US Immigration Policy and Reforms Analysis
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The topic of illegal immigration has been an issue for debate with lawmakers, the President, member of congress and America as a whole for the past several years. In very general terms, illegal immigrants are people, primarily from Mexico and Central America who illegally cross over the border into the United States. These men and women of all ages are not fleeing their homeland because of repression, harsh dictatorships, genocide, civil wars or religious persecution; however, they are crossing over the American border primarily for economic reasons.
These individuals are coming to the United States in seek of a better lifestyle. They want to make more money to help support their families both here in America and back in their home country. They are fleeing oppression, chronic unemployment, poverty, and little or no opportunities in their homelands. As unfortunate it is, the law stands between their desire to live and work in the United States. Strict policy is needed to prevent these immigrants from coming into the United States illegally. Otherwise the consequence will be massive illegal settlements in this U.S.
Since the early 1800's, immigration has been both a crucial component of America's growth and a periodic source of conflict. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin.” He went on to say, “This is predicated on the person becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag! We have room for but one sole loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people,” (Little, 2006).
It's been seen over the past decade that the national debate over illegal immigration has grown. This displays a widespread belief that previous immigration control laws have failed and are continuing to. For example, despite a 1986 federal law that created penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers or illegal immigrants knowingly, businesses continued to do so.
President George W. Bush's new strategy had taken form. Instead of his earlier emphasis on finding a way for U.S. businesses to continue employing illegal immigrants on a temporary basis, he now spoke of preventing such undocumented workers or illegal immigrants from ever entering the United States to begin with. “We've got a comprehensive strategy that says we're going to enforce this border.
We're going to prevent people from coming here in the first place,” (Furlong and Kraft 2007, 121). President Bush's new strategy came as Congress prepared to consider legislation that addressed border security and immigration.
Unfortunately because the President's standing in public opinion polls was so low and conservatives in his own party wanted a different approach, he had few choices but to change his policy's direction. Democrats have accused the President of delaying action on immigration reform for far too long.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said, “It is time for President Bush to resist those on the right who rely on fear tactics to prevent our broken system from being fixed”. “True immigration reform” would have to be more comprehensive and more realistic than the President's proposals, he added, “strengthening our security while bringing an underground economy above ground,” (Furlong and Kraft 2007, 121).
In 2005 the number of illegal immigrants in the United States rose dramatically to well over ten million people and was growing rapidly, at an estimate of a half a million people each year. According to Fred Elbel of the Department of Homeland Security, as of November 10, 2007 there was an estimated 34,094,840 illegal aliens in the United States. Since January 1, 2007, 3,134,840 illegal aliens have made their way over the border and into the United States, (Elbel, 2007).
The western and southern part of America has seen the biggest influx of immigrants. Among a vast spectrum of other concerns, policy makers focus on the high cost to the states that are providing education and medical care for undocumented workers and their families. Some worry that a high rate of illegal immigrants suggests that the United States borders are without the needed security that is essential to prevent entry from potential terrorists. However, some, particularly business owners, are inclined to minimize the problem.
They believe that the health of the U.S. economy is dependent on immigrant workers and they argue that the economy would suffer without the contribution of illegal immigrants. Some disagree and argue that the economic benefits from illegal immigrants working in America only helps their home economy. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that ten percent of restaurant workers in the U.S., twenty-five percent of domestic help in private households, and nearly sixty percent of agricultural workers are in the country illegally. Also statistics show that fifty-six percent of illegal immigrants in the United States come north primarily from Mexico to supply thousands of U.S. employers and farmers with low-skilled workers.
A completely hypothetical way of viewing illegal immigration is to think of the United States like a homeowner who went for a long walk and left their garage door open. Inside the garage is a new car, a wallet, a cellular phone, and a suitcase full of money. Another man, destitute of money and with little or no hope of positive opportunity, walks past the garage and notices that its door is open and unattended.
He has a family who needs food and he himself has been unemployed for several months. He decides to enter the garage. No one noticed him enter. He found the new car, the wallet, the cellular phone and the suitcase full of money.
