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The United States needs a legal immigration system that enhances our security, strengthens our economy, and supports our communities: The most practical and realistic way to reduce unauthorized immigration dramatically is to bring U.S. immigration policy in line with economic and social realities. Lawmakers should devise immigration policies that are responsive to labor demands and ensure fair wages and good working conditions for all workers, both native-born and foreign-born, and which require unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States to apply for legal status. (The Immigration Policy Center)
Though Oklahoma is one of the least impacted states when it comes to illegal immigration (ranks 22nd out of 50) it is among the loudest and shrillest in the nation when it comes to publicly proclaiming a disdain for aliens. State Representative Randy Terrill is perhaps among the most cruel of persecutors when it comes to writing legislation to punish illegal immigrants and has stated his intention to introduce even more legislation denying citizenship to children born in Oklahoma to parents of undocumented workers.
In the previous post we noted that Oklahoma, like the rest of America, subscribes to a four-pronged approach to stem the tide of illegal immigration consisting of: border reinforcement, mass deportations, writing laws that punish employees and creating laws to make the home state inhospitable–such as the denial of public services, police round-ups, and English only laws. It could be argued that a fifth approach–mass amnesty–has also been tried. Regardless, the common denominator among all these approaches is this: they don’t work, they cost a lot of money, they promote hatred and racial tensions and they don’t address the larger reasons why people come here in the first place.
Why are they here?
The situation we now face is largely of our own doing. Simply stated, these folks are here because our culture is addicted to goods and services produced by cheap labor. In our Wal-Mart culture of low prices, we entice immigrants to work in agriculture, building trades, restaurants, auto repair services, meat packing industries, and hundreds of other jobs so that we might enjoy the luxury of having goods and services we could not otherwise afford. Rather than pay a living wage, we have all become complicit in a system that exploits immigrants to satisfy our desire to buy things cheaply.
This exploitation has created one of the largest underground and illegal economies in the world. It’s a world of human trafficking where immigrants are smuggled across the border in very unsafe conditions. Once here, they face further abuse in the workplace from employers who subject them to unsafe conditions and threaten them with deportation. At the same time, the nation loses billions of dollars in potential tax revenue because of the underground labor market. Instead of benefiting from a flexible employment system that could collect billions of additional tax revenue, we turn a blind eye and use a prohibition approach that rewards high risk takers and those willing to flaunt the law. But there is a better way.
What should we do?
We are beyond the point of arguing whether these people should be here in the first place. An estimated 13 million people are already here and Americans will be spending an enormous sum of money in the future to find some solution to this present problem. According to Professor Gordon Hanson of the University of San Diego, the cost of apprehension outstrips the benefits we receive by pursing a different policy (See the Migration Policy Institute’s Study). If this is indeed the case, it makes all the more sense to seek a better solution that advances the cause of our nation while seeking the good of all concerned. Here are some sensible approaches.
According to the National Immigration Policy Center, 67% of Americans believe that we would be better off if those who are here illegally paid their fair share of income taxes. The report further states that America would realize as much as a 1.5 trillion dollars of increased gross domestic product over the next ten years were a sensible program of immigration reform and legalization to be enacted.
We have everything to gain by making citizenship more accessible. In follow-up studies conducted among immigrants who were given amnesty in the Reagan years, 68% were homeowners. A large percentage had obtained additional education–including college degrees and most had significantly improved their income levels.
Time and again studies demonstrate that educated workers earn more, contribute more, and pay more taxes. Society benefits greatly from an educated community. Fo
r those willing to serve, we should be willing to lend financial assistance in the same way we would for those to any other student. Consider this study by the American Immigration Council.
A glance at recent research on the contributions of immigrants supports the expectation that immigrants are helping to lead the green economy and other emerging industries: Immigrants are nearly twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a business. Immigrants are filing patents at twice the rate of the American-born. Immigrants founded more than half of the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. Immigrants are much more likely to earn an advanced degree than the native-born.
To summarize, the United States is now at the crossroads of an important decision concerning what will be done about 13 million illegal immigrants. If we continue with our four-pronged approach we will spend billions of dollars to create a police state to oversee a modern day prohibition system. Or, we can pass laws that will use our money to create additional prosperity by adding capable people to our workforce and military. The second choice increases our gross national product while providing us with the brainpower we will need for the new green economy. Additionally, we will generate untold billions of revenue to grow our country. While the choice is ours, we must never forget that the rest of the world will be watching how we treat these 13 million people and wondering if our talk matches our actions.