As the congressional Super Committee struggles to cut the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion by next Wednesday, pro-immigrant advocacy groups are amplifying their calls to dial back on border security as a way to reap savings.
The federal government stands to save $2.6 billion a year by deporting only violent criminals, capping yearly border patrol budget increases, and ending a government program to level minor criminal charges against people crossing portions of the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, according a National Immigration Forum report released Tuesday.
The latest iteration of the 2012 Department of Homeland Security budget calls for spending $5.5 billion on Immigration and Customs Enforcement and $11.8 billion on Customs and Border Protection. That’s nearly double the spending levels for both compared to fiscal 2000, and up from $5.1 billion and $9.3 billion in fiscal 2008. Declining numbers of arrests along the Southwest border are evidence that this ramped-up spending is an unnecessary use of taxpayer dollars, the report concluded. According to government data, border patrol arrests fell about 28 percent between October 2010 and August 2011 in California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.
“The number of people arrested for trying to cross the border illegally, used as a proxy for measuring the total number of people trying to cross illegally, is at its lowest point since 1972,” the report said. “We are spending more and more money so that we don’t have to apprehend fewer and fewer people.”
Critics of undocumented immigration and of granting a path to citizenship to the undocumented currently living in this country often argue that immigrants are a drain on our country’s resources, and the U.S. can simply not afford to continue to support an illicit population that thrives off of government-funded services and programs. However, an ever-increasing number of studies show that the cost of immigrants to this country is wildly inflated, and in fact the contributions the immigrant population makes to the U.S. outweigh their expense.
On Sunday, Nashville newspaper The Tennesseean published an op/ed by Ted Rayburn which put a new spin on the argument that reforming the U.S. immigration system would benefit the economy. Rayburn argues that in an increasingly competitive global market society, the U.S. is in danger of falling behind, as the world’s highly skilled workers are moving en masse to countries with growing economies, such as Brazil and India. He concludes that if the U.S. does not revise its immigration laws to allow these skilled individuals to legally come to the U.S. and work, we will be at a perpetual international disadvantage.
The cogent arguments made by Rayburn regarding the importance of skilled immigrant labor in this country, however, does not preclude the similarly vital importance of unskilled immigrant laborers to the U.S. economy.
In Arizona, recent changes in the state’s immigration laws have illustrated the vital necessity of flexible migrant labor to local industry. As this labor has become increasingly scarce since the passage of SB 1070, many Arizona industries, most notably agriculture, have experienced the negative effects of a worker shortage.
Alabama politicians told the people that illegal immigrants cost the state $112 million a year, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform. But the Immigration Policy Center also reports that illegal immigrants spend $130 million a year. Why was this not brought out?
People say they are tired of illegal immigrants taking Alabama jobs, but how many state contracts have been awarded to out-of-state companies?
How much money and how many teachers, farmers and other workers will lose their jobs? We get so much money per student and the state is already cutting back. How much more will they cut?
We need to take a minute and look at Detroit and remember that that city once relied heavily on the auto industry; now some parts of the city have empty buildings. The auto industry is wonderful, but how many people do you know who are buying new cars in this economy?
We need to protect our farmers and help our neighbors. If we are going to be immigration officers, are we going to start paying the Coast Guard and the federal employees, or are we going to let the federal government do it? They are not perfect, but if we start taking matters into our own hands, then we are no different than the immigrants. Breaking the law is the same for everyone, states included.
South Florida immigrant advocates will be at the Broward Transistional Center today to take part in a national day of action to protest the deportation of Shamir Ali.
ICE recently announced that it had deported 396,000 people during fiscal year 2011. The agency’s own numbers indicate that, “of these, nearly 55 percent or 216,698 of the people removed were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors” and “this includes 1,119 aliens convicted of homicide; 5,848 aliens convicted of sexual offenses; 44,653 aliens convicted of drug related crimes; and 35,927 aliens convicted of driving under the influence.”
However the Immigration Policy Center argues that, “while the raw number is not in doubt, its meaning is far from clear,” adding that, according to ICE, 55 percent of those deported (approximately 218,000) were “criminal aliens,” but the definition of ‘criminal’ is overly broad.”
The Policy Center adds that ICE numbers show that “40% of criminal deportations were convicted under the four categories of homicide, sexual offenses, drug-related offenses, or driving under the influence (DUI). The other 60% of ‘convicted criminals’ fall into other categories including immigration crimes and traffic crimes.”
According to the Policy Center, “the real dilemma” for the Department of Homeland Security “is how it plans to reconcile its criminal deportation statistics with its new initiatives on prosecutorial discretion.”
Fane, a native of Tonga, works as a dispatcher for a company in Los Angeles. When she was hired, her employer used E-Verify, an electronic federal database intended to identify only unauthorized immigrants, to verify her work authorization. Though she's been a U.S. citizen for 16 years, the E-Verify system flagged her. She had not notified the Social Security Administration that she had become a U.S. citizen - something that she did not realize that she was supposed to do.
Fane reported the mix-up to her employer, which eventually reinstated her. But she lost back pay for two weeks of work - a devastating loss of income for a working-class single mother of four.
