Immigration good for all but process needs reform
Since the early 20th century, there has been a persistent demand for Mexican labor in California, Texas and Illinois, particularly in the agricultural, mining and construction industries.
In 1965, the U.S. ended the Bracero worker program and began to limit Mexican immigration, and the era of “undocumented immigration” started. Eighty-five percent of new entries were offset by departures, so the growth of the undocumented population was slow. But in 1986, the U.S. began militarizing the border with Mexico.
According to Princeton University’s Doug Massey, a pre-eminent immigration scholar, the explosion of America’s large undocumented population is a direct result of this militarization of the border, making these expensive measures counterproductive.
While undocumented workers once traveled back and forth from Mexico with relative ease, after the border was garrisoned, immigrants from Mexico crossed the border and stayed. They married and had or brought children here, who attended our schools and assimilated.
In recent years, the net inflow of new, undocumented immigrants arriving from Mexico has fallen to zero. Some of this is due to the U.S. recession and falloff in construction, and some of it is due to the improving economy in Mexico, where the unemployment is 5 percent and wages have been rising.
“I personally think the huge boom in Mexican immigration is over … it stopped four years ago and has been zero since,” Massey said.
Of course, the availability of these workers also has to do with poverty in proximity to wealth. The U.S. has the largest economy in the world yet exists next to poor, crime-ridden third-world countries with little opportunity, such as Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. On average, 75 percent of our undocumented workers come here from those countries in order to survive.
We have little interaction with the undocumented because most are forced to live in the shadows, fearful of being found out and deported. There were 94,000 deportations from California alone from 2008 to 2013, causing separation from families and great pain. From 2006 to 2012, there were 409,000 deportations nationwide, of which 200,000 were parents of kids who were U.S. citizens, leaving 5,000 children in foster care, which is projected to increase to 15,000 by 2016.
Presently there is no practicable pathway to citizenship for most immigrants in this country. The current immigration process is a Byzantine maze that is broken and dysfunctional, costing $18 billion a year to enforce. With quotas and almost impossible criteria to become eligible, most are excluded and if not, can wait years to get their papers.
California is showing compassion with better policies. For example, AB 4, a law just signed by Gov. Brown, prevents local law enforcement from detaining the undocumented for minor offenses like traffic stops so Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department, cannot deport them to fulfill their quota system.
AB 4 goes into effect in 2014, along with AB 60, which allows the undocumented to acquire driver’s licenses. Other new laws allow the undocumented to practice law, and there are protections against labor retaliation and unscrupulous attorneys.
We need immigration. Immigrants often do jobs Americans don’t want and actually create more jobs because they spend money for goods and services. As a group, they tend to be young, strong and ambitious, or they wouldn’t be able to do what it takes to come here to work.
Immigrants are 30 percent more likely than native-born to start their own businesses. In California alone, 588,763 Latino immigrant-owned businesses employed more than 458,000 persons of all ethnicities. They deserve liberty, justice and welcome rather than discrimination, exploitation and deportation.
Immigrants pay taxes and do not strain our safety net. In California, immigrants pay roughly $30 billion a year in federal taxes, $5.2 billion in state income taxes and $4.6 billion in sales taxes while contributing an average of $2,679 a year to Social Security, which system presently helps support our elderly. Being much younger than our aging population, they will have longer working lives to pay into the system before they will be eligible for those benefits. We need immigration.
A comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill passed the Senate but has been stalled in the House, even though there are sufficient votes for it to pass. Demand that Speaker Boehner bring it to the floor for a vote so it can be passed and signed into law, and our undocumented can come out of the shadows and live with dignity. We will all benefit.
Michele Spencer, Communications Committee, Nevada County Democrats
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