The illegal immigration debate in the United States has included many reform proposals over the past several years. It has also included a troublesome level of histrionics from all quarters involved. Unfortunately most of the solutions offered to date have been for the purpose of ameliorating the symptoms of this problem and not the source. What actually is the cause of this illegal immigration influx? Too often we choose to focus on solutions before we actually understand the problem. I will begin this article by identifying and defining the true cause of this current illegal immigration wave. Then I will detail the simple solution that I feel will solve this problem. Next I will propose steps that I feel we should take to deal with the illegal immigrants already residing in the United States. Finally I will reveal an underlying issue that I believe drives all of the over the top controversy surrounding this situation. Hopefully I will be able to shed a clearer light on this dilemma by the end of my article.
Why is this wave of Mexican and other Latin American immigrants fleeing to the United States? Clearly it is for better and more plentiful jobs . Businessmen are always looking to optimize their profits by cutting costs. Their largest cost is usually labor. The normal hourly wages in the countries of these immigrants are significantly below the U.S. minimum wage. Jobs are also not as numerous in their native countries as they are in the United States. Therefore many of the citizens of these countries come here for more lucrative employment. Employers in the U.S. are often willing to employ these workers at or more likely below minimum wage without benefits. They pay them in cash and look the other way as far as asking them for proof of citizenship or legal status. These conditions make the illegal immigrant dilemma basically one of supply and demand.
So how best to address this problem? There are basically two ways. You can attempt to cut off the supply of illegal workers by a few means. The most prominent of these is beefing up security along the border or building a very long and very high fence. These processes never work to any significant degree. They can make it harder to cross the border and easier to catch those attempting to cross illegally. But these methods will never fully work when there are more lucrative jobs to be found in the United States. The same argument has been used for illegal drug control and we know how successful that fight has been.
I believe that the only solution that has a chance of success is to control the demand for illegal immigrant workers. The best way to do this is by making the oversight and penalties for hiring these workers so onerous that continuing the practice would be impractical and more importantly uneconomical. The minimum wage is already a wage that is below the poverty line. Why do these employers feel the need to seek out these workers to work for a lower wage? The answer is pure and simple greed. Government authorities should impose punitive economic penalties for first time offending companies that visibly hurt their business. This will send a clear message that this business practice will not be tolerated. A second offense would provide for a stiffer fine and probationary time. Finally, a third offense will be considered three strikes and your out. A mandatory jail sentence for the owners would be imposed along with the company being shut down.
Now what if these employers started playing by the rules but could not find enough U.S. citizens to perform the jobs they needed to be filled. I believe that we should dramatically revamp and expand our work visa program or adopt a new guest worker program such as the one President George W. Bush proposed in 2008. These programs should be designed in a way where employers could prove a business hardship and be allowed to obtain legal work visas for the foreign workers they require. They would need to rigorously prove this hardship with extensive documentation regarding their employee search within the United States. This way employers would be able to obtain the workers they needed legally while employing them at a working minimum wage with benefits where legally required. The American government would have the advantage of knowing which foreign workers were residing in the United States and where. Public health as well as national and local security would be protected much more efficiently than under the current chaotic system. These foreign workers would also now be on the tax rolls easing the strain on municipal resources by expanding the tax base. These workers would also have much greater personal security living above board and out in the open. This new and expanded work visa program would be a win win for all parties involved.
I would like to turn now to the subject of what to do with the many millions of illegal immigrants already living in the United States. Hard liners would have federal and local authorities hunt down, arrest, and deport all of these immigrants. This is highly impractical, expensive, and probably impossible. Simply legalizing these immigrants through a blanket amnesty would be unfair to those who went through the naturalization process legally. It would also be a dead on arrival proposal politically. Ignoring the problem and just allowing these immigrants to remain living in the shadows of our society is unjust and dangerous. So what should we do?
My Immigration Reform plan would be quite similar to the bill introduced in April of 2006 by Senator Arlen Specter and sponsored by several other Republican senators. Their plan would have increased work visas from 65,000 to 115,000 a year with an annual 20% increase. Increased border security and a path to citizenship were also included in this bill. I would instead increase the level of work visas to whatever levels employers required as long as they could be properly document their needs. The workers who would get these visas would have to prove they were in the United States and working for an American employer for the prior three years. They would also have to be sponsored by that employer who has documented his or her need for the immigrant's services. A criminal record would automatically invalidate their application. This way these illegal immigrants with employment and roots in the community would be able to stay and live here without fear and continue to be productive. Employers would be ensured of the stable workforce they need.
