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Immigration: Blessing or Burden?
Maria and Ricardo Valenzuela are a typical Hispanic-American family with two kids, Esmeralda, 8, and her brother Antonio, 6. At 29 and 30, respectively, Maria and Ricardo are in their prime working years, and are eager to spend their hard-earned money on their family. They own their own a small restaurant, and put in long 10-hour shifts six days a week. The only difference is that they don’t have immigration papers, making them illegal immigrants. Many big name U.S. companies -- such as the phone company Sprint Corp. and Kraft Foods -- cater to such families, regardless of status; they are a solid consumer population just as willing (maybe even more so) to spend their cash than the rest of the country. Therefore, it would not be in our economic advantage to simply get rid of thousands of consumers -- legal or not; the big-name companies would never allow it.
When the Valenzuelas came to America six years ago, they had little money and two suitcases; in 2003 they paid $70,000 for a new 30-foot trailer which serves as headquarters and kitchen for their restaurant, as well as a Ford van for $11,000 -- a great improvement from their small street-side stand; it used to be that Maria ran the stand while Ricardo worked a labor job washing skyscraper windows in the same city. The success story is typical of many Americans -- immigrants and native-born alike.
However, this particular story took a wrong turn when Ricardo took a fall, and broke his leg in the landing; being ineligible for proper healthcare under a new anti-illegal immigration law called Proposition 187, Ricardo was labeled no longer fit to work, and was promptly replaced by another migrant worker and no compensation to speak of. As a friend drove him home, it didn’t take long to notice that Ricardo was also suffering from a concussion.
Unfortunately, Ricardo’s incident is not isolated, as many migrant workers are not properly trained to use their equipment. And of course, no one complains for fear of getting deported. Long months of hardship fallowed before the Valenzuelas finally got their lucky break when they were able to afford the trailer and van. Having never received proper care during his bed-ridden days, Ricardo sometimes walks with a slight limp.
Not everyone is so lucky, though. Thousands of immigrant workers get sick and injured each year and don’t receive the care they need out of fear of deportation -- all because they don’t have the papers. Many such workers live in California, which passed what’s known as Proposition 187 in 1994. As described by Raul Hinojosa, a research director of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, and Peter Schey, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in L.A., it prohibited illegal immigrants from receiving higher education and the limited public health care and social services they had been eligible for before. It went to the courts almost immediately, and three years later, it was ruled unconstitutional by a district judge. According to the Revolutionary Worker, the newsletter of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, the court ruling revealed that certain parts of Prop 187 could not be enforced by Californian officials because they fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. It did, however, keep intact the essence of the proposition by allowing immigrants to be “barred” from state-funded healthcare, which consist “primarily of prenatal and long-term elderly healthcare” if they cannot produce proper papers -- in other words, denying pregnant mothers and seniors the healthcare they need. According to Frank Sharry, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, the ruling also allowed immigrant children to be “excluded from . . . state universities and community colleges”.
Some Americans say that this law is beneficial to our society and economy, while others argue that it’s inhumane and will not solve the problems associated with illegal immigration. Although some Americans believe that illegal immigrants are exploiting the social service system of our country and bringing down the economy, they should be allowed to become citizens because such claims are misleading, as these immigrants are actually helping the economy thrive.
Opponents adamantly argue that the opposite is true, and they are right to say that the illegal status of many immigrants poses a problem, as these people are technically avoiding the law. They are also correct in thinking that action should be taken to reduce the illegal population as well as the number of illegal aliens coming into our country each year. However, the actions they propose would be ineffective if enforced because the problem lies not in the immigrants themselves, as many are led to believe, but in how they entered the U.S. Those in favor of mass deportation are mislead in thinking otherwise, and are therefore going about solving the problem in an unfair manner that is actually hurtful to our economy.
