By Antonio Alvarado
“Immigration reform.” To some, this promise by Obama means helping over 11 million people come out of the shadows and become members of mainstream American society. To others this promise is equal to “amnesty,” which rewards a group of “illegals” for breaking the law. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, one thing is for sure. The current immigration system needs to be fixed.
The problems of the current immigration system are the following: there is no legal redress for a large segment of the American population who, although they pay sales taxes, gas taxes and even property taxes, are reduced to existing under the table as almost a black market of low income workers. This group of people must survive in the United States without social security numbers, driver’s licenses, and government sponsored benefits, which are all essential in today’s modern society.
Aside from economic problems many social problems are created. Due to having to “live in the shadows” a subculture is created where a group of people are constantly under the threat of losing everything. Before the executive orders issued by President Obama, like deferred action on deportation, many families were broken up simply for being stopped by the police for a minor traffic violation due to a lack of a drivers license. Many “Dreamers” hoping to attend college were unable to apply for certain loans due to their lack of a social security number. These people, many of whom have only known American life and the American culture, are denied basic services and are deprived of any real security while they contribute to American society.
The main opponents of any common sense immigration reform are ironically not even the mainstream Republicans, like many of those in the Senate, but the fringe Republicans in the Tea Party. Tea Party Republicans REALLY reject immigration reform for two reasons: the first reason is that once immigrants are given citizenship status (five years after obtaining permanent residency) and can vote, they will most likely vote Democrat. The second reason can only stem from a xenophobic attitude prevalent in the extreme right. Many Republicans, like Marco Rubio, John McCain, and Rand Paul are in favor of passing some sort of immigration reform but they cannot overcome their own radical right.
The main three pillars of the radical Republican argument are as follows: “illegals” steal jobs, “illegals” will be welfare burdens, and finally that “illegals” are criminals and don’t deserve being rewarded for their law breaking. (This term “illegal” is deceptive because it is NOT a federal crime to cross the border without inspection. Entry without inspection denotes their stay is without status, like a visitor’s or a foreign worker H series visa. When these “illegals” are thrown in jails or detention centers and held on immigration holds, they are actually being detained because they hold no status in the United States until their status can be adjudicated by administrative immigration courts or they agree to voluntarily depart the country.) All three arguments are asinine. Economists, and even those critical of “illegal” immigration agree that it is economically advantageous to allow immigrants into the country. There should be little dispute now that these immigrants “steal” the jobs that NO ONE WANTS like picking fruit, gardening, and roofing because the jobs themselves are too physically strenuous and pay too low for the average high school graduate to aspire to have. (A popular segment on the Colbert Report has confirmed this.) These jobs are of low value to the average American but are highly valuable for the average low-skill immigrant, thus freeing up jobs for more skilled labor and making the economy more efficient. The second argument that immigrants will be welfare burdens is equally as ridiculous. Immigrants come to the United States for ONE reason, to work. The people crossing are young men and women at their physical peaks, some with children to take care of, who will accept low wages, since these low wages in the U.S. far surpass what they earn in their country of origin under equally hard, if not harder, conditions. Finally, the last argument is their strongest. Although the undocumented haven’t broken any criminal laws they have bypassed administrative immigration procedures. They are in violation of immigration laws but you have to ask yourself if necessity is a defense? Are we to judge them because they came here for a better life and if we judge them, are we willing to judge ourselves because our society is so dependent on the services which they provide.
Can immigration reform pass in the wake of so much political polarization and gridlock? If history teaches anything then yes, because it has before. Republican President and Demi-God Ronald Reagan passed “amnesty” under his own administration with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
Despite all of the obstacles in the way I remain hopeful that President Obama’s promise to the Latino community will one day be fulfilled. America may in fact have to wait until the next presidency but even under a Republican President the pressure will remain. With changing ethnic demographics in the United States and growing representation politically of minorities and women in both parties breaking the impasse is inevitable.