The Problem Of Undocumented Immigrants In The United States

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11 million people. According to the most recent statistics provided by the Department of Homeland Security, this is the approximate number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Most politicians on both sides will agree that our country absolutely needs immigration reform. For immigration reform to work, we need to decide what to do with the undocumented immigrants that are already here. An undocumented, or illegal immigrant, is someone that came into the country illegally, meaning that they did not go through the proper channels to legally enter the country. There are many good reasons why a large undocumented immigrant population is bad for a country. One of those reasons is that it creates a large part of the economy that is very difficult to regulate, another reason is that it erodes law and order.

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Why are these people seeking a better life any different than the colonizers that established this country? I would argue, if anything, they are better. They are not trying to take over our country, they are simply seeking something better for their children and our country is exploiting them. Marx would argue that we are creating barriers, both figurative and literal, that are keeping these people from absolute freedom. Karl Marx’s idea of freedom was that people must be free from exploitation. He believed that in a capitalist society this is impossible. In a capitalist society, profit is king. Profit will always be more important than people in a society like this, therefore it leaves many people, namely the working class, open to exploitation. Marx believed that in a capitalist society, people are not free to realize their potentials and interests. This is because they have to continuously work just for survival, they don’t own any means of production, they must compete against their fellow worker rather than work with towards a common goal.

We have 3 legitimate options to choose from to deal with this large number of undocumented people. Two of these options come with serious ethical issues attached. The first option in no particular order would be to catch and deport every illegal immigrant. The second option would be to grant legal status to these people but not citizenship. The third option would be to create a path to citizenship for those that are already here. Granting legal status would allow those that are here illegally to remain in the country but not as citizens, therefore they would not be granted the protections that citizens are. A path to citizenship would allow those people to take certain steps to become citizens of the United States.

June 24th, 2018, this was the day that our president said that all people that entered the country illegally, should be sent back immediately. He followed this statement with a tweet that stated all of these people should be sent back without involving any judges or the court system. Regardless of what he may think, that would be absolutely illegal. Our constitution says that all people must be afforded due process, this applies to citizens and non-citizens. In the 1896 case Wong Wing vs. US, the Supreme Court ruled that even those people that entered the country illegally had a right to make their case to a judge. This decision established that everyone within the US, even those that came here illegally, were to be protected by the fifth and sixth amendments which gives people the right to a public trial and does not allow people to be detained without due process. So, you can already see that President Trumps’ proposal would be illegal, but why stop there, let’s look at some of the logistics in regard to gathering up 11 million people and deporting them. First, you must find all 11 million of these people. Luckily, we do not live in a police state that would allow officers to knock down every door without warrants to find them. They could establish more checkpoints along the border, but to avoid racial profiling, which is illegal, they would have to stop and ask all Americans for identification. Charles Mills would probably see this as a good example of the Racial Contract in play. Charles Mills argues that racism is at the core of the social contract. The ethics that came from the social contract were meant to only benefit people of European descent, or “white” people. He believes that even though not all white people are signatories of this contract, they all benefit from it. Meaning, this contract was developed by the whites to exploit anyone they deemed lesser than them, including the immigrants trying to come here for a better life.

The American Action Forum, which is a conservative-leaning research group, estimates that President Trump’s goal of complete deportation in two years, would have to be stretched out to 20 years and could cost up to 600 billion dollars. To add on to the cost of mass deportation, there would also be the effect of losing such a large group of the nation’s workforce. Agriculture, ground maintenance, food prep and cooks, and construction, these are just a few of the industries in which undocumented immigrants make up at least 20% of the workforce according to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. $100 billion surplus generated by undocumented immigrants in the Social Security program in the last decade. $35 billion surplus in the Medicare Trust Fund. $15.9 billion in federal tax contributions for the year of 2016. These are just a few of the statistics provided by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. So, as you can clearly see, the mass deportation of 11 million people is not a realistic option, it would be illegal, and it would cripple our economy.

For my second argument, I will explain to you why granting legal status, or permanent residency, is a terrible option, leaving a path to citizenship as the only viable option for immigration reform. As a lawful permanent resident, these people would have no right to vote, meaning they would not have any say in how the country they live in is ran. They would not have a voice, something many of us take for granted but is very important in a democratic republic. These people would be very similar to the people coming out of prison that we were shown in the 13th documentary. Another way these immigrants are similar to the felons we are shown in the documentary is that we exploit them for their labor and then dismiss them as if they’re not people. They would also not have access to social security and unemployment benefits, meaning they would not have the safety net that many of us rely on during times of hardship. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi agrees that it is un-American to institute two classes of people in the United States, a class with full rights and a second class with few rights. To really drive home this argument, I will once again point to the economics of the situation. In 2013, Robert Lynch, a professor and chair of the Department of Economics at Washington College, and Patrick Oakford, a recipient of the award for best dissertation in the field of migration studies, conducted a study on the economic difference between granting legal status vs citizenship. Over a ten-year period, it is estimated that those that are granted legal status would contribute about $832 billion to the economy, add 121,000 more jobs per year, and pay $109 billion in taxes over that 10-year span. If those same people were granted citizenship these numbers nearly double.

A lot of people might say that these illegal immigrants are “misfits,” that they don’t belong here. I think you can draw similarities between them, and the people Rosemarie Garland-Thomson described in her essay. It’s not that these immigrants are that different, they are people, but our society has decided that they’re different and has made it very difficult for them to live here. Like the square block fitting into a circle hole, we as a society need to change that circle hole to allow more acceptability of those that are “different” than the majority. We are a country that was built by immigrants, we are also a country with a terrible history when it comes to dealing with these immigrants. Kicking people out because they don’t “fit” or came here through “improper” channels, just feels unethical. In 50 years will people look back at us the way we look at the people who locked up the Japanese during WWII? Let’s not be another generation whose grandchildren look back at with humility.

References

  1. DuVernay, Ava, director. 13th. 2016.
  2. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Misfits: A Feminist MaterialistDisability Concept.
  3. Gitis, B. (2016, February 28). The Personnel and Infrastructure Needed to Remove All Undocumented Immigrants in Two Years. Retrieved from https://www.americanactionforum.org/research/the-personnel-and-infrastructure-needed-to-remove-all-undocumented-immigrants-in-two-years/
  4. Kiefer, F. (2014, January 31). Immigration reform 101: How is ‘legal status’ different from citizenship? Retrieved from https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/DC-Decoder/2014/0131/Immigration-reform-101-How-is-legal-status-different-from-citizenship
  5. Merelli, A. (2018, June 25). Do undocumented immigrants have the right to a day in court? The Supreme Court answered in 1896. Retrieved from https://qz.com/1314128/undocumented-immigrants-have-the-same-right-to-due-process-as-us-citizens/
  6. Preston, J., Rappeport, A., & Richtel, M. (2016, May 19). What Would It Take for Donald Trump to Deport 11 Million and Build a Wall? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/20/us/politics/donald-trump-immigration.html
  7. Undocumented Immigrants’ State & Local Tax Contributions. (2017, March 1). Retrieved from https://itep.org/undocumented-immigrants-state-local-tax-contributions-2017/
14 May 2021

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