Immigration Benefits the Economy,
The hope for immigration reform continues to plague its supporters and opponents. In the fall of 2001 it appeared that Comprehensive Immigration Reforms (CIR) was on its way to clearing Congress. Then the 9/11 attack occurred, derailing nearly everything on the legislative agenda as our leaders and the country scrambled to deal with a new and surprising reality –our vulnerability to terrorist attack.
After eight years, we still have not managed to pick up the pieces of our broken immigration policy and laws. Immigration Restrictionists such as Federation of Immigration Reform (FAIR) seeks not only to deny legal status to those who have made the US their home, whether by overstaying visas or undocumented entry, but FAIR wants to also reduce the annual quota of those seeking to immigrate in the future. It matters not to FAIR that by changing the quota, family members will be forever separated. Others oppose CIR until the border, meaning the U.S.-Mexican border is sealed. They argue that if such action is not taken, we will have an undocumented immigration problem again. In fact, that is exactly what has happened since the amnesty in 1986.
It is estimated that today there are between 12 and 20 million undocumented people in the U.S. Many do not have Social Security numbers or driver licenses. As a consequence, when they work, they are paid in cash. This necessarily means that they pay no taxes, do not contribute to Social Security, and their employers do not pay the required Social Security contribution. Still others use Social Security numbers that belong to someone else. This means that their earnings are not credited to their names because the name and number do not match the records of Social Security.
If these undocumented immigrants were legalized, this pool of hard working people would be a definite benefit to our economy. With trillions of dollars of national debt already a fact, social programs are being threatened, especially our Social Security retirement system. Beginning now and for the next 10 years, the largest demand on benefit payments will be made on this beleaguered system, as millions of Baby Boomers reach retirement age. The demand on payments will exceed the amount being paid in by the current working population. The income produced by new legalized workers will make retirement possible for those who have paid into the system during their career years. Of course, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also stands to collect billions of dollars in taxes from these newly added workers.
Another boost for the economy will be large fines that any CIR program will include. For adults, the contemplated figures varied from $1,000 to $2,000 per person. There was also a provision for several of the proposed bills to pay back taxes. This is money that the US would be foolish to overlook. So, not only are we talking of future payments to Social Security and the IRS, but also of immediate inflow of cash to the government from penalty provisions .
Part of the immigration process for each immigrant is a medical exam and background check. The first, which is paid by the immigrant directly to a U.S. physician, seeks to identify communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV infection, or a disability (physical or mental) that may prevent the immigrant from earning a living and becoming aburden on society. The background check is performed by the FBI to assure that no one with a criminal or terrorist past is permitted to enter the country. It follows, that once the 12 or 20 million are legalized, the pool of those here who wish to do us harm will be substantially narrowed, enabling law enforcement to better focus on and identify those who did not want to come forward, precisely because they wish to do us harm. Indeed, American Immigration Lawyers Association recently reported that the Council on Foreign Relations, a respected non-partisan foreign policy think tank, declared that immigration is a matter of national security.
Humanitarian and Just
We are a nation of laws, guided by the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution guarantees equal protection and due process to all those within its jurisdiction. By being physically in the U.S. , undocumented immigrants are protected by these rights. Apart from the Constitution, immigration law provides that those physically in the U.S. for 90 days must be afforded a hearing before an Immigration Judge before they are removed. Until recently, there were 20 immigration judges in Los Angeles; almost all of them had a case load of 1,500 to 2,000 cases. As a result, those entitled to a hearing had to wait between 1-2 years, and many times when their hearing day arrived, it had to be postponed for yet another year.
The Los Angeles Immigration Court has been assigned 10 additional judges, which will ultimately bring the number to 30. At best, this will reduce the hearing wait time by 1/3, but imagine what would happen if 12-20 millions had to be added to the court docket. This would be not only a huge management burden, but the cost of the hearings and returning people home would be enormous, and certainly not something we can face during such dire economic times.
Then there is the humanitarian aspect. What do we do with the children who were born in the U.S. and are U.S. citizens? They have grown up here and are Americans culturally, speaking only broken Spanish and being unable to read and write it. Sending them to a Third World country would mean sentencing them to a precarious life.
We are morally obligated to protect the U.S. citizen children. This is best done by enabling their parents to become lawful residents, and collecting the benefit of their labor, contribution to Social Security, to the IRS, and paying for the mechanics of legalization by collecting fines. It is all ultimately to the security and social benefit of the U.S.