Without hesitation, he takes the wallet and the suitcase and quickly disappears and enjoys what he took without permission. To make himself feel better, he tells himself that he only went into the garage and took what he did because he needed to feed his family and because he was down on his luck. He did not hurt anyone in the process and he figures that the homeowner can always file a claim with his insurance company to get back what was taken.
When the homeowner returns from his walk, he notices that he has been robbed and files a report with the local police department. The police in turn tell him that there is nothing they can do since there were no witnesses. The police suggest that the homeowner lock up his garage the next time he goes for a long walk to prevent another illegal entry and robbery.
Some would argue that the man who left his garage door open is at fault, others would say it was the intruder who stole the property, and some would say it's both their faults. Was the one man a thief for entering the garage without permission and the homeowner careless for leaving the garage door open and unattended? Traditional law states that the intruder is a thief and common sense says that the homeowner was careless in failing to protect his assets from potential intruders.
Did the homeowner deserve to be robbed because he left his garage door open? Some would say yes because he was careless. On the other hand the robber who walked away with the homeowner's valuables committed a crime. If he was caught, tried and convicted, he could face fines and possibly some time in jail.
Some people would look at from the perspective that the robber did what he did to feed his family and pay for his basic necessities. He only stole to help his family survive. He views it as something honorable because he provided for his family.
In this hypothetical scenario, the fact that the homeowner left his garage door open and easily accessible to thieves does not give them permission for someone to trespass into his property and steal his valuables solely because they were just there. Regardless of the thief's reasoning for taking someone else's private property, stealing is stealing no matter how it is rationalized.
Similarly, illegal immigration may solve financial challenges faced by the growing millions of illegal aliens who are in the United States to work and improve their lives. Yet, no matter how a person looks at it, illegal entry is still just that, “illegal.” Jobs are taken from those who are rightfully entitles to them. It is not legal, moral, or ethically right to enter the country illegally and benefit from opportunities that were primarily designed for legal residents and citizens.
The reasons why millions of people enter the United States illegally does not make it correct to break the law and disregard the sovereignty of the United States. Breaking the law is not justifiable because illegal immigrants want to take advantage of jobs, provide for their family, escape poverty, receive medical care, public education, and much more. As harsh as it is, illegal immigrants are not entitled to the freedom which were primarily designed for those who are in the country by birthright or legal residency status.
The belief that it is socially acceptable to break the law as long as a person's reasoning is with good intentions is flawed. A person cannot take advantage of someone's benefits because they need to. Immigrating to America legally, whether or not it is easy, is praiseworthy. Breaking they law and crossing the border illegally is not.
The punishment should fit the crime. A person should not leave their garage door open if they value what they own and would-be intruders should learn that just because they garage door is open, it does not give them the right to walk in and take what they need. It is seen very often that desperate people do not care much about right and wrong or the law for that matter. Desperation often causes people to rationalize and justify all types of illegal activities.
Illegal entry into the United States to work has been allowed to become a complex issue but this is not an unsolvable problem. The United States would be off to a good start if the government imposed hefty fines on employers who knowingly and unknowingly hire illegal immigrants or undocumented workers for labor.
The loophole in the current law conveniently allows employers to look the other way and claim that they are not able to verify the authenticity of documents that their workers provide. Millions of people steal social security numbers from American citizens and get away with it. They in turn enjoy many of the same things honest people work for.
While illegal immigrants only make up about five percent of the United States' work force, they are quickly being noticed in non-traditional areas immigrant to settle. Areas like these are in the midwest and the south. Undocumented workers and illegal immigrants are willing to work for very low wages by American standards.
This has caused political turmoil in these new areas where immigration had little or no presence before. “Immigration is now a national phenomenon is a way that was less true a decade ago,” (Greenblatt, Katel, Marshall 2007, 341). Mark Krikorian, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies said, “In places like Georgia and Alabama, which had little experience with immigration before, people are experiencing it firsthand.”
The beginning of any policy study involves a description of the problem. Obviously the problem is illegal immigration and unfortunately only a select few legislators are taking measures to fix the problem. The former Mayor of New York City and presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani, has a firm stance of illegal immigration.
