“Not Citizens, Not Legal-- Still People”
They are savages bent on taking over the American Southwest for the creation of a new country called Aztlan, their sole purpose here is to engage in “competitive breeding” to decrease “white power,” and a movement to protect the civil rights of white Americans needs to begin as soon as possible--or at least this is what the leading anti-immigration hate groups say (“Anti-Immigration Groups”). While the radical propaganda spread by the National Organization for European American Rights and other extremist groups can easily be written off as ignorant, racist fear-mongering, there is still much controversy today about the large population of illegal immigrants--estimated to be around 12 million (Ewing)-- currently living in the United States. Whatever else is done regarding the issue, the evidence clearly shows that the population of illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States of American should not be deported en masse.
Mass deportation should only be considered if the presence of illegal immigrants actively harms the United States, and that is simply not the case--particularly in economics. These people are not, as it is commonly believed, parasites feeding off of the American economy, and in addition, large-scale deportation would in fact harm it significantly. Forty-five percent of the unauthorized migrant population originally entered the country legally on work visas that have since expired (Pew), and the fact that the 2008 economic meltdown contributed to the largest decrease in immigration in recent history shows that motivations for immigration are primarily job-based (Powers and Valeriano). An overwhelming majority of them are here to work-- not to take advantage of government benefits.
The Perryman Group, an independent economic research and analysis firm that has been conducting studies for 25 years, calculates that 33% of immigrant households benefit from a major welfare program, but most of these families are not in the United States illegally. Welfare and other social programs cannot be a significant factor, as the only government programs available to undocumented residents are education and health services--Medicare, Medicaid, insurance, and all other types of monetary assistance are withheld (“Availability”). While it is true that parents of an American-born child can make use of the services given to that child, illegal immigrants and their children are not using nearly as much welfare as some people like to believe. Douglas Massey, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, writes that only 10% of illegal immigrants have sent a child to public school, only 7% have received supplemental security income, and less than 5% have used food stamps, welfare money, or unemployment compensation. Furthermore, even while many illegal immigrants with native-born children could be taking advantage of these government programs, they are unaware of their existence, don’t understand how to receive them, or are too afraid of deportation to try (Semple).
Either way, they all still pay sales and property taxes, and many pay income taxes as well, contributing to government revenue despite not being eligible for the programs they help fund (Ewing). In fact, in both 2005 (“Illegal Aliens’ Costs”) and 2006 (Ewing), the Texas state government--whose constituency includes a high number of illegal immigrants-- generated a net gain of .4 billion dollars in revenue from its illegal residents alone. The current population of illegal immigrants isn’t a drain on society--it’s a benefit.
They aren’t “taking our jobs,” either, if “our jobs” is taken to mean “jobs Americans actually want.” In 2010, the United Farm Workers labor union launched a “Take Our Jobs!” campaign, which provided an easy way for unemployed Americans to find job openings in agriculture--the industry thought to employ the highest percentage of illegal workers (Rodriguez). Stephen Colbert-- host of the The Colbert Report, a popular satire of right-wing talk shows--was one of only 16 Americans who took them up on their offer as of late September 2010, several months after the campaign began (Colbert). Only sixteen people wanted one of these jobs, and one of them only applied to use the experience as material for a segment on his TV show.
An NPR interview with the United Farm Workers union’s president Arturo Rodriguez corroborates: Americans simply do not want these jobs. Gabriel Thompson, another guest in the same interview who had also participated in the “Take Our Jobs” program, said that most of the people on the farm he had worked at were “guest workers” --immigrants-- because the Dole company and others like it struggled to find Americans who were willing to take the positions. His supervisors said that most people came for a few days, realized how arduous and painful it was, and would soon leave (Rodriguez). The presence of undocumented workers clearly does not pose a threat to the American economy, and therefore does not warrant deportation.
Economics is only one area of concern, however; deportation also harms the undocumented people themselves, and as long as a given policy is not detrimental to lawful citizens, any benefits that the immigrants receive can only count as merits of that policy. While it has already been shown that the majority of the jobs taken by undocumented workers are those that legal Americans do not want, it is also true that far fewer jobs of any kind are being taken than many people think. Popularly-cited data from the Center for Immigration Studies suggests that 80% of the new jobs created in Texas in 2009 went to illegal immigrants; however, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center--an independent research organization--stated that the Center for Immigration Studies used out-dated and flawed methodology. A more accurate number, he says, would be the 54% calculated in a separate study--a number which includes all immigrants--both documented and undocumented (Selby). Thus, illegal immigrants are not harming the United States to an extent that would make deportation an option with net benefits to the country.
The Pew Hispanic Center has also found that these people actually do have strong ties to the United States, even if they are not legal citizens. About one third of adults who are here illegally have been in the country for 15 years (Pew), and studies show that if identified illegal immigrants weren’t automatically deported--if there was a system in place for helping these people get visas or become naturalized--the majority of these people will be willing to do the work necessary to get through the process (Johnson). Many have children born on American soil, who under the 14th Amendment are legal citizens who cannot be deported. This gives them a vested interest in what is best for the country-- deportation on the grounds of supposedly-nonexistent loyalty, then, does nothing but tear families apart. However, a technically legal child often accompanies its illegal parents back to the country they originally came from--it’s simply a question of family vs. foster care, and few parents choose the latter.
