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Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

 

PREFACE

     The immigration issue currently being debated in the United States is indeed complex with many variables and diverse stakeholders. Consequently, as part of that debate, it is important for the American people to collectively understand all sides of the issue and its multi-faceted nature. It is incumbent upon all of us to understand why it is some people want to risk their lives while trying to come in to the United States illegally. It is also important to understand why anyone taking such risks would be willing to also dessert their native country. No immigration policy can be viably developed unless a comprehensive approach is undertaken to understanding all aspects and sides of this issue.

     Consequently, I am initiating a five part series on the nature of the complex issue of Immigration. My next four blogs (one-a-month) will run through to November 20, 2010. Part I through Part V includes:

 Immigration Policy Debate in America

The Causes of Illegal Immigration

The Multi-faceted Impact of Illegal Immigration

The New Arizona Law and Legal Issues Involved in Immigration Policy

Illegal Immigration’s Hidden Side: Crime and Human Rights Abuses in Mexico

      It is hoped that the reader will come away with a more well-rounded perspective on the immigration issue, but also a more in-depth understanding of the violence and human rights abuses that are currently plaguing a troubled Mexico. I cannot measure the impact such later events as violence and human rights abuses are having on motivating people to cross the border into the United States from Mexico—but rest assured, such factors are motivating some individuals not to have second thoughts about leaving their native country.  Perhaps people lose pride in their native country when they’re sitting on a powder keg and someone is aiming a gun at their head. Like every other issue in life, conservatives want the luxury of simple answers in “Black and White.” And, liberals only prefer to see things in shades of “gray.”  But black, white and gray aren’t the only colors of the rainbow. Black, white, and shades of gray are simply too limiting a palette for human understanding. Understanding the complex issue of immigration requires a comprehensive realistic approach with all the colors of the rainbow. So, hold on to your seats as this complex issue is now explored.     

 INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW

       At the congressional level two things must occur before public policy is created, or legislation is enacted by the U.S. Congress on immigration. One, the congress must start by holding House and Senate hearings to collect facts and opinions from all sides on this issue. Seems like a simple matter; but let’s see if they actually do it.

     All questions on immigration should be addressed. What specifically do we want, as a nation, to achieve with immigration policy? For example, should there be any policy restricting anyone from anywhere to the United States? Or, should America, once and for all,  end all immigration to the United States? If some sort of limited middle-ground restrictive immigration policy is desired, then should there be a quota system of some kind? And if so, what kind of quota system? 

     Should there be immigration restrictions with primarily Homeland Security needs kept in mind? Should temporary visas be the only form of entry into the United States while permanent citizenship would no longer be allowed? And, once and for all, should English be declared the official language of the United States as an aspect of any immigration policy? Should amnesty be declared for the millions of illegals already here? Should the human rights needs of illegals, based on their native countries’ human rights record, be a consideration for any proposed amnesty?  

     Should illegals from Mexico be treated any differently than illegals coming from any other country (e.g., Cuba) since both the public perception and data suggest that Mexico comprises the biggest illegal immigration problem as measured by estimated number of illegals coming into the country? The last question is somewhat philosophical. That is, if law is so important to a democracy, then shouldn’t we be enforcing all earlier passed laws on immigration? Why aren’t we enforcing current immigration law? Who within the United States has benefited from a weak law enforcement stance on illegal immigration? Why aren’t Mexico and other Latin American countries creating the financially rewarding incentives to create the positive conditions where by no citizen would ever want to leave their native country? And, above all, if your native country fails you, why aren’t you trying to change your country for the better rather than desserting it? These are tough questions to answer but they must be asked.

     All of these questions should be explored in great detail including many questions I haven’t thought of. Many of these questions raised must be answered before any viable immigration policy is created, and the values underlying each answer should be honestly articulated.

     One could argue, of course, that there are no real answers to immigration, only decisions rendered by value judgments politicians and their constituents hold. None of us are so naïve as to believe that decision making and values can be separated in deference to pure reason and logic.

      Collective values of a nation are very important to any nation’s sense of itself, its defining characteristics. No one should dismiss the relevance of making value judgments. But when logic and reason find their way back into the process of evaluating public policy, we must ask ourselves these guiding questions: whose values and what values should predominate where public policy on immigration is concerned? And, once decisions are made does one know what values led to what decisions?  

      It is, of course, the political process that translates diverse values and the values of diverse groups into political action. Perhaps it’s too intellectual to hope that once decisions of the U.S. Congress are rendered on immigration policy, the values underlying those policy decisions would be spelled out for all to see (i.e., real transparency, not lip-service transparency). In practical terms, it is important for those in Congress to explain why decisions are made as well as what decisions are made on immigration.

     Said again, the Congress must decide what the goals of an American policy on immigration should be. Given the current climate in Washington, I suspect both Republicans and Democrats will have a difficult time creating immigration reform goals. If a bi-partisan compromise is reached on goals, then it is incumbent on all parties to create a workable process to collect data on the complex interrelated variables before developing specific objectives.   

