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Depending on whom you read and what you believe, there are between 12 and 20 million people in the United States illegally. The large discrepancy is due to the fact that illegals are not easily identified or counted. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a rather right leaning group, estimates that some 13 million illegals live in America–60,000 of which live in Oklahoma. To many, the way of solving this problem is simply to take whatever steps are necessary to round-up and deport them. This neat and tidy view usually espouses a four-pronged solution that includes: repatriation, penalizing employers, increasing border protections, and creating state laws designed to make the culture of the home state inhospitable to illegals. (Oklahoma’s own HB 1804 serves as an example.)
The problem with this approach is that it focuses upon solutions after the fact instead of addressing the significant issues contributing to illegal immigration in the first place. This is the first of a two part series addressing the problems of illegal immigration. In this first part, I will examine the viability of the present four-pronged solution. In the second part I will suggest an alternative approach to the problem of illegal immigration.
A commonly touted solution is to repatriate or deport all illegals. The idea is that once we find someone–they should be sent back to where they came from. According to the Center for American Progress, the actual cost of doing this, over a five year period of time, would be close to 206 billion dollars–or 41.2 billion annually. A budget, such as this, exceeds the present Homeland Security budget. And even with this amount, we would deport a little more than 10 million illegals–leaving a significant amount. And, even though illegals take a toll on social services, our economy would be drained of 2.5 trillion dollars of economic benefit were we to follow this plan. There are other problems as well. To identify everyone who is living illegally in the United States will require that we have enormous police powers and expanded laws–greater than the patriot act–to investigate and spy upon American citizens. To create an agency the size of Homeland security will literally turn our country into an oppressive police state.
A second solution is to punish employers who hire illegals. Many states, including Oklahoma and Arizona, have instituted such laws. The problem with this is that employers can be fooled or tricked by fake documentation needed for employment. To assist employers, Homeland Security has instituted an E-verify program. The problem is, that about 55% of illegals who use illegal documentation are not caught by this system according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. You may read the report here. If illegal aliens are able to fool the Department of Homeland Security, how can we expect ordinary citizens to do better. Also, it is a bit ironic that the political right, who mostly champions restrictions against illegals from working in this country, have no compunction against passing protective legislation that allows their corporate cronies to outsource American jobs all over the world. We criminalize an illegal who picks fruit while outsourcing engineering and computer jobs.
A third solution proposed by the right is to reinforce our borders with fencing, additional personnel and equipment. This will be no easy task. According to the Congressional Research Service, America has some 25,000 miles of border to protect. If we were to erect our own version of the Berlin Wall over these 25,000 miles it would be a very costly venture. For instance, the Scripps News Service, reports GAO figures of 3.4 million dollars per mile as the cost of the 600 mile fence between the United States and Mexico. Additionally, according to CBS news, the 20 year cost of maintaining this wall will be another 6.5 billion dollars. Of course, this present wall no where near covers the entire Mexican Border and it is a safe bet that additional fences will have to be built as well–at even higher costs–as immigrants seek other means to enter the country. Given present costs, the cost of fencing some 12,000 miles of Canadian and Mexican borders would would minimally cost 40.8 billion dollars to build and more than 130 billion dollars to maintain. And remember, this doesn’t even count the cost of buying the rights to the land, personnel, vehicles, etc. And of course, even more technology will be needed to stop tunneling under the fences.
The last of the four prongs is to create an inhospitable environment for illegals and non English speaking peoples. The goal of these laws is to encourage an attitude of rudeness and inhospitality among citizens while denying public services. These include laws which would denying a public school education to children of illegals, requiring hospitals to report to police any suspected illegals they may treat, requiring police to stop, detain and inquire about the citizenship of people “suspected” of being illegals, English only laws for governmental services, refusing and taking away state business licenses to those who hire an illegal, fining those who rent a housing property to an illegal, and fining and imprisoning people who offer assistance to illegals. In other words, the state uses a big stick to insure that illegals cannot have a place to live or work–as well as punish those who would offer humanitarian service. If we given in to this mindset, it will come at a great cost to our society in the form of additional bigotry and racism outside of the bounds of immigration. It is no small coincidence that the Anti-Muslim legislation authored in Oklahoma comes on the heels of the constant drumbeat and talk about immigration.
What conclusions can we draw about this four-pronged legislation?
- It is impractical because of the cost of building and maintaining the necessary infrastructure.
- It will require our country to greatly expand its military and police powers,
- It will further erode our civil rights as we expand investigative and police powers,
- It will further encourage racism and hostility–beyond the bounds of immigratioin,
- It is reactive and isolationist. It does not address issues impacting immigration–only outcomes.
In part two we will examine some alternatives to this four-pronged approach to solving our immigration problems.