He stated that “real immigration reform must put security first because border security and homeland security are inseparable in the Terrorists' War on Us. The first responsibility of the federal government is to protect our citizens by controlling America's borders, while ending illegal immigration and identifying every non-citizen in our nation. We must restore integrity, accountability, and the rule of law to our immigration system to regain the faith of the American people,” (Giuliani, 2007).
The Governor of New Mexico and also Presidential candidate, Bill Richardson, has similar feelings about immigration reform as Giuliani. “As a Hispanic-American, and Governor of a border state, I know that our nation can no longer afford to ignore the issue of illegal immigration. Undocumented immigrants have broken the law to enter our country, but they are here – and most of them work hard, pay taxes, support families, and contribute to the communities they live in.
Entire sectors of our economy rely on these laborers - -construction, restaurants, and agricultural, for example. We can't just ignore this issue any longer. Splitting up families, building walls, and making impractical proclamations is not the answer. America needs to solve the problem, not tear itself apart over it,” (Richardson, 2007). He believes in recognizing the reality of the immigration problem and addressing it head-on. He has a plan to solve it by taking four realistic steps. First, secure the border. Second, increase legal immigration. Third, prevent employers from hiring illegal workers. Lastly, provide a path to legislation for most of the eleven million illegal immigrants already here.
Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., of Wisconsin, created the Real ID bill. This requires proof of citizenship or legal status in the United States in order to get a driver's license. This bill was signed into law in May 2005 and will take effect in May 2008. “We will never have homeland security if we don't have border security,” (Greenblatt, Katel, Marshall 2007, 341). Sensenbrenner's reform means blocking states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, imposing new restrictions on asylum seekers, and finishing a border fence near San Diego, California.
The debate of immigration has divided the Republican Party. The Republican controlled House of Representatives passed H.R. 4437 in December 2005. This is a measure that contained procedures for securing the borders, harsher penalties for people assisting illegal migration into the United States and provisions for deporting illegal aliens that are already here, (Greenblatt, Katel, Marshall 2007, 343).
The proposed legislation does not provide for a guest worker program or any form of amnesty for illegal workers. “The borders are out of control,” says T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing ten thousand border officers. He said that the patrol catches no more than a third of illegal aliens crossing the border.
“We have a situation where business is controlling our immigration policy rather than sound decisions that take into account all the factors, including homeland security,” (Greenblatt, Katel, Marshall 2007, 344).
The government has almost stopped enforcing sanctions approved in 1986 on employers who hire illegal immigrants. According to Mary Dougherty, an immigration statistician at the Department of Homeland Security, in 2003 the agency levied only $9,300.00 in fines against employers. Time also reported in 2004 that the number of fines imposed on employers dropped ninety-nine percent during the 1990's from 1,063 in 1992 to 13 in 2002, (Greenblatt, Katel, Marshall 2007, 345).
While there are many ideas and strongly differing views on what to do about illegal immigration, the government must recognize that any program that rewards illegal aliens who have broken the laws of the United States with citizenship is undeserved and unwarranted amnesty. Illegal immigration must be treated much like a broken water pipe. When a water pipe breaks, the very first thing that must be done is have the water shut off and then the mess is cleaned up. This is common sense that most in the government seem to be missing.
This requires two different set of actions. First, slowing down and eventually preventing all illegal border-crossings and then making it harder for existing illegal immigrants to live in the US while simultaneously encouraging many to go home as well as deporting others. Doctors at The Heritage Foundation are quoted as saying, "Immigration reform should be a matter of national priority.
To be successful, reforms must include a comprehensive package of measures to reduce illegal entry into the United States as well as to reduce the current population of unlawfully present persons. The cornerstone of any such initiative must be a fair and practical program for repatriating foreign persons who are illegally present in the United States," (Carafano, Meese III, Spalding, 2005).
For the sake of national security, the rule of law, and responsible immigration policy, Congress and the President must move towards reducing the number of people who are illegally in the United States. Immigration reform must not encourage this problem. In particular, any new initiative must not grant permission, as a matter of policy, for illegal immigrants to remain legally in the country.
