Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Immigration – We not only can handle it, we need it

August 13, 2010

A friend recently opined that our country can’t handle the immigrants coming here, especially unauthorized immigrants.  This is linked to other perceptions that the unauthorized don’t pay taxes and over-utilize public services.  But these claims don’t match reality.

To discuss this rationally, (unfortunately) we need to throw out some numbers about the relationship between unauthorized immigrants and the U.S. population.  As of June, 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated our total civilian, non-institutional population as 237.7 million.  Of those, the labor force is 153.7 million, 139 million of whom are employed and 14 million are unemployed in this recession.  These figures INCLUDE immigrant workers regardless of status.

Based on Department of Homeland Security estimates, the U.S. unauthorized immigrant population is around 11 million.  That works out to about 4.6% of total population.  Under the extreme assumption that all of the 84% of unauthorized immigrants age 18 to 54 yrs are workers, that would be a maximum 6% of the workforce.  So, we’re not talking about huge percentages of either the population or the workforce.  We can accommodate that.  In fact, we’re already doing it!

Unauthorized immigrants most certainly ARE paying taxes.  They pay sales taxes on their purchases and user fees on services just like everyone else.  They pay property taxes directly and indirectly.  They even pay income taxes, Social Security and Medicare when these are taken out of their wages by the government.  (Social Security is holding over $400 billion in funds that immigrants paid but can’t receive in benefits.)

They also contribute to the US economy through their spending which creates other jobs.  Investigations have revealed they are not sending all or even most of their earnings back to their country of origin.  Furthermore, they often work in low-wage industries, which results in savings for employers and purchasers of their products.

Determining the costs and benefits of immigration to our economy is complicated, with different results derived from differing assumptions.  However, most analysts find immigration likely is an overall benefit (some have estimated $13 billion per year or 1% of the whole economy). Some employers and consumers benefit and taxpayers in some states, like Texas, have higher immigrant populations and costs.

While claiming to be business-friendly, the leadership of Arizona has just dealt an economic blow to their own people during a deep recession.  After implementation of their prejudicial law, even with the federal stay of the worst parts of it, LEGAL immigration has dropped 17%.  It hasn’t had any effect on crime, of course, but the businesses of Arizona are already hurting.

Do unauthorized immigrants “overuse” government services? Contrary to what you may have heard, as a group, immigrants, especially unauthorized immigrants, tend NOT to utilize government services. When they do, the cost is short-term; in the long run they more than reimburse us for the services they receive.

There are only three services government is legally bound to provide to unauthorized immigrants:  Public education K-12 for children, emergency medical care and veteran’s benefits for those who have served.

In 1982, the US Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v Doe that public education must be provided for all children regardless of citizenship.  An NEA guide explains this decision in this way:

The court in Plyler noted that education is a child’s only path to becoming a “self-reliant and self-sufficient participant in society.” A public school education, the court reasoned, “inculcat[es] fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system” and “provides the basic tools by which individuals might lead economically productive lives.”  According to the court, denying children access to a public school education could doom them to live within “a permanent caste of undocumented resident aliens.”

Before we violate this Supreme Court ruling with the intent of saving taxpayers the cost of educating these children, consider this:  The difference between whether or not an immigrant is a net gain (beyond even the cost of educating them) or net loss for our economy depends upon whether or not that person obtains a high school education.  In other words, denying education to unauthorized immigrant children would not only be immoral, it would also be economically short-sighted.

What about other assistance immigrants might receive?  It’s a no-brainer that all those who serve in the military, including non-citizens, must be provided their earned veteran’s benefits.  The only other service that legally must be provided to everyone regardless of citizenship or ability to pay is emergency medical care. We don’t want EMTs to ask our citizenship before they rush our injured or severely ill bodies to the hospital.  And we want the doctors in the emergency room to focus first on our health, not our pocketbook.

A good argument can also be made that our other non-mandatory services also help immigrants become “self-reliant and self-sufficient,” just as does education.  There’s no evidence that they create a permanent class of dependant people.

The US fertility rate, the number of children per woman, is at 2.1, below the population replacement level of 2.5.  (Those births INCLUDE the vilified “anchor babies.”)  Without immigration, we will progressively have a smaller and older population and a smaller workforce in the future.

Our rate of net immigration is not extremely high, either, 2.92 migrants per 1,000 residents in 2008.  In the 1990s, legal and illegal immigration ballooned because of the recession in Mexico and a baby-boom generation of workers could not find employment. Immigration from Mexico is trailing off now, especially with the recession.

We had illegal immigration, not because the immigrants are bad people, but because we needlessly restricted legal immigration.

We need these young people to come work and enrich our culture.  Now is the time to establish comprehensive immigration reform that provides a guest worker program for those who have no current plans to become citizens and, for those who do, a path to citizenship like the path all other immigrants follow.   We became a great nation by being “a nation of immigrants” and we became that by according dignity and respect and assistance to those who came here to work and build our nation.  Let’s keep it up.