Children who would thus be subject to deportation receive a significantly better education in the United States. 30% of legal immigrants and 57% of illegal ones are from Mexico (“Birthplace”), which a RAND Corporation Non-Profit Research Organization study showed to place last or second to last in education quality among a group of countries that included most developed nations. Even just within Latin America, Mexico ranks among the lowest (Santibanez). Automatic deportation encourages the forcible removal of children from the country and therefore subjects them to a likely substandard education. According to the same study, only 35% of Mexican students graduate with their equivalent of a high school diploma, and less than 8% of the population holds a Bachelor’s Degree (Santibanez). This is in contrast to the 63.5% high school graduation rate in United States schools (Rampell), and 43% graduation from a 4 year public college (“Adults”) for the same demographic. By seeking out alternatives to mass deportation, the illegal immigrants and their children--who aren’t hurting the country-- are protected from all of these needless harms.
If only the benefits to the undocumented people in question aren’t quite persuasive enough, mass deportation also hurts American citizens themselves. If we identified and deported every illegal immigrant currently in the United States right now, there would result a $1.757 trillion loss in annual spending, a $651.511 billion loss in annual output, and 8.1 million lost jobs (Perryman Group).
American quality of life would also decrease, as many industries would face significant labor shortages, and Americans would have to take jobs far below their education and skill levels. For this to be effectively implemented, wages would have to be increased substantially--crippling the United States’ ability to compete in global markets (Perryman Group).
We can also look at the precedents set by the policies enacted in Arizona and Georgia, which tightened security measures to the point that most if not all of the undocumented workers left. Kelly Kirschner with the Tampa Bay Times writes that "...It is fantasy to suggest that agriculture in Florida and the United States would survive if we were to pursue Arizona or Georgia-style anti-immigrant policies...In less than six months, Georgia suffered more than $500 million in agriculture-related losses, with the governor sending felons to the field to pick what crops weren't rotting." Not only do illegal immigrants benefit the country economically, but their removal would result in immediate and borderline-catastrophic economic and agricultural consequences.
In the light of such compelling evidence, the question must be asked: why do so many Americans have a problem with the presence of illegal immigrants in the United States? Seldom do the offenders of other federal laws--other than terrorists and the like-- generate such a widespread uproar. As has already been shown, their presence is not nearly as harmful as most people think. They are here for jobs rather than to take advantage of government benefits, more than make up for the welfare money they do receive, and despite not being born here, still have as many ties to our nation as their legal counterparts; they did decide to come here, after all--perhaps they actually like America.
Brandon Valeriano--a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago-- and Matthew Powers--one of his graduate students-- write in Policy Studies Journal, “Recent research suggests that the perception of immigration threat depends on who the immigrants are, finding that Latino immigrants provoke higher levels of threat responses when compared with European immigrants...relations between (Mexico and the United States) are at their lowest point since the end of the Mexican-American War,” which took place in 1848. After 9/11, public officials began connecting the national security issue of terrorism with the separate problems of drug trade and immigration. Before 2001, relations with Mexico were positive, with optimistic ideas of new trade agreements and mutually beneficial immigration reform. However, since then, the collective attitude has plummeted to one of decided negativity (Powers and Valeriano). This indicates that those who would deport immigrants are basing their opinions not off of facts, but off of uninformed prejudice and fear.
Furthermore, Kirschner also says that “According to research conducted by Princeton University, the Pew Hispanic Center, and the University of California, immigration from Mexico over the past four years has not only been on a precipitous, downward trend, but last year actually showed net negative migration.” Their presence here is not a threat--in fact, it’s actually beneficial--the stigma against Mexican immigrants is not founded on evidence, and since the number of illegal immigrants is decreasing, the United States is in no danger of experiencing a slippery-slope phenomenon with mass deportation being the only answer that can save us from our inevitable fate. In fact, deportation would only serve to further damage U.S.-Mexico relations.
It is clear that deporting the population of immigrants currently living illegally in the United States en masse would only hurt America as well as the immigrants themselves. However, the question remains: where should we go from here? Newt Gingrich’s “Round ‘em up and ship ‘em out” approach is impractical, borderline impossible, and unnecessary-- if they can’t find jobs, most undocumented people will leave on their own (Johnson). When looking at future policy, it is of paramount importance to realize the vital role that these people play in the U.S. economy (Perryman Group). Bearing this in mind, Valeriano and Powers outline three proposed plans: a guest worker program, mass amnesty, and conditional amnesty.
The guest worker program involves issuing even more work visas on an even greater scale, for longer amounts of time. Since most illegal immigrants have simply overstayed their visas (Pew), this plan legalizes their presence without changing anything else, and according to Valeriano and Powers, 56% of both Latinos and Americans support this option.
The second plan--directly at odds with mass deportation--is mass amnesty. Under this plan, all 12 million of the illegal immigrants currently living in the United States would be given the opportunity to become legal citizens. This seems extreme and undesirable to many, but granting amnesty to large groups of undocumented people is not actually a new concept. In fact, the U.S. did it once before in 1986 (“Immigration Amnesty”).
The third plan, conditional amnesty, grants the opportunity to gain citizenship to all immigrants who agree to work, learn some English, and pay taxes. With the support of 78% of surveyed Americans (Powers and Valeriano), this path also falls closely in line with President Obama’s own proposition, which also includes raising quotas for legal immigration, cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, and helping to increase economic development in Mexico (“Immigration Amnesty”).
These high-minded policy suggestions and statistics are all well and good, but what about the average American, who doesn’t care what we do as long as the problem is solved? Well, we certainly can’t have scientists develop vegetables pick themselves, as Colbert suggests. Deportation is economically unfeasible, as well as undesirable when considering the lives of both illegal immigrants and those of their legal counterparts. Wherever we go from here--an expanded guest worker program or some type of amnesty-- the fact remains that illegal immigrants are now an integral part of our country, and have earned the right to be treated as such with rationality and respect, even if they can’t apply for an American passport with which to visit their families.
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Semple, Kirk. “Illegal Immigrants’ Children Suffer, Study Finds.” The New York Times. The New York Times Co., 2011. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.