Cases like Fane's, unfortunately, would become all the more common if Congress passes H.R. 2885, a bill sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to require all employers to implement E-Verify. Currently, the flawed E-Verify program is voluntary for most employers. This bill recently passed out of the House Judiciary Committee.
The government's own study shows that E-Verify's current error rate is 20 times higher for foreign-born workers than U.S.-born workers and 30 times higher for naturalized citizens, according to Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Making the system mandatory would adversely affect all immigrants, but especially the nation's Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, of whom more than two-thirds are foreign-born.
And those who are those authorized to work in this country, including U.S. citizens, could be deemed unauthorized simply due to an old database system that doesn't reflect current work authorization status. Because of errors in E-Verify, between 144,000 and 415,000 U.S. citizens and other legal workers in California alone could lose their jobs if they do not know to or are unable to correct their records, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
Members of the Latino community in Alabama closed their businesses and stayed away from work and school Wednesday to make a point about their contribution to Alabama’s economy. A closer look reveals it is a significant contribution, regardless of legal status.
Alabama’s unduly restrictive new illegal immigration law has prompted a backlash from many in the state’s Latino community, who rightly contend they are an important part of the state’s economy.
Latino-owned businesses closed their doors Wednesday, and many Latino workers and students stayed home in a show of solidarity against what is considered the nation’s strictest immigration law.
A three-judge federal panel temporarily blocked enforcement of parts of the law Friday, but most of the objectionable portions of the law that give police sweeping powers to detain people suspected of being in Alabama illegally were left intact. The court will review the law in the coming months.
So, what of Latinos’ claims that their businesses and labor are an important part of the state’s economy?
A survey of information compiled by the Immigration Policy Center bears out their arguments. For example, unauthorized immigrants in Alabama paid $130.3 million in state and local taxes in 2010.
A breakdown of that number is:
• unauthorized immigrants paid $25.8 million in Alabama income taxes in 2010.
• unauthorized immigrants paid $5.8 million in Alabama property taxes.
• unauthorized immigrants paid $98.7 million in Alabama sales taxes.
Statistics compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that unauthorized immigrants make up approximately 4.2 percent of the state’s workforce with 95,000 workers in 2010.
Most Latino business owners are legal residents, but many of them entered the country illegally years ago looking for work.
LAWRENCE — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Thursday that bills targeting people living in the United States illegally may be more likely to pass this year because of the pressure conservative candidates are applying on moderate state senators.
That includes, he said, a possible repeal of in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.
Kobach, one of the nation's most prominent advocates for tougher immigration laws, shared his opinion after a wide-ranging discussion of the impact of illegal immigration at the State of the State Kansas Economic Policy Conference on the campus of the University of Kansas.
Kobach defended the controversial laws he co-authored for Arizona and Alabama that, among other things, require law enforcement officers to check immigration status when they've stopped someone on suspicion of any other crime and are suspicious the person is here illegally.
Alabama's law allows police to detain people without bond who can't prove their residency, and it also requires schools to check residency status when kids register. Since key parts of the law were upheld by a federal judge in late September, illegal immigrants have been fleeing the state and schools have reported higher absentee rates.
Kobach acknowledged that such an exodus was an intended outcome of the law he helped write for Alabama. It may decrease population, but it has opened jobs for legal residents.
His views were fiercely challenged.
Benjamin E. Johnson, executive director of the nonprofit American Immigration Council in Washington, D.C., said those laws undercut increasingly successful community policy efforts, use up time that officers could spend on more important matters, and lead to discrimination.
Hundreds of Hispanic students were missing from classrooms in the Birmingham area on Wednesday, some Mexican restaurants were closed and workers did not show up at other businesses as Hispanics stayed home to protest the toughest immigration law in the country.
The boycott, designed to demonstrate the contribution that Hispanic immigrants make to Alabama, seemed to have mixed success across the Birmingham area. While some businesses were closed, other employers reported all of their workers came to work. The impact of the boycott appeared more profound in north Alabama, where several poultry plants were closed.
The Immigration Policy Center, an arm of the American Immigration Council in Washington, disagrees. It released a report last week that estimates immigrants comprised 4.9 percent of Alabama's work force in 2010. Citing data from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, the Immigration Policy Center estimates that in 2010, unauthorized immigrants in Alabama paid $130.3 million in state and local taxes.
That includes $25.8 million in state income taxes, $5.8 million in property taxes and $98.7 million in sales taxes.
It appears as if Pennsylvania is the next state to enter into the fray of reforming their state’s immigration laws. Last week, the State Government Committee approved the Professional Licensees Illegal Employment Act. If the bill becomes law, it would penalize anyone that hires undocumented workers by revoking their professional licenses from the Bureau of Occupational and Professional Affairs. This Bureau controls the professional licensing of over 30 licensing boards for various occupations including doctors, nurses, and funeral directors.
The Pennsylvania bill has wide support from Pennsylvania Republicans who believe that employers who hire illegal immigrants are not penalized at all. They believe that illegal immigrants are taking vital jobs in a time where the country is facing increasingly high unemployment rates. Opposition to the bill is widespread, with critics citing the bill’s continued failure to set out a clear policy of how it is going to be enforced.
Although Alabama has yet to fully enforce its draconian immigration laws, Alabