As a federal government employee who compiles earnings histories about individuals convicted of crimes, I’m appalled at the number of illegal immigrants using forged identities, and the disproportionate number of legal immigrants engaged in crime.
And yet, like many Americans, I’m of two minds on the immigration controversy. I’m equally disappointed when people guilty of wrongful, but non-violent behavior – crossing our borders in search of freedom without a visa, for example – are allowed no avenue to overcome that stigma.
Until Congress provides resolution, the criminal aspects of immigration will impose unprecedented costs on both native and immigrant alike. Refugees seeking a way out of grinding poverty will continue to perish in their trek across the border, with many victimized by the business of human trafficking, or by unscrupulous employers.
Meanwhile, the widening impact of immigration on everything from schools to hospitals will strain local government expenditures throughout the Southwest.
On the other hand, most Americans respect and admire the immigrant work ethic, the sacrifices migrants endure for their children, and the desire to realize the American dream. Hard-working Latino immigrants in particular embrace entrepreneurship, strong family values and a resilient faith. They have a great deal to offer – and much to teach – the rest of us.
Reasonable people on both sides of the immigration divide must prevent extremists from hijacking legislative efforts to repair our broken border. We have the opportunity to restore a sense of wholeness to our society, and we must do so before social tensions continue to escalate.
But we must act quickly. While Congress procrastinates, according to labor economist Barry Chiswick of the University of Illinois, speculation about possible amnesty will only increase the incentive for more refugees to enter the U.S. illegally. Meanwhile, as their numbers multiply, competition between low-skilled migrants will depress their wages, making it tougher, Chiswick contends, for current and future immigrants to enter the middle class.
In the long run – should Congress tarry for another decade – a far more serious cultural dilemma will overshadow the present debate, notes columnist Roberto Rodriguez. If we’re to preserve our democracy, warns Rodriguez, we can’t afford a “two-tiered society of citizens and non-citizens, with millions of undocumented workers confined to the status of racialized, indentured servitude.”
Migrant advocates are already beginning to use the term “apartheid” to describe the present legal system as one that differentiates between human beings – those with rights, and those without.
Political reality, compassion and common sense demand that we provide an avenue for the majority of undocumented aliens to work their way toward genuine citizenship. Official estimates identify some 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, but unofficial estimates place that number closer to 20 million.
Most are determined to remain here. Sporadic raids by federal authorities make for dramatic photo opportunities, but deportations of a few hundred – or even several thousand – braceros conducted for public show are little more than a scant tribute to justice.
And yet, justice demands that we uphold the law. It’s intolerable for immigrants to engage in de facto identify theft by using false Social Security numbers – or to cross our borders with impunity outside the prescribed legal channels for becoming naturalized.
Disrespect for the law, notes international economist Andrew Yuengert of Pepperdine University, can only erode confidence in our judicial system, and imperil the unique and precious freedoms that our laws permit and protect.
Fidelity to the law, securing residents and guests to this country against fraud and safeguarding the many privileges we enjoy, compel the nation at this vital hour to genuinely secure our borders. From the Pacific Coast to the Gulf of Mexico, we must raise a tall fence, but display a generous heart toward those seeking to build a new life.
And we must remind those governments south of the border that freedom is also knocking at their door. A sensible border and immigration policy on our part will encourage long-overdue economic and political reforms throughout Latin America on behalf of millions in our hemisphere still yearning for liberty.
Mark Travis is a former economics instructor at the University of Colorado and has a master’s degree in statistics from the University of Northern Colorado. He lives in Denver.