I have had the pleasure (and sometimes misfortune) of speaking with many conservatives on the issue of immigration and undocumented immigrants, and many of them fall under the same category: These were the men and women who, in past years, staunchly opposed any kind of immigration reform that even hinted at allowing undocumented immigrants to live here legally. Today their language regarding immigration reform has changed slightly, though their prejudice-infused thinking has not changed much. They argue today that our border must be secured before any talk about dealing with the undocumented immigrants already in the border. Here is how this approach to immigration reform fails: First, the argument of border security is a non-issue, as conservative estimates show undocumented immigration from Mexico has fallen to at least net-zero levels, if not in the negative; “Conservatives” also fail to realize the implications of 11 million people living within our counties borders without the right to vote, work, or pay taxes – just the revenue increase from taxes alone should be incentive enough for immigration reform; Top business leaders have long been supporters of a pathway to citizenship because the positive impact immigrants would have on the US economy; And finally, these “conservatives” fail to recognize some of the negative ramifications of having approximately 4% of your population living in the shadows. These topics will all be discussed below.
According to studies done by the Pew Hispanic Center, immigration over the US-Mexico border has fallen to a net-zero sum and is still trending negative. This is in part caused by the weak US economy, though other factors include tough regulations on immigrant workers, a long-term decline in birth rates in Mexico, and the resultant increase in job opportunities in Mexico. These facts are significant because more than half (58%) of undocumented immigrants are of Mexican origin. In addition, the claim that we are not doing enough to secure our borders currently is utterly preposterous! Last year alone, the Obama administration deported over 400,000 undocumented immigrants, many of whom were arrested for minor offenses – so-called “low-priority” immigrants, including the mothers and fathers of American citizens.
President Obama has deported more undocumented immigrants in his first four years than any other president in history, yet he is still attacked for being weak on border security. I believe President Obama has been far too tough on border security and not lived up to the campaign promises of either the 2008 or 2012 elections.
There are currently 11 million-odd undocumented immigrants living in the United States. That is nearly 4% of the total population of the entire country. These people cannot vote, they cannot legally work, and they are currently living in fear. Over the past few years we have seen a drastic jump in the number of undocumented immigrants publicly voicing their status. We have also seen certain undocumented immigrants become the faces of the immigration debate. I believe a popular axiom applies in this situation: “A fool is a man who does not heed the lessons of history.” In the entirety of human history, what has been the cause of internal conflict and violence in societies? Under-representation, violations of human rights, discrimination, etc. Perhaps we ought to look at the consequences of these actions in the past before repeating those same mistakes
The Partnership for a New American Economy, a non-partisan group made of up several American business and political leaders (including Mayor Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch), was created to stress the relationship between immigrants and economic vitality. Immigrants have long been known for their entrepreneurship; in fact, over 50% of all Silicon Valley startups (some of the most successful in the world) were created by immigrant founders. These startups have added more than 400,000 net jobs in a 10-year period. In addition, America has long been on a trend of declining graduation rates in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). The tragedy is that we have tens of thousands of undocumented immigrant students majoring in these high-demand fields, but we are not allowing them to work within our borders. Instead when they realize there will not be allowed to work within the US, they migrate to a more welcoming country to create opportunities in.
So when top conservatives make the claim that border security needs to take precedence over internal immigration reform, they are misguided for several reasons: first, they fail to see (or do not wish to see) that immigration from the Mexican border is currently at a net-zero sum, and thus not a current issue; they also do not seem to understand the implications of having nearly 4% of population living in the shadows (without the ability to work, vote, or serve their country); and finally, they fail to see what business leaders have understood for years – immigrants are an essential part of our economy and vital to our prosperity. Lets address the issue that has the greatest short-term relevance (the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows) and leave border debates for a time when it makes sense to talk about them.
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