The 2006 Senate plan would have given these workers a 6 year work visa. I would limit this to 3 years after which the employer would be required to renew the visas and again prove the need for them. These guest workers would now be allowed to apply for citizenship if they wish but would be placed at the back of the waiting list. This application could only occur after paying a fine and back taxes. All of these provisions would be contingent upon the guest worker remaining gainfully employed without any criminal convictions. Criminal convictions would result in deportation after serving their prescribed prison sentence. This new Immigration Reform system would be beneficial to the United States. Only productive foreign workers would remain. Our tax base would be expanded and only truly hard working people would remain here. All sides win in this scenario.
The final issue I would like to discuss is the proverbial elephant in the room. An underlying issue that most everyone denies exists but one I believe is clearly fueling this argument. This issue is ethnic bigotry. The current public demand for immigration reform did not take off until after the 9/11 terror attacks. There had been complaining about the situation prior to this but there was no great public or political outcry for dealing with it. The fear and loathing that followed those attacks was understandably strong and made securing our borders to protect our security an imperative. I believe that solidifying our security in all areas including our borders was long overdue. But the concentration placed on illegal immigration across the Mexican border became hysterical. This is especially ironic since many of the 9/11 hijackers came across the Canadian border. None of the terrorists came across the Mexican border. Why then did this hysteria develop? American citizens have always had fears and suspicions of newly arrived minority immigrants. The more the new immigrant looks and sounds different compared to the majority of the citizenry, the larger the inner fears will be for that majority.
Discrimination was rampant against the Chinese in the 19th century. This has also been true of Hispanic immigrants from the 19th century onward. It is true that this has also occurred to European immigrants through the course of United States history. But never to the same extent. European immigrants have usually been able to assimilate into American society much easier and faster than other ethnic groups. Native Americans who were already here have still not fully blended into our society. African Americans who were brought here as slaves needed a war, constitutional amendments, and landmark legislation just to get them into the game. The common denominator for all of these groups was and is the fact that they look much different than the majority of the U.S. population. There are currently many illegal immigrants from Russia and other eastern European countries formerly under Soviet control. Illegal Irish immigrants were prevalent in the United States in the 1970's and 1980's due to Northern Ireland violence and a depressed economy. In both of these cases no public outcry was ever heard. I argue that this is because they look like the majority of Americans in the United States. The Immigration Reform bills offered since 2006 have had substantial bipartisan support. The far right wing of the Republican party has blocked these bills each time because their supporters were very outspoken and animated in their opposition to them. Political pandering and cowardice ruled the day. My belief is that these common sense plans have been ultimately defeated because of ethnic xenophobia disguised as outrage over illegality.
The outlines for a successful Immigration Reform Bill are already in place. The only aspects missing are strict enforcement mechanisms that would ensure employer compliance along with enough work visas to satisfy employers' work requirements. Why then has Immigration Reform legislation always failed? It is because of the lack of political courage by elected representatives to do what is right for the United States. Our political climate has been toxic since the Presidential election of 1992 when Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. Political initiatives by either party are now usually met with intense almost irrational opposition. This is true even when the proposed legislation is positive and makes sense to all involved. This is what we are facing here. The Dream Act was proposed to give illegal alien minors conditional permanent residency if they graduated from high school, had no criminal record, and either completed two years at a four year college or completed two years of military service. This sensible and humane act was defeated handily in Congress during the 2010 session. This was further proof that partisan and xenophobic politics currently reign supreme in the United States.
The bottom line is that the Republicans want to block any President Obama initiative regardless of its merit. This is why the Republicans are now opposing immigration reform. They also are doing it because they are pandering to their far right which is in the ascendancy within the Republican party right now. I believe this is disgraceful and unstatesmanlike. The opposition believes that any Immigration Reform plan is an amnesty. Why do they believe this? These workers must pay substantial fines and taxes to work legally here and they must go to the back of the waiting line for citizenship. This plan is only for those working hard and obeying our laws. Besides there is no way to find and deport all of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. today. The plan is practical, compassionate, and purely American. Part of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 reads "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free". It does not read huddled white masses of European descent. These newest immigrants are seeking that same dream and are working very hard to achieve it at enormous personal risk. They want to work at very difficult low paying jobs that very few Americans want to perform. I for one believe in this American dream and wish to see them given a path to achieve it. Anyone willing to sacrifice so much for so little is my kind of American.