If you’re like me, then you’ve been baffled at the mixed and muted politicking over illegal immigration. In campaign season politicians scream and argue and volley for positions on immigration. Conservatives notoriously caved in February on a budget proposal challenging, among other things, Obama’s executive “amnesty” for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants. Yet many of those same republican representatives campaigned on opposing platforms.
There are practical reasons why republicans and democrats could befriend illegal immigration. For republicans it can be cheap labor, “Undocumented workers.” For democrats it’s votes, “Undocumented Democrats.” Stats show that lower economic classes typically vote democrat. Allegedly, current policy has loopholes allowing for this illegal voting. Meanwhile, countless financial backers and lobbyists on the republican side stand to take a heavy loss if their pool of cheap labor were to dry up. I’m not prepared to defend or clarify that theory. It seems true enough, even if it is simplified.
A Compassionate Ideal
We do however have some important reasons to take illegal immigration more seriously than congress and the president have. Besides pragmatics and politicking, there is an ideal that we shouldn’t forget. The ideal undergirding America, the American Dream, is only as real as we make it. Lady Liberty is the “Mother of Exiles.” She speaks directly to the migrant masses saying:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door
–Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus,” 1883.
America offers such dangerous and beautiful liberty that anyone could be a rags to riches story if they just work hard, stay on the straight and narrow, and keep their nose clean. Or, if we are not careful, America could sacrifice all that made it great, lost in the void between the real and ideal. The US has become a world power, in large part because of the aspiring masses yearning to breath free American air. But this immigrant anthem does not have to translate into illegal immigration. We can have a sensible immigration policy that nonetheless asserts a strong border, strict enforcement for employers, strengthened policing, balanced with a streamlined naturalization process. Perhaps immigrant students from accredited universities and 4-year military service members should receive citizenship papers automatically, or be bumped to the front of the line for naturalization. Our immigration policy can be compassionate yet wise, charitable yet sensible.
Keeping that ideal in mind, realism offers a counterbalance against compassionate ideals. In reality, compassionate ideals can work only if they can endure the gamut of real pressing problems. We cannot afford to ignore or minimize this issues when facing the current wave of illegal immigrants. To come even close to the ideal, the only place to stand and reach is on the firm ground of reality.
1) General Criminal Activity
The Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement documented the release of 36,007 illegal immigrants with criminal records. This number is only a partial indicator of criminal activity fostered by an irresponsible immigration policy. Remember that the very act of illegal immigration breaks the law, so the entire phenomenon of illegal immigration is a gargantuan body of illegality. While many border-crossers are just looking for work, and some are surviving on overextended student visas, other immigrants can use the open borders to usurp any number of laws that are difficult to prosecute with undocumented individuals. Also, being a transient population immigrants can easily flee from the law. Not to mention non-citizens pose a legal challenge even when caught since they are only ambiguously related to civil rights (i.e., rights of citizenship). The legal system is expensive enough when it comes to providing attorneys for those who can’t afford them; it becomes an even larger financial burden when the U.S. is appointing attorneys for non-citizens, or conducting alternative measures such as deportation or extradition.
2 & 3) Drug trafficking and gang activity
Two related issues tie into Mexican drug cartels. With slight exaggeration Mexico can be called a narcostate. For all the good and great things about Mexico, it is heavily influenced by drug cartels buying off the police, terrorizing neighborhoods, commandeering resources and recruiting members. As long as the United States has money and people, it represents a market for sales. Weak and poorly defended borders leave huge blind spots for gang and drug activity crossing from Mexico, as well as other Central/South American countries. It is just naive to think that hard drugs, illegal drugs, and deadly gangs are not intermixed within the work-starved mass of immigrants.
