wall on their southern border that prevents people from immigrating into their country.

I believe there should be a "pathway to citizenship." It does no one any good to keep someone in non-citizen status. The faster we make someone a citizen, the faster they become taxpayers and a contributor to the welfare of our country.

I believe we should have restrictions, but spending billions of tax dollars on fences and police is counterproductive. History has shown that fences do little curb illegal immigration. They just encourage people to allow their visas to expire—keeping them in the country.

To curb immigration, we need to build a database and crack down on unscrupulous employers who hire undocumented workers. Since jobs are the fuel that spurs illegal immigration, a policy that verifies every worker in the U.S. would be less costly and effective. Furthermore, instead of border patrols, a more effective system would be to invest in more training for American workers. This would eliminate the excuse that business need to hire foreigners.

An "Invest in America" approach, where Americans get top priority instead of foreign labor, would be a reasonable approach to immigration.