Crime and Immigration Reform

July 18, 2010

We do need comprehensive immigration reform.  And, like all other areas of public policy, change must be based on facts, not propaganda, if it is to bring real improvement.  Many misconceptions are circulating regarding crime as it relates to illegal immigration or immigration reform.  In this article, I focus just on crime and will address other issues regarding immigration reform in subsequent articles.

Anti-immigrant groups claim we on the border are suffering a violent crime wave caused by illegal immigration.  It’s just not true.  The FBI reports that the top 4 safest cities in the country are San Diego, Phoenix, and two Texas cities, El Paso and Austin. San Diego, with 1 in 4 residents an immigrant, has the lowest per capita violent crime rate.

While Arizona Governor Brewer claimed a dramatic rise in crime, the FBI reported that violent crimes in AZ actually decreased by more that 30% in the last two decades. In Texas, the violent crime rate dropped 10% from 1998 to 2008; the property crime rate dropped from 12% over the same period.  And a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said, “The border is safer now than it’s ever been.”

Part of the reason for misperception about border crime is the increased violence in northern Mexico. In an attempt to link the two separate issues, AZ Governor Brewer claimed that most undocumented immigrants were involved in drug dealing. Simply NOT true! The violence in Mexico is the drug cartels at war with each other and with Mexican authorities.  It’s an entirely separate issue from immigration and cannot be addressed by changing immigration laws.

Furthermore, there are good reasons why immigrant communities across the nation have been found to have lower overall crime rates than citizen-dominated communities and why immigrants tend NOT to engage in criminal activity.  Think about it:  If you were a foreigner in this country, working, perhaps tending a family, what would you do?  Wouldn’t you avoid calling attention to yourself and avoid contact with law enforcement for fear of deportation?  That’s just what they do.  As a result, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants.

For the purpose of drumming up fear of immigrants, the xenophobes claim that we risk terrorists coming across the border intent on doing us harm.  Again this defies logic and known facts.  Most terrorists who have acted or attempted to act in this country were either US citizens or came here legally.  Here in Brewster County, Texas, where I live, law enforcement spotted one person with such potential – a US citizen who came here from the “interior,” not of Mexico, but from the USA, apparently scouting a location for a training camp.  Those with terroristic intent are seldom going to place themselves at risk of apprehension which crossing the border without documentation involves.  We do, of course, need to be watchful at our borders for terrorists, but don’t be thinking that Mexican workers are equivalent to al queda.  They’re not.

Immigration gets lumped in with the drugs and terrorism for two reasons.  First, US Customs and Border Protection enforces violations of all three.  Second, anti-immigrant groups actively seek to demonize immigrants by associating them with drug dealers and terrorists.  These separate issues need to be addressed by different policies.

There are some areas of crime that ARE related to illegal immigration:  Vandalism and house break-ins in border-adjacent areas, human trafficking, the misdemeanor crime of entering the country without approval, and hate crimes.  The first three of these crimes can be reduced if we provide a way for people to legally enter this country at appropriate crossing points to work, shop or visit.  In a good system, the origin and destination of the entrants would be known to authorities and a network with employers established.

The failure to implement such a system creates the market for human trafficking just like drug prohibition creates the drug market, cartels and violence.  And the inability to enter at legal entry points sends entrants across the land and strips them of resources, which motivates theft and break-ins of private property.  Finally, instead of administering a less expensive system of legal entry and accountability, we are wasting federal dollars in court hearings, deportations and incarcerations.  This cruel system tears apart families and causes death and injury.

The last category of crime related to the issue of illegal immigration is hate crimes directed at immigrants and at citizens who even look like immigrants.  These crimes are rising dramatically.  And beyond reported crimes, there are the countless occurrences of verbal attack, discrimination, etc., that Hispanic people increasingly suffer.  The lies and exaggerations such as those addressed above that demonize and dehumanize immigrants are part of that harassment.

And so are laws such as Arizona’s, which draw local agencies into enforcement of federal laws.  Based on, as we’ve seen, inaccurate claims of rising crime rates, the Arizona law will do NOTHING to reduce crime at all.  Read it and you will see it has no mechanism to reduce crime since it’s supposed to be used only after some crime has occurred.  It will cost local and state governments dearly and draw their attention away from truly serious crimes.  It places a barrier between immigrants and law enforcement because, for fear of arrest, they will not report crimes or seek help when needed.  It leaves men, women and children open to abuse they dare not report.  And, for the first time in history it requires US citizens who simply look like undocumented immigrants to carry papers proving their “innocence.”  This in a land where we’re all assumed innocent until proven guilty.

The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution applies to EVERYONE, citizen, non-citizen, documented or not, when it says, “… nor shall any State deprive any PERSON of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any PERSON within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

We need comprehensive immigration reform to put an end to harassment of Hispanic immigrants and citizens, to save lives and to preserve families.