     It seems with passage of a new law in Arizona, and legislation pending in Texas, the conscious focus of the current debate is more about “illegals” coming from Mexico than anything else. If Mexico is the primary topic of debate it is important, more than ever, to explore what our neighbors to the south are all about. Approximately 11 million illegal immigrants are estimated to be living in the United States; due to the clandestine nature of illegal immigration, the exact number is unknown. Therefore, you will observe some contradictions in the numbers ahead depending upon who is doing the estimating.

      It is true, however, that the majority of illegal immigrants are from Latin America. Illegal immigration has been a longstanding issue in the United States, creating immense controversy. Harvard economist George J. Borjas explains that the controversy centers around the “huge redistribution [of wealth] away from [unskilled American] workers to [American employers] who use immigrants.”

     In 2007, President Bush called for Congress to endorse his guest worker proposal, stating that illegal immigrants took jobs that Americans would not take.

     The Pew Hispanic Center notes that while the number of legal immigrants (including LPRs, refugees, and asylees) arriving has not varied substantially since the 1980s, the number of illegal aliens has increased dramatically and, since the mid 1990s, has surpassed the number of legal immigrants.

      Penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants range from $2,000-$10,000 and up to six months’ imprisonment. Political groups like Americans for Legal Immigration PAC have been formed to fight what they perceive as the threat of illegal immigration by demanding that the US enforce immigration laws and secure the borders. Several counties throughout the United States have chosen to deputize police officers as immigration officials.

 WHAT IS ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION?

      Illegal immigration to the United States refers to the act of foreign nationals violating U.S. immigration policies and national laws by entering or remaining in the United States without proper permission from the United States government.

  • The illegal immigrant population of the United States in 2008 was estimated by the Center for Immigration Studies to be  about 11 million people, down from 12.5 million people in 2007. According to a Pew Hispanic Center report, in 2005, 57% of illegal immigrants were from Mexico; 24% were from other Latin American countries, primarily from Central America; 9% were from Asia; 6% were from Europe; and 4% were from the rest of the world.

     Illegal immigrants continue to outpace the number of legal immigrants—a trend that’s held steady since the 1990s. While the majority of illegal immigrants continue to concentrate in places with existing large communities of Hispanics, increasingly illegal immigrants are settling throughout the rest of the country.

     An estimated 13.9 million people live in families in which the head of household or the spouse is an unauthorized immigrant. Illegal immigrants arriving in recent years tend to be better educated than those who have been in the country a decade or more. A quarter of all immigrants who have arrived in recent years have at least some college education. Nonetheless, illegal immigrants as a group tend to be less educated than other sections of the U.S. population: 49 percent haven’t completed high school, compared with 9 percent of native-born Americans and 25 percent of legal immigrants.

     Illegal immigrants work in many sectors of the U.S. economy. According to National Public Radio, about 3 percent work in agriculture; 33 percent have jobs in service industries; and substantial numbers can be found in construction and related occupations (16 percent), and in production, installation, and repair (17 percent).

      According to USA Today, about 4 percent work in farming; 21 percent have jobs in service industries; and substantial numbers can be found in construction and related occupations (19 percent), and in production, installation, and repair (15 percent), with 12% in sales, 10% in management, and 8% in transportation. Illegal immigrants have lower incomes than both legal immigrants and native-born Americans, but earnings do increase somewhat the longer an individual is in the country.

     A percentage of illegal immigrants do not remain indefinitely but do return to their country of origin; they are often referred to as “sojourners: they come to the United States for several years but eventually return to their home country.”

Breakdown by State

     As of 2006, the following data table shows a spread of distribution of locations where illegal immigrants reside by state:

State of Residence of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population: January 2000 and 2006
State of residence Estimated population in January Percent of total Percent change Average annual change
All states 11,555,000 100 37 515,000
California 2,930,000 25 13 53,333
Texas 1,640,000 14 50 91,667
Florida 980,000 8 23 30,000
Illinois 550,000 5 25 18,333
New York 540,000 5
Arizona 500,000 4 52 28,333
Georgia 490,000 4 123 45,000
New Jersey 430,000 4 23 13,333
North Carolina 370,000 3 42 18,333
Washington 280,000 2 65 18,333
Other states 2,950,000 26 69 200,000

 

 Present-day Countries of Origin

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the countries of origin for the largest numbers of illegal immigrants are as follows:

For 2005

Country of origin Raw number Percent of total Percent change 2000 to 2005
Mexico 7,000,000 57 65%
El Salvador 470,000 4 9%
Guatemala 370,000 4 21%
India 280,000 3 3%
People’s Republic of China 230,000 2 2%

For 2006:

Country of origin Raw number Percent of total Percent change 2000 to 2006
Mexico 6,570,000 57 69%
El Salvador 510,000 4 9%
Guatemala 430,000 4 8%
Philippines 280,000 2 4%
Honduras 280,000 2 5%
India 270,000 2 5%

The Urban Institute estimates “between 65,000 and 75,000 undocumented Canadians currently live in the United States.”

TIMELINE OF DEBATE

     It has taken decades for the U.S. Congress to come to grips with having to “do something” about immigration. My best guess is the U.S. Congress won’t begin serious debate on immigration until after the mid-term elections coming in November 2010. In Part II ahead the causes of illegal immigration will be described in some detail. Please stay tuned for next month’s blog.

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