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.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?
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.