Illegal Immigration in America
One of the oldest, and most contentious issues that has been addressed in the United States, and in many other countries for that matter, is immigration. Concerns over immigration have been expressed since the founding of the US government. Benjamin Franklin expressed concerns over the Germans. Groups such as Irish or Italians have been demonized as well as certain religious groups. For many decades, the presence of Mexican immigrants in the United States, has been a hot button issue. While the issue has been divided in our traditional “left / right” dichotomy that all political issues in the United States have been put into in recent history, the truth is that the vast majority of US citizens support strict deportations and measures to prevent the crossing and employment of undocumented Mexican workers in the United States.
The issue is seldom discussed with the complexity that it merits. Many see an inherent racial and nationalistic component to anti-immigration sentiments, while those who support harsh measures taken against immigration, claim that this is merely a red herring. As I write this, August 21st, 2011, President Barack Obama has deported more undocumented Mexican workers than any president in US history. Recently it has been announced that his administration would make a drastic change in tactic. He has promised only to concentrate on deportation of immigrants who are threats to national security and those with criminal records. The government will start to issue work permits to previously undocumented workers. Critics of the President will see this as a ploy to gain Hispanic votes, which it almost certainly is, but former President George W. Bush made similar promises before his own re-election campaign in an attempt at opportunism.
There is an obvious question that the news media never asks. That question is, why when the deportation of undocumented workers is so popular with voters has every US president in the last 40 years attempted some kind of reform of how undocumented workers are treated?
THE WAR ON IMMIGRATION
The first answer to this question is a fairly obvious one. Immigrants from Mexico are actually beneficial to the economy overall, and are especially beneficial to business owners. Undocumented workers often fill seasonal, low paying and otherwise hard to fill jobs for employers in the United States. It is true that some jobs may be taken from American workers but most people make the mistake of equating the total number of unemployment in the United States with the total number of undocumented works as if this is somehow a fix to our economic woes. The jobs taken by undocumented workers would be a step down for the vast majority of American workers and many would rather stay on unemployment than to lower themselves to such work.
This is not an opinion but a well-documented fact. Studies have shown that undocumented workers stimulate the economy by providing cheap labor, buying goods and services in the United States, and yes, paying taxes. (There are a number of taxes other than income tax that that undocumented workers routinely pay.) Nearly, every government study, including studies commissioned by the Reagan and George W. Bush administration, have backed up this claim.
This may be why every president has attempted to reform immigration in some way. Reagan offered undocumented workers amnesty and attempted to prosecute companies that hired illegals and he has not ever been accused of being a bleeding heart. George W. Bush attempted immigration reform and was blocked by members of his own party. Even with all this hostility from the public, and politicians who constantly promise draconian measures to halt immigration, very little has been done by the government to launch a full scale “war on immigration" because this would result in a huge lose in federal resources and halt something that is beneficial to the United States in the first place.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST IMMIGRATION REFORM
Many arguments have been proven empirically false. The argument that undocumented workers hurt the economy is untrue and many studies can be found at places like Factcheck.org. Other claims, such as, illegal immigrants are criminals, or bring guns and drugs into the country are true under anecdotal cases but are statistically false when compared to the population of American citizens. These are facts that can be checked and those who continue to argue against them are engaging in conspiracy theories or selective skepticism that does not make them rational enough to participate in this debate.
Many arguments that have been put forth to justify tough crackdowns on Mexican workers have been nonsensical. A fairly odd, but incredibly common one is to appeal to legality as a standard of justice rather than justice as a standard for legality. It is common for somebody to say that they support legal immigration but are against undocumented Mexican workers because they are breaking the law. Such an argument makes two very odd assumptions, the first being that breaking the law is never justified, the second being that the legal authority of the United States should be accepted without question, even by non-citizens.
In a Democratic Republic, such as the United States, the people dictate the laws. The argument for the law is that it is what is "just" but we know from our history that this is not always the case. If a person is an American citizen, it is assumed that t they have some inherent rights, and these rights even trump the authority of the government. Human rights are themselves a contentious issue but if they are argued to exist by anyone, they are not given by governments but are given to everyone, regardless of their place of birth, status, race etc. This is the very point of rights, and if a person believes the law to be unjust and, in more basic terms, a violation of his basic rights, then he should be able to break the law enforced by human governments.
This is of course incredibly complex. The civil rights movement of the United States was accomplished by civil disobedience but this was through the work of US citizens. In the case of immigrants who illegally cross the border to enter the United States, what rights do they have? Proving any rights for any persons, no matter who they are, is complex and very difficult. But let us take a different tact. What rights of the citizens of the United States, that we generally agree are rights, are they violating?
Even if we assume the claim that the presence of illegal immigrants takes jobs from Americans, then so what? These jobs are not stolen from Americans. They are not automatically given to Mexican workers by rights but are earned by them through free market competition. The very essence of capitalism is competition. If somebody else is willing to work harder for less money than you are, then chances are they will take your job. This is the same reason that millions of US jobs go overseas each year, an issue that has no upside for the US economy and gets nowhere near as much anger. There is no egregious violation of your rights in either case, at least not in a system dictated by the rules of a capitalism-based society.
THE REAL PROBLEM
Like far too many issues, Americans suffer form misdirected anger. With both illegal immigration and outsourcing big business wins. Both practices allow American businesses to get cheap labor and increase profits. The differences between the two are obvious though. Undocumented workers reside in the United States, at least part of the time, and they buy products in the US economy, pay taxes here and help American based businesses in America. In the other case, we have a practice that only benefits very wealthy individuals in the United States and directly benefits the economy of other countries.
The reason that one bothers Americans and the other doesn’t amounts to good old fashioned xenophobia. While it is true that undocumented workers do sometimes exploit resources from our system, what they give is much greater than what they take overall. The problem is that Americans can see them. They speak another language, their children go to school with our children and we fear what is different. This is no more justified than fear of the Germans or Irish were, or the internments of Japanese Americans, while German and Italian Americans never experienced such a thing. The problem is our inherent racism, and until we can face this issue directly, we will only be hurting ourselves and our neighbors, far more than any outside forces could.