The general argument of people in favor of a Great Wall to “protect” from illegal immigrants is that “illegal immigration benefits the people of this country the way treason enhances national security” (Fedar). They claim that illegal immigrants are the cause of increased crime rates, are a drag on the economy, even a stain on the population of “real” Americans. Nothing can be further from the truth because, without immigration, economic and industrial growth will decline (Zakaria). How can the government of a supposedly tolerant people be so narrow-minded as to presume that the hard-working immigrants of America -- both legal and illegal -- have not helped it achieve its current state of power? Like Rome, America was not built in a day, and if it weren’t for the illegal aliens working in the shadows, it would have taken even longer. A great example of this is California, home to 43% of illegal immigrants, all of whom collectively generate 7% of the state’s economic output, which adds up to $63 billion a year (Wise). Large corporations have not been blind to this kind of influence on state economy, and gladly provide their services to what they see as a vital consumer population. Businesses such as Kraft Foods would be hurt by mass deportation or any other hindrance in the flow of immigrants. By treating illegals like any other consumers, large corporations are “Americanizing” them. Illegal aliens are acknowledged as important members of the consumer culture, and without them, profits would go down (and this could be harmful to the economy indeed) (Hinojosa and Schey). To take it one step further, while U.S. companies are “Americanizing” illegal immigrants by targeting them as consumers, Mexican companies are doing the same thing “in mirror image” when they target customers who have moved to America. According to Brian Grow and his fellow reporters at Business Week magazine “All this knits the U.S. and Mexico closer together, further blurring the border and population distinctions”. This is a good thing for the U.S. because as of now, its relations with Mexico (and much of Latin America, for that matter) are strained, and if the law where to acknowledge our inter-dependence, America would gain valuable allies in the world. Also, an immigration policy that includes a guest worker program and a path to citizenship would render America once again the great “melting pot” it has always claimed to be. Clearly, Kraft and other equally important corporations know what they’re doing because, according to a Bear Stearns Asset Management Study, 84% of illegals are 18-44, “in their prime spending years”, as opposed to 60% of legal immigrants (qtd. in Grow et al). Unfortunately, illegal aliens are cash-bound; if they were to become citizens, they would be able to use banks, loans, mortgages, and credit cards more effectively, all of which benefit our economy. The economy would also receive an extra boost because “consumers with credit cards spend more than those limited to cash” (Grow et al.). Because the U.S. is a capitalist country, and therefore corporations such as Kraft hold great sway in our future -- the history of business is, after all, closely connected to the history of people -- and they will do everything within their remarkable power to keep illegals here; the only logical way out is to allow illegal immigrants to legalize their status.
Those who wish to deport all illegal aliens also argue that the immigrants deserve it because they exploit the benefits of social services and don’t pay taxes -- in other words, they cost more than they’re worth. The truth is, illegal immigrants do in fact pay taxes, and a 1994 Rand Corp. study shows illegal immigrants use the social services they pay for less than the average American family, partially because they aren’t eligible for many of the social services and healthcare their taxes go to (qtd. In Hinojosa and Schey). According to Julian Simon, a professor at the University of Maryland, “undocumented immigrants pay five to 10 times more taxes than the costs of services they use” (qtd. in Sharry). The reason most illegal aliens do not apply for the limited food stamps and Medicaid they are eligible is that they are afraid of getting caught by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) (Rayner). In New York State -- second only to California in its immigrant population -- statistics show that the foreign-born population pays $18 billion in taxes a year; the illegal immigrants alone, who make up 16% of the immigrant population, pay $1 billion of those taxes every year. When comparing the amount of taxes paid to population size, the per capita tax payment of foreign-born New Yorkers “is hardly distinguishable from their native-born counterparts” (Wise). In California, however, “agencies argue that immigrants pay a greater proportion of taxes to the federal governments even though local governments are responsible for providing the bulk of social services”, report Hinojosa and Shey. These agencies have forgotten that this is true for most Americans because the federal government has shifted the “burden” of social services to its local counterpart. Therefore, “immigration is irrelevant to this phenomenon” (Hinojosa and Schey). One might continue to assert that though illegal immigrants pay taxes, they do not pay as many as legal immigrants or native-born citizens. Ironically, illegal immigrants can’t pay beyond these “limited” taxes because if they apply for things like car loans or mortgages, they’ll get deported. If illegal immigrants where to become full citizens, respond Brian Grow et al., reporters for Business Week magazine, they would be able to pay whatever taxes they are not paying now, and a greater portion of the population would be paying taxes in full -- a benefit no one can deny .
