Twelve million illegal immigrants (of working age; that doesn’t include children); that’s the number most commonly quoted, although it cannot be verified. For those who want to send them all home, let’s look at the numbers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current unemployment rate is around 4.6%, or about 6.4 million people. There; we just solved the problem of unemployment! We’ll just put those 6.4 million unemployed Americans into the jobs vacated by the deported illegal immigrants. Wait . . . 1.4 million of those unemployed have college degrees; I can guarantee they won’t all want to do roofing or work a deep fryer. But for the sake of ludicrousness, let’s say that 28.6% will; that leaves us with 6 million people who now have a low-paying, back-breaking, no-benefits job (Ah, the American Dream!), and a six million person deficit of employees.
Back to reality, the American economic engine greases its wheels with the sweat of immigrants, and always has. For all of the major industries in the United States, there has been a time when cheap (or free) labor was imported to facilitate its growth and the supply of the voracious American consumption machine. It should be no surprise that the American construction, agricultural, restaurant, etc. industries are dependent on foreign labor. This does not make it legal or right, but it does set a 200-year precedent that is simply being continued. And the effect that sending 12 million workers away would have on the economy would be catastrophic. Is it really the same Republicans advocating removal of illegal aliens who are saying that a minimum wage increase will price small businesses out of the marketplace? I guarantee that making all illegal immigrants felons or deporting them will have a much more detrimental economic effect on small businesses (and large ones) than will a hike in the minimum wage.
In my opinion, immigration is a great thing (heck, as far as I know it’s how my own ancestors got here). But I think most Americans agree that a solution is badly needed to the situation. The ideas coming from the country’s elected lawmakers are heavily publicized: a big fence along the border; three smaller fences along the border, a guest worker program, amnesty, deportation of 12 million people. They are all temporary solutions to a very permanent problem. Coming down hard on illegal immigration will not stop it, any more than making certain drugs illegal has stopped their importation. It would simply force illegal immigration into the hands of organized crime, making it more dangerous for the immigrants, the law enforcement officers, and the residents on both sides of the border. Coming down soft on immigration would create other problems such as exploitation of immigrants by U.S. companies and individuals, uncontrolled and unfunded social costs (health care, education, etc.), cultural rifts, etc.
The biggest problem (and seemingly the easiest to correct) is that there are only 5,000 visas available each year for unskilled workers. The wait-time for one of these visas is up to 30 years. Who would wait 30 years? I don’t know that many people would wait even 10 years. The number of these visas needs to be increased to a more practical level. I’ll be honest; I don’t know what, if any, adverse ramifications would result from this. But it seems that issuing visas so you can track the people you’re letting in is better than not knowing who is coming into the country anyway.
In addition, the whole endeavor needs an effective computerized procedural method of processing applicants. A good computerized system would address the concerns on all sides of the issue:
– It would speed the process of vetting and approving applications. Often applications take a year or longer to be processed (that’s after it has waited several years to be accepted).
– It would separate illegal from legal immigrants and make verification by U.S. employers easier.
– It would make it harder for criminals to enter the country. If Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) knows who is here legally, they can more easily isolate who is not here legally. Also, legal immigrants will not be as afraid to report illegal activity to law enforcement as current illegal immigrants are.
I once got a résumé from a gentleman from Mexico who had a law degree and was a practicing lawyer in Mexico. His résumé recounted his work experience since arriving in the U.S.; all I remember was restaurant dishwasher and midnight bus cleaner. Why did he leave a professional job in Mexico for spraying out busses in the middle of the night? It was for the next generation, as it always has been with immigrants, especially those who don’t speak English already. I can’t fault a man or woman for doing the necessary to give their children the best chance possible.
We not only need to deal (reasonably) with the 12 million people already here, but with the next 12 million, because, if we think any of the measures under consideration will stop the tide, we are kidding ourselves. Instead of stopping immigration or giving amnesty, let’s MANAGE immigration with good decision-making, a compassionate heart, and forethought.