Get Real: Dealing With Illegal Immigration (Guest Voice)
Get Real: Dealing With Illegal Immigration
by Robert A. Levine
The influx of undocumented aliens into the United States has recently slowed, mainly the result of two factors. 1) Economic conditions here have reduced job opportunities in construction and other industries that employ large numbers of immigrants. 2) Enhanced monitoring of the nation’s southern border and other entrance portals has increased the likelihood that migrants will be caught trying to sneak into the U.S. and sent back to their country of origin.
However, the decline in “illegals” entering America has not placated a small segment of nativist thinkers who hew to their demands that all undocumented aliens should be deported. Unfortunately, this group of mostly right-wing Republicans wields disproportionate power in Congress and thus far has been able to stymie any movement towards a solution of the “immigrant problem.” Any program that contains an element of amnesty is immediately rejected by these ideologues who view this issue as a litmus test for true conservatism. Even when legislation was crafted and supported by George W. Bush’s Republican administration, it went nowhere because of this bloc in Congress. The concept of a reasonable global approach to illegal immigration- improved border control measures combined with registration of undocumented immigrants, along with a path to citizenship- seems to be a non-starter. Even various versions of the Dream Act, allowing young “illegals” who graduated from high school or college, or volunteered for the military, to obtain a green card, then permanent residency and eventually an opportunity for citizenship have been defeated. Yet some conservative Republicans in states with large Hispanic populations have favored some form of amnesty in an effort to attract the growing Hispanic vote.
There is tremendous emotionalism regarding the issue of immigration reform and the American public has mixed views on the subject. There is overwhelming support for Illegal-immigrant-signstrict border surveillance, but more uncertainty about how to handle the immigrants already in country. However, Americans must be realistic when considering how to deal with the problem, keeping in mind the complexity of the issue and the numbers game.
There are currently an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. To arrest and process all these people, have the legal system authorize action by the Department of Justice or the Immigration Service, and then deport these immigrants to their native countries would be a gargantuan logistical task. It would take many years to complete and hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars in funding. In this time of economic distress and curtailed government spending, surely America has more productive ways to utilize its revenues. There is also the economic impact and the disruption to various businesses that have to be considered. Agriculture, construction and the hospitality industries would be particularly hard hit by mass deportations, as immigrants are heavily employed in these areas. Undocumented immigrants also pay Social Security taxes that support the system though they receive no the benefits.
A previous “amnesty” in 1986 under Ronald Reagan was supposed to constrain further illegal immigration but obviously failed in this objective. And this failure hardened the opponents of additional amnesty, citing the result as an indication that leniency with “criminals” would not work. But most Americans perceive the “illegals” not as criminals but as hard-working people who came to this country to escape poverty, seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Indeed, the percentage of criminals among the “illegals” is quite small.
Because the federal government has so far been unable to address the issue of undocumented aliens, a number of states have enacted their own laws, patchwork attempts that have been challenged by the Department of Justice and independent legal groups. It is time for the politicians in Washington to get real and legislate pragmatically, thinking in terms of doing what is actually feasible. A comprehensive solution needs to be enacted including tough border controls to prevent further entry of “illegals,” registration of all undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S., penalties for all businesses that hire unregistered immigrants, a path to citizenship for registered immigrants after payment of a financial penalty (a fine for breaking the law), and a long wait to actually obtain citizenship. Any undocumented immigrant who did not register would be subject to a jail term followed by deportation.
This global approach is financially feasible, fair to all parties, and able to be implemented without undue difficulty. Both the U.S. and the “illegals” would benefit greatly if this were implemented.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.