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A Few New Ideas for the Immigration Policy Debate

[A Two-part Series]

Part 1

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

These lines above are from the poem, “The New Colossus,” written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. They appear on the Statute of Liberty.

 

Introduction

It is an historical fact that since immigrants have tried to assimilate in America, it has always been the case that the “new kid on the block” has the most trouble or difficulty trying to fit in with their old country cultural norms, names and languages. And every group had their small number of bad “apples.” Sometimes the barrel of apples was quite large.

For example, the Five Points Gang in New York at the end of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century was a large criminal organization, primarily of Irish-Americans from the sixth ward (the five points of Manhattan, New York). There were many other immigrants that came to America, formed gangs, and proceeded to organize along race/ethnicity lines among the various neighborhoods in New York.

Considering the current state of politics under the Trump administration, the notion of a hypocritical nation jumps right out at you. The irony is so thick one could slice it with a butcher knife. Given the plurality of ethic and many Caucasian gangs at the turn of the twentieth century, the government nonetheless wasn’t proposing a policy to ban the Irish, Catholics, Polish people, Germans, Scottish, Italians, or later blacks.

Today’s target appears to fall on Hispanics and those of the Muslim faith. Every generation of Americans who were originally immigrants from other nations always fears the next generation coming to America. However, by the time all of these ethnic and religious groups become second and third generation citizens, low and behold, they tend to become fully assimilated true Americans. Why? It may sound like an overly used cliché, but America is still the land of opportunity, and the world knows it.

Values versus Facts Regarding Immigration

Ultimately, the pushes and pulls of political and social forces will determine what the Country’s immigration policy will be. This in turn will be determined by the “value judgments, preferences, biases, and conceptual framework” dictated by those in positions of power.

But please, make no mistake about it—there is no such thing as absolute truth or absolute right or wrong values. All values are relative, and our notions of what is truth are based on only one thing i.e., truth is only what we agree it is—nothing more, and nothing less.

But whether “agreed upon truth” has any relevance in the real world, there is but one arbiter who stands above the fray of conflicting value judgments and notions of truth. And that arbiter is not ultimate truth, but Facts.

Facts are a piece of information used as evidence, or as part of a report or news article. It is a thing that is indisputably the case. Consequently, Part I of this Blog will present facts on immigrants. I will do this by answering two questions a lot of citizens have about immigrants, and therefore, albeit, immigration policy.

In Part II, I will answer the question of how much crime is connected to immigration. I will also present a few ideas that are different from the original amnesty proposals, as well as the current White House administration that uses race and religion for purposes of supporting an extremist ideology that is the antithesis of American values as reflected in democratic institutions and the United States Constitution.

Of course, neither liberals nor conservatives can ever escape making value judgments. Values do underlie a lot of human choices. But values from any political identity that is devoid of knowledge, or are impervious to facts, does everyone a great disservice. We all need in our decision-making ability to be guided by facts, not ideology or religious extremism whether from the Left or the Right.

Questions about Immigrants

There are three questions I’d like to address in Part I and II: (1) should there be limits to immigration? (2) Why do we need more immigrants? And (3) Do immigrants (legal or illegal) commit a lot of crime? Part I will answer the first two questions; Part II will address the question of crime and immigration.

These are the types of questions that most citizens want answered. Facts may be able to dispel a lot of false assumptions made by a sizeable number of these citizens. The facts may dispel or contradict our notions of reality. This is why research rather than rhetoric should inform public policy on immigration.  

     Finally, in Part II I will present a new proposal for a humanitarian approach to Immigration policy, including the specifics on how to achieve such a policy. There will be a final comments section at the end of each blog.

Should there be Limits to Immigration?

The answer to this question is primarily a value judgment.  However, one way to create a logical and reasonable, data-driven way to address the issue of how many immigrants to allow in the United States each year is to consider how many taxpayer citizens die each year.