The political creators of Proposition 187 are clearly under the impression that the can achieve their dream of manifest destiny if they deny “essential services to undocumented immigrant” (12). According to them, this will also prevent more illegal immigrants from arriving as well as make those who are already here leave voluntarily. This won’t happen because illegal immigrants (and all immigrants in general) don’t come here under the assumption that they can exploit social services. Advocates of Prop. 187, for some reason, seem to think this is a very important reason -- probably because if they used the truth as their argument, they would not be able to win over any followers. They made it seem as though the passing of the bill was the will of the people, when in fact, political mind play could have been at work -- take a look at six articles on the illegal immigration issue, and half will say that the general public supports the immigrants while the other half claims the opposite. No one seems to be sure what the people of California -- or America, for that matter -- really think; “anti -- immigrant” supporters claim the populace is on their side, and “pro -- immigrant” advocates claim it is on theirs. Being the state with the largest illegal immigrant population, however, it’s safe to say that Californians know the importance of immigrants in their lives.
Unfortunately, not all Americans do. In addition to granting full citizenship through a well-thought out process, concrete, honest information for the public is important because if something like Proposition 187 where to take full effect throughout the country, one of two things will happen (Hinojosa and Schey).
One outcome may be that all illegal aliens are pinpointed, charged as criminals (regardless of record), and deported; no one else comes to United States (essentially what the bill is trying to achieve). Thousands of jobs are left vacant, and even if Americans can fill all the new jobs quickly enough, the higher wages that they will not work without “would mean big price hikes for numerous products and a collapse in output not experienced since the Great depression”. The inflation would cause the real income of all Americans to decrease sharply; the real wages in Mexico “would suffer the greatest decline, acutely exacerbating social and political tensions” (Hinojosa and Schey)
Opponents may argue that Americans will not necessarily (and are not even likely to) ask for higher wages, because they desperately need to find work. This is not true, because through the years, the native population has gotten more educated: more people are attending and graduating from high school, and college degrees are becoming common -- even necessary -- for work, even though the great majority of the global population does not have a college education. Higher education means higher standards, for both work and pay. The second, more likely, outcome of the passing of such a bill on a national level will be not to erase and essentially harmless portion of the population, but to drive it “deeper underground”. The immigrants will very likely stay because they are note here “because of the presumed availability of social services”. Remember -- these immigrants are young and able to work (Hinojosa and Schey).
The initial support for Prop 187 “is an ominous manifestation of the fear many U.S. voters have of their future position in a rapidly integrating world economy and an increasingly multicultural world economy”(Hinojosa and Shcey) -- a fear that politicians like former Governor Wilson decided to exploit. They fed this fear with an “image of Latin American welfare mothers jumping the borders to populate the schools with . . . non-English speaking children” (Hinojosa and Shcey). This misconception, implying the inherent laziness and deceit of immigrants, has led Americans to believe that they have a growing crisis on their hands, when this is not really what illegal immigrants are here to do; they are here to work, not to deceive.
Proposition 187 also assumes that illegal immigration is a dire threat, when the truth is the problem has been blown out of proportion. An opinion poll by Time magazine asked “How do most immigrants enter the United States?”, and an astounding 64% said illegally; only 24% said legally. This is not true, as most immigrants are, in fact, here legally (13). Though there is no way to be absolutely certain, but estimates range from 100,000 to about 400,000 a year; the INS refutes the claim that 2-3 million illegal immigrants are entering the country every year, as anti-immigrant advocates might want the public to believe(Rayner). A recent study by American and Mexican demographers estimates about 105,000 illegal immigrants a year. The INS estimate is 300,000, the Census Bureaus 200,000 -- 400,000, and the Center for Immigration Studies estimates 400,000 (Rayner). According to Tim Wise, author of a book on the subject, “The population of undocumented entrants into the US has remained constant as a share of the national population for over two decades, at no more than two percent”.
