We desperately need a new immigration policy that: (1) provides a path to citizenship for workers currently living in the U.S.; (2) reunites family who have been separated by deportations, work visas for males only. or undocumented border crossings; (3) allows youth who were brought here as children and know America as their only homeland (so-called “dreamers”) to gain documentation so they can pursue education and careers here; (4) institutes an efficient entry visa program that admits workers coming to meet job demands in such areas as agriculture, construction, food preparation, and accommodation; and (5) restores the rule of laws that are realistic and enforceable.
Opposition to such a just policy is based on several erroneous and misguided myths, which are refuted by the following facts:
• Immigrants do pay taxes, in the form of income, property, and sales taxes at both federal and state levels. Undocumented immigrants contribute $6-7 billion in Social Security funds that they will never be able to claim.
• Immigrants do not take jobs and opportunity away from Americans. They usually do heavy manual labor or domestic service, working long hours, under hazardous conditions, for low pay — jobs that few of us are willing to take on.
• Immigrants do not come here to take welfare. They come to work, reunite with family, or send remittances back to family in their country of origin. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, and most other public benefits.
• Immigrants do want to learn English. Enrollment is high in English as a Second Language classes. Research shows that within 10 years, 75 percent of adult immigrants will speak English well.
• Immigrants do not send all their money back home. In order to survive and get ahead here, they must become consumers, and plow most of their earnings back into local economies by purchasing food, clothing, housing, cell phones, TVs, cars, and other necessities of life.
• Immigrants are not a drain on the U.S. economy. The net benefit of immigration to the U.S. is nearly $10 billion annually. Transplanted into our workforce, they will contribute $500 billion toward our Social Security system over the next 20 years — thereby resolving its so-called “crisis.”
• Most immigrants do not cross the border illegally. Around 75 percent have legal permanent visas; of the 25 percent that are undocumented, 40 percent have overstayed temporary (non-immigrant) visas.
• It is not weak border enforcement that has led to high undocumented immigration. Tough enforcement, heavy fortification, doubling of border agents, additional miles of walls and fences, high-tech surveillance, incarceration in private for-profit prisons, border militarization — all have only served to push migrants into dangerous areas farther and farther from urban entry points. I once volunteered with Humane Borders in Tucson putting out water to help reduce desert deaths, and saw with my own eyes the tragic effects of these brutal and ineffective policies called “border security.” True, fewer are crossing, but more are staying (an estimated 11 million). And our unjust trade policies, subsidies to agribusiness, convoluted and costly visa application process, and demand for laborers, guarantee a continuing flow.
• Today’s immigrants are not different from those of 100 years ago. The portion of our population that is foreign-born is 11.5 percent, as compared with 15 percent in the early 20th century. Similar to accusations about today’s immigrants, those of a century ago initially settled in ethnic neighborhoods, spoke their native languages, and started newspapers and businesses that catered to their fellows. They met with the same discrimination that today’s immigrants face, and integrated into American culture at a similar rate. No doubt ancestors of readers of this paper were among them. Every new wave of immigrants has been met with suspicion and doubt at first, and then ultimately has been assimilated, vindicated and saluted as 100 percent American.
Surely we can learn from this past experience of our own forebears and find a way to make things easier and more gracious for their present-day successors. While government and society debate immigration policy, as people of decency and good will can we not devise a just, humane immigration policy that offers welcome to the stranger, love to our neighbor, hospitality to those in need, and a secure home to those in our midst who seek the same things we do — “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?