First, there is one birth every seven seconds in the United States, and one death every ten seconds. This amounts to approximately less than one percent (.77) increase in the population each year. However, newborns this year won’t be ready to pay taxes (generally speaking) for another 18 years.

We know that there are approximately 122,000,000 taxpayers who pay federal income taxes each year. Depending on how many die each year would give one an approximate estimate of how many taxpayers are needed for replacement. New immigrants might be able to pick up the slack as contributing taxpayers.

The increase in population due to the annual birth rate (which does exceed the number who die) won’t help the nation’s coffers. As said above, this is because, generally speaking, the newly born won’t be prepared to pay taxes until they are at least 18 years of age.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) do not obtain this type of data, i.e.,  (taxpayer deaths).

For the sake of argument, let’s assume this: There were 2,626,418 deaths in the United States in 2014. The United States had a total population of 317,000,000 in 2014. The percent of taxpayers represent about 317,000,000 / 122,000,000 or 39.2 percent of the total U.S. population.

Thirty-nine point two percent of the number of deaths would equal approximately 1,024,303 deaths of taxpayers. However, since 23.3 percent of the population is 18 or under, a fair guess would be that the actual number of taxpayer deaths in 2014 would be closer to 1,024,303 minus 238,662 or 785,641 taxpayers. All of this is based on assumptions. And, as we all know too well, “assumptions are the mother of all screw-ups.” However, for the sake of argument, let’s proceed further into this analysis.

One article I reviewed on this topic was titled, “Refugees and Asylees in the United States” dated October 28, 2015, by Jie Jong and Jeanne Batalova. They reported that:

“The United States is the world’s top resettlement country for refugees. For people living in repressive, autocratic, or conflict-embroiled nations, or those who are members of vulnerable social groups in countries around the world, migration is often a means of survival and—for those most at risk—resettlement is key to safety. In fiscal year (FY) 2015, the United States resettled 69,933 refugees and in FY 2013 (the most recent data available) granted asylum status to 25,199 people.

By the end of 2014, as wars, conflict, and persecution worldwide continued to unfold, the number of people displaced within their country or having fled internationally reached 59.5 million, according to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)—the highest level ever recorded.

And by mid-2014 there were more than 1.2 million asylum seekers worldwide. Ongoing war in Syria alone has led more than 4.1 million people to seek refuge in neighboring countries and beyond and to the internal displacement of more than 7.6 million Syrians.

In response to this humanitarian crisis, the Obama administration proposed to significantly increase the number of refugees the United States accepts each year—from 70,000 in FY 2015 to 85,000 in FY 2016 and 110,000 in FY 2017—and scale up the number of Syrian refugees admitted to at least 10,000 for the current fiscal year, which began October 1.

The United States offers humanitarian protection to refugees through two channels: refugee resettlement and asylum status. Using the most recent data available, including 2015 refugee arrival figures from the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security’s 2013 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, and administrative data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, this spotlight examines characteristics of the U.S. refugee and asylees population including the admissions ceiling, top countries of origin, and U.S. states with the highest resettlement.

It also explores the number of refugees and asylees who have become lawful permanent residents (LPRs), followed by an explanation of the admissions process.”

Summary Viewpoint:

     Immigration involves more than refugees from war-torn countries and asylees. It involves people escaping poverty, poor governmental response to poverty, crime in the neighborhoods, social injustice involving organized crime such as terrorist acts committed by drug cartels in Mexico and several South American countries.

  Simply put, based on my earlier analysis, the multi-faceted problem of immigration is not keeping up the pace with the country’s annual death rate, thus putting the nation at risk for fewer and fewer tax dollars for future federal budgets.

     We should be admitting somewhere around 785, 641 immigrants each year into the United States at the same time we are creating Amnesty for those illegals who settled in the U.S. in prior years. If one accepts the notion of amnesty and replacement of taxpayers who die each year, I think a perfectly reasonable upper limit of immigration could be set at 1million per year.

Why do we need more Immigrants?