Some think that illegal immigrants take jobs away from “real” Americans. Many would say that a native-born American is just as willing to work the same job as an immigrant, and for the same pay. Just as many say this is not the case, that immigrants do the dirty work no one else wants. First of all, what exactly is a “real” American? Immigrants have always been part of our culture, and have been accepted as no less American than we are. “America is an immigrant nation; indeed, a nation of immigrants” (Grow et al.). Illegal immigrants make up 50% of all farm laborers, up from 12% in 1990 (U.S. Dept. or Labor (qtd. by Grow et al.). This is because the general population is becoming more educated; job standards are increasing for the “native” population, while they stay the same for immigrants. Illegal immigrants make up: 15% of meat and poultry industry, 24% of dishwashers, 27% of dry wall and ceiling tile installers (Jeffery S. Passel, qtd. by Grow et al.). None of these jobs are likely to be filled up by highly educated natives. 86% of Mexican men over 16 years of age are in the labor force, compared with only 75% of non-Hispanic whites” (Sharry). America has a “Faster-growing economy” that is dependant on new, young workers to take care of the aging population (Zakaria).
A guest worker program is the best and more practical way to deter illegal immigration because illegal immigrants come here in search of better work. Allowing immigrants who would otherwise come here illegally a legitimate way to enter the United States would help “facilitate their cultural and civic integration”, says Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico. He also adds that “If immigrant workers needed by the American economy where allowed to enter legally through an orderly process . . . practically all of the negative aspects associated with the immigration of low-skilled labor would cease”. This is a good place for immigrants to start if they want to become citizens.
Because illegal workers come more cheaply than legal ones to employers, a “black market” has been created, and a guest worker program is a good way to get rid of it. Since there is already cheap illegal labor in America, a guest worker program by itself will not solve illegal immigration. To do that, we must (for once) listen to President Bush because his solution will work. Bush proposes “a path to legalization” in which illegal workers can come forward to pay a penalty to get “on the right side of the law”, at which point they will be admitted into the guest worker program. Afterwards, they may even decide to become full (legal) citizens through the same process all immigrants go through, and, if completed, this process will ensure they know as much English and American history as the average American, and not less, as my opponents would have you believe.
Illegal immigrants should be willing to comply with this proposal because they are not criminals. For the vast majority of them, coming across the border illegally was the only choice because they where not able to get proper papers. Unless one knows for certain that all of them where denied these papers on the basis of criminal record, one cannot label all illegal immigrants as thieves and other such scum. “People move in search of family freedom and work . . . they want to provide for their family, to seek freedom an opportunity . . . and to give their children a brighter future. Others leave out of necessity. They leave to escape the knock on the door in the middle of the night, to flee the bombs and bullets of civil war, to get out from under the grinding boot of oppression and tyranny. Migration . . . is not generally for the tired and poor, but for the strong and courageous . . . Not surprisingly, most international migrants are young . . .” (Sharry). These have always been the reasons for immigrants to come to America, and they haven’t changed; this is the new wave of immigrants, a reflection of when the Irish came over. We can see the senseless foolishness in out attitude as a people towards them, so why can we not see the same foolishness in the attitude that illegal immigrants are useless criminals and breed like rabbits? It’s the same thing we said about the Irish . . .
Some people think that illegal aliens should be deported and given absolutely no chance to legalize their status because that would be rewarding them for breaking the law, encouraging more to do the same, and unfair to legal immigrants (Fedar). Such people might also be inclined to think that all immigration -- both legal and illegal -- is somehow harmful, when the truth of the matter is that America has always prided herself as being a country of immigrants, has always welcomed whatever services and knowledge they might bring. Because of its foundation on the idea that “all men are created equal”, it always has been and forever will be “an immigrant nation; indeed, a nation of immigrants” (Rayner). This is why mass deportation will not solve the problem of illegal immigration -- such an act will not stop more people from coming over because the motives that drive them to do so are stronger than any counter-motive American politicians can provide. If a mass deportation where implemented, anti-immigration sentiment would rise, as would racial tension between foreign-born and “native”, even between native-born citizens of different races. Political tension between Mexico and the U.S. would also increase. Therefore, a guest worker program that would allow all resident illegal immigrants to participate is the best solution to decrease the illegal population and deter any illegal would-bes; it can also allow participants to apply for citizenship, a great economic advantage as the people applying would be hard-working individuals ready to pay any and all taxes with an honest day’s work.
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