Such a program would undermine the credibility of efforts not only to control America's borders, but also to advance reasonable legal immigration reform. A better alternative would be for policymakers to create a comprehensive solution that brings better national security. Part of this solution should be a realistic and reasonable program to assist illegal immigrants in returning to their homelands before applying for legal reentry to the United States.
What the United States needs is a comprehensive strategy that reverses decades of ignoring, indeed encouraging, the disregard of requirements for legally entering and lawfully residing in this country. A better strategy would be to get the cooperation of federal, state, and local governments and non-governmental organizations to all work together.
Laws need to be enforced within the United States, including identity theft,, prosecuting benefits fraud, tax evasion, and immigration violations. Also, America should work with other nations to enforce laws, to educate their citizens, and to develop more desirable legal alternatives for undocumented workers. The government must help other nations to adopt sound governance and economic policies that will promote growth in their economies and negate the need for citizens to take low-paying jobs in the United States.
It has been made very clear that America does not want to anger other countries with border security and that most people cannot tell the difference between illegal invasion to work and legal immigration. It should then be up to the individual states to develop internal methods to prevent abuse of tax-based resources. States should not provide any form of preferential treatment towards individuals who break federal laws, even if they work and pay taxes.
This may be justifiable in their minds but the fact remains that they are still in the country illegally. The government needs to also help the private sector by teaching employers how to identify legal workers quickly and easily at a reasonable cost and in a manner that respects individuals' rights and privacy but at the same time identify the illegal ones through a national identification system, similar to the one crated by Sensenbrenner's, The Real ID Act.
The government should also implement a central document verification agency to pre-screen all employment applications and issue approval forms and identification photos to prospective employees. While at the current rate the government will never have an efficient wall to block out illegal immigrants. It is up to the individual states to create internal security measures to prevent budgetary and financial abuses caused by the growing illegal population.
President Bush and a bipartisan group of ten senators announced an agreement on May 17, 2007, on a comprehensive, compromise plan to tighten border security and address the future of America's twelve million illegal immigrants. “The agreement reached today is one that will help enforce our borders,” Bush said. “But equally importantly, it will treat people with respect. This is a bill where people who live in our country will be treated without amnesty, but without animosity.” Senator Kennedy said, “The plan isn't perfect, but only a bipartisan bill will become law,” (Greenblatt, Katel, Marshall 2007, 357).
The agreement would grant temporary legal status to almost all illegal immigrants, giving then the right to apply for residence visas and citizenship through a lengthy process. Illegal immigrants would have to wait for eight years before applying for permanent resident status, pay fines of up to $5,000.00 and, heads of households would be forced to leave the country and reenter legally.
Are these signs of positive actions to be taken toward illegal immigrants? Over the next few years will America see a reduction in the number of illegal immigrants and an increase in the applications for legal immigrants? American surely hopes so. Only time will tell what actions will truly be taken by the American government in response to the increasing number of illegal immigrants crossing its borders.
Carafano, James Jay, Edwin Meese III and Matthew Spalding. 2005. “Alternatives to Amnesty: Proposals for Fair and Effective Immigration Reform.” The Heritage Foundation. http://www.heritage.org/Research/LegalIssues/bg18588.cfm. (10 November 2007).
Elbel, Fred. 2007. “How many illegal aliens are in the U.S.? Refernce..” The American Resistance. http://the americanresistance.com/ref/illegal_alien_numbers.html. ( 10 November 2007).
Furlong, Scott R. and Michael E. Kraft. 2007.Public Policy: Politics, Analysis and Alternatives. New Jersey. Pearson Prentice Hall.
Giuliani, Rudy. 2007. “12 Commitments To The American People.” JoinRudy2008. http://joinrudy2008.com/getinvolved/emailland.html (10 November 2007).
Greenblatt, Alan, Peter Katel and Patrick Marshal. 2007. Issues For Debate: In American Public Policy. 8th Ed.. Washington D.C.. Congressional quarterly Inc..
Little, Dick. 2006. “Illegal immigrant problem growing.” Paradise Post.com. http://paradisepost.com/columns/ci_468119.html. (10 November 2007).
Richardson, Bill. 2007. “Realistic Immigration Reform.” Richardson for President. http://action.richardsonforpresident.com/page/content/immigrationreform.html. (10 November 2007).
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