4 & 5) Sex trafficking and wage/contract slavery
Perhaps the greatest human rights violation involved in illegal immigration is that it fosters an underclass of undocumented people who cannot appeal to the police, the local government, the banks, or the normal means of safety and stability when they are endangered. Especially seedy is human trafficking, a.k.a., sex trafficking. This is the practice of kidnapping and coercing people into forced prostitution, typically young girls and boys (avg. 12-14yrs old). The U.S. is a well-known destination county for sex-trafficking, since there are countless buyers, and lots of money. Estimates vary between 100,000 and 300,000 sex-trafficking victims in the U.S. alone. Besides sex trafficking there is also work place slavery which can be wage-based (wage slavery) or contract based (contract slavery). These kinds of violations can be stopped and prosecuted with U.S. citizens working at reputable companies. Such employees have full access to the legal system. But illegal immigrants themselves generally don’t report evils and errors in the workplace for fear of being discovered as criminal trespassers. Employers can get away with any number of workplace rights violations, human rights violations, and safety violations. Employers can breach contracts, abuse and harass their employees, underpay them, break safety codes, take unwarranted deductions, steal their visas and passports, overwork them, or any of the things our labor unions and human rights heroes have campaigned for since the industrial revolution.
6) It Compromises National Security
National Security is a precarious problem, virtually impossible to reduce to a “few easy steps” and even harder to accomplish. What we have is a relative and imperfect state of national security. No fortifications are foolproof. But there are definitely some plans that are better than others. And none of the good options include “open borders.” It only takes one terrorist, with a warhead in a briefcase, to trigger WWIII. A well confirmed report says that 4 Turkish terrorists affiliated with PKK (a Marxist-Muslim Group) were caught crossing the border in November 2014. Allegedly, 6 more were caught along with them. More suspicious claimants allege that “thousands” of OTM’s (“other than mexican”) are crossing the border with a “substantial” number of them being “muslim terrorists.” As early as 2005, apparently the “word got out” that our holding facilities for illegals are full so even when they are captured, they are promptly released on their own recognizance to appear at a court summons later. Of all captured illegal immigrants 85% or higher never show. There are many nuances to the sophisticated issue of global terror and national security but it is safe to say that no responsible plan for national security leaves the southern border wide open or leaves DHS (Department of Homeland Security), ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), Border Patrol (etc.) radically understaffed, under supported, or diplomatically constrained from doing their job.
7) It Undermines the Rule of Law
The U.S. exercises a rule of law built around several modern and classical ideals and all of it could collapse in a single generation if people were to, en masse, reject the rule of law. Now the laws are not always right, but neither are they altogether evil and foolish either. Our system affords a wide range of ways to challenge laws which may need more polish or precision, or which need to be replaced with higher ideals and smarter pragmatics. Generally speaking, we cannot expect people to uphold the rule of law when that law is constantly shirked by governing bodies such as DHS, ICE, or the Federal Government. The laws of the land prove especially weak when the President himself mandates active law-breaking, and directs related departments to ignore them too.
8) It’s Expensive
Perhaps the most practical issue here is that it will take money and manpower to be able to grow the local school districts, the welfare programs, low income housing, and the healthcare sector to accommodate hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants. Also, let’s assume that the “anchor baby” phenomenon is at least close to how conservatives characterize it (i.e., illegals who cross the border to have a child so it will be an American citizen). This phenomenon means that a lot of the immigrants will be too young to work, hence they cannot contribute to society as adults might. Those children are a financial burden on society. Aren’t we all pretty much whiny financial burdens on others till we are old enough to work? This means that an influx of illegal immigration comes at a high cost that is not necessarily offset by the cheap labor offered by parents. Even low-income standards of living in the U.S. are not cheap enough to where illegal immigrants can work unskilled jobs, knowing no English, and be able to pay for all their family needs and childcare. Some estimates suggest each public school students costs us, on average, at least $12,300. And the average household received $31,548 dollars in government benefits. These numbers add up real quickly when there are an estimated 11.5 million illegal immigrants in 2014 alone.
Many more points could be made (such as vaccinations and diseases) but these are some of the objective and self-evident reasons why we need to think-twice about extending a blanketing amnesty or some other variation that is soft on illegal immigration.