     The answer to this question is best represented in an Obama Administration White House blog posted on July, 12, 2012 by Jason Furman and Danielle Gray. The title of the Blog was, “Ten Ways Immigrants Help Build and Strengthen Our Economy.

“Summary: Our American journey and our success would simply not be possible without the generations of immigrants who have come to our shores from every corner of the globe.

America is a nation of immigrants. Our American journey and our success would simply not be possible without the generations of immigrants who have come to our shores from every corner of the globe. It is helpful to take a moment to reflect on the important contributions by the generations of immigrants who have helped us build our economy and made America the economic engine of the world.

How do immigrants strengthen the U.S. economy? Below is our top 10 list for ways immigrants help to grow the American economy.

Immigrants start businesses. According to the Small Business Administration, immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a business in the United States than non-immigrants, and 18 percent of all small business owners in the United States are immigrants.

Immigrant-owned businesses create jobs for American workers. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, small businesses owned by immigrants employed an estimated 4.7 million people in 2007, and according to the latest estimates, these small businesses generated more than $776 billion annually.

Immigrants are also more likely to create their own jobs. According the U.S. Department of Labor, 7.5 percent of the foreign born are self-employed compared to 6.6 percent among the native-born.

Immigrants develop cutting-edge technologies and companies.  According to the National Venture Capital Association, immigrants have started 25 percent of public U.S. companies that were backed by venture capital investors. This list includes Google, eBay, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems, and Intel.

Immigrants are our engineers, scientists, and innovators. According to the Census Bureau, despite making up only 16 percent of the resident population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, immigrants represent 33 percent of engineers, 27 percent of mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientist, and 24 percent of physical scientists.

Additionally, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy, in 2011 foreign-born inventors were credited with contributing to more than 75 percent of patents issued to the top 10 patent-producing universities.

Immigration boosts earnings for American workers. Increased immigration to the United States has increased the earnings of Americans with more than a high school degree.

Between 1990 and 2004, increased immigration was correlated with increasing earnings of Americans by 0.7 percent and is expected to contribute to an increase of 1.8 percent over the long-term, according to a study by the University of California at Davis.

Immigrants boost demand for local consumer goods. The Immigration Policy Center estimates that the purchasing power of Latinos and Asians, many of whom are immigrants, alone will reach $1.5 trillion and $775 billion, respectively, by 2015.

Immigration reform legislation like the DREAM Act reduces the deficit.  According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, under the 2010 House-passed version of the DREAM Act, the federal deficit would be reduced by $2.2 billion over ten years because of increased tax revenues.

Comprehensive immigration reform would create jobs. Comprehensive immigration reform could support and create up to 900,000 new jobs within three years of reform from the increase in consumer spending, according to the Center for American Progress.

Comprehensive immigration reform would increase America’s GDP. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that even under low investment assumptions, comprehensive immigration reform would increase GDP by between 0.8 percent and 1.3 percent from 2012 to 2016.

As a nation of immigrants, we must remember that generations of immigrants have helped lay the railroads and build our cities, pioneer new industries and fuel our Information Age, from Google to the iPhone.  As President Obama said at naturalization ceremony held at the White House last week:

The lesson of these 236 years is clear – immigration makes America stronger.  Immigration makes us more prosperous. And immigration positions America to lead in the 21st century.  And these young men and women are testaments to that. No other nation in the world welcomes so many new arrivals.

No other nation constantly renews itself, refreshes itself with the hopes, and the drive, and the optimism, and the dynamism of each new generation of immigrants. You are all one of the reasons that America is exceptional. You’re one of the reasons why, even after two centuries, America is always young, always looking to the future, always confident that our greatest days are still to come.

We celebrate the contributions of all Americans to building our nation and its economy, including the generations of immigrants.”

Comments

Ha! So there you have it. How do we make America great again assuming this slogan has any real meaning in a country that is already great? It’s to bring in more (not fewer) immigrants each year.

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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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