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Saturn Smith

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Editor’s Pick
MARCH 24, 2010 1:20PM

The Next Big Reform: Immigration

Rate: 10 Flag
SEIU photo of March for America / CC by NC-SA license

Last week, Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced new legislation to reform current immigration policies, which President Obama has endorsed. They wrote about it in The Washington Post:

Our plan has four pillars: requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here.

Last weekend, about 200,000 people rallied in Washington, D.C. in favor of some kind of immigration reform. This bill is not the change they should be seeking, even though it includes some provisions they might accept.

Real immigration reform will never be accomplished unilaterally. While Schumer and Graham are smart to realize, as they write, "immigrants have contributed to making this country more vibrant and economically dynamic," their bill and their consideration are sadly one-sided. You can try all you want to treat the symptoms of illegal immigration, but if you don't treat the root cause -- the desperate poverty that many face in Mexico or other countries from which they come -- you'll never solve the problem.

And we can't even really agree on what the problem is, either. Schumer and Graham want to keep illegal immigrants from working in the U.S., and they want those who have worked to pay "back taxes" before they're admitted as citizens. Immigrant workers, however, pay taxes all the time; many pay social security taxes through payroll deductions and even file income tax returns. Officials estimate $9 billion came in last year from illegal immigrant payments to the Social Security fund -- money those workers will never see a return on. Workers also pay sales taxes. Graham and Schumer want to collect back taxes from those who haven't been paying as they go -- but you're living in a dream land if you believe that their employers have been paying them full, legal wages under the table. Instead, the current system has been "advantageous" to both parties, in its own way: illegal immigrants have been given jobs making slightly more than they would have in their own country while employers have been freed from the usual taxes and tariffs that come with new hires. Any new bill that wants to tax workers should deal instead with the companies that hire (one could also say exploit) these workers. 

It is, however, not in the American vocabulary to accept any fault for illegal immigration -- except in the form of self-congratulations at what a fine country we've built that it should draw so many people across its borders. Schumer and Graham say that "workers who have succeeded in the workplace, and contributed to their communities over many years, [are permitted] the chance to earn a green card." A green card! The gold at the end of the rainbow! What everyone wants! Oh, hip hip hooray, Mr. Senator, may I please be allowed the chance to earn residence in a country where I've lived and worked for years and years and years doing jobs you and your children have forgotten even exist? May I shine your shoes in exchange for this glittery glimpse at the greatness of American citizenship?

Get real, America. We aren't a shining beacon inspiring mass exodus on the strength of our reputation; we are the nearest and freest alternative for people who would rather live their lives in peace, with their loved ones, in the towns and countries they grew up in, but are no longer able to, and often in part because of American actions. One of the reasons people want to leave Mexico right now is because of the escalating drug-related violence. Who, exactly, buys all of those drugs from Mexico? Who fuels that illegal industry? Where does all that cocaine go? Who's had a joint from south of the border in recent years?

Yet our immigration policies focus only on punishing those who escape from conditions Americans are complicit in creating, not on making those conditions better, because that would involve taking some of the blame. We focus on the illegal workers, not on the American companies that break the laws in hiring them. (The Schumer-Graham bill does mention "stiff penalties" or even jail time for companies that don't buy in to the biometric card-swipe system, but there are existing laws that should keep companies from hiring illegal workers. How often do you hear about those being enforced, other than with mass arrests of workers?) We focus on the stereotypically criminal "illegal" instead of on the stereotypically put-upon Patriotic American who is so kind, so kind to offer Amnesty for the low price of a year's salary in taxes.

Real immigration reform should begin at home, so the new bill could be a good start. As more immigrants are enfranchised in America, they will, perhaps, realize that their power can be a meaningful way to push for the reform that's needed -- a global shift in thoughts, a shift in ideals, a shift in stereotypes. Reform should start at home, but it can't ever get very far until we reach beyond our own borders and begin to help our neighbors.

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Comments

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This will most definately be his next big agenda item. There is no time to lose. He and the Dems need as many democratic voters as they can get these days. Probably won't help the Dems in 2010 but Obama doesn't care about them anyway. He is only looking at 2012 and this is just too good an opportunity to add to the Dem roles to pass up. I'm sure we'll start hearing that we have an "immigration crisis" in this country in the coming months.
Thank you for this great piece.
Hey DJohn, just a question. Is it at all within the realm of possibility that for once, an issue affecting America as a whole shouldn't be made the subject of re-election efforts?
If Mexico wants to fix its problems then those in Mexico should stay and fix them not come to this country illegally. American and its government are responsible to Americans not the rest of the world.

This country has a long history of accepting immigrants legally as well as it should. The issue is illegal aliens. If Mexico faces the fact that American is the answer to their social problems and that they must take responsibility for their country.

There are four reasons why we should allow immigrations to this country. One: Work or school visa, second marriage or close family ties, third they have a skill that would contribute to this country and forth religious or political persecution.

But, of course if Obama spends the next year dealing with immigrations it will not be a problem because our economy and trade imbalance will have us sneaking into Mexico for jobs.
End marijuana prohibition. Legalize prostitution.

Decriminalize coke and heroin in designated places. Call them drug hotels or something and don't let people leave till they've sobered up.

If you take the drug and prostitution money away from the thugs and put it into the hands of businessmen and women then you'll still get screwed over, but that will no longer involve being violently murdered.

We're not making anyone's life better by turning them into criminals just for making bad choices.
Excellent, excellent coverage on this. xox
Us Vs Them Mentality...
probably wired into cerebrums via evopsych....
btw there are some estimates that there are up to about 11M illegal aliens in the US....
and also-- this is a worldwide problem. the riots that happened not too long ago in france were largely muslim immigrants.... and rioting is certainly a worst case scenario if the host country is extremely intolerant....
and its all about "framing" .. the less incendiary term is not "illegal workers" or "aliens" but "undocumented works"...a mere choice of phrase can often reveal whose side you're on....
Bravo! it seems so rare when discussing immigration, that U.S. actions and policies are mentioned as a major contributing factor. Thank you for doing so.

However, I think you neglected to cover one of the main reasons for the increase in illegal immigration. NAFTA has had a major impact. We need to repeal NAFTA and end subsidies to major agribusiness. NAFTA is not about free trade. It is about opening up Mexico's markets so U.S. agribusinesses like Monsanto, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland can dump massive amounts of subsidized corn on the Mexican market. This undercuts Mexican farmers putting them out of business. They are no longer able to feed their families so they migrate to the cities, but find there are not enough jobs their. That fuels the drug trade. Or, they leave Mexico taking the risk to work in the U.S. I'm sure they would rather live and work in Mexico with their families but are forced to come to the U.S because of our policies.
I liked this but thought your decision not to mention NAFTA made this short of the whole picture.
Really a terrific piece of work, Smith.
FYI: Available now in HBO On Demand archives are two excellent, substantial documentaries about the legislative process surrounding immigration reform with the late Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Sam Brownback (KS). They are:
1-Senators' Bargain
2-Senator: Mountain 1
Top-notch. Very instructive. Literally essential on this subject.
BHO should concentrate his efforts on the plight of the millions of unemployed,not making citizens of illegal aliens.
Yeah we gotta get our gear and get ready for some more bullshit. If we were the humane, beacon of hope we profess to be, these matters would not be that complex. But it's another problem that has been delayed and postponed. Hopefully, it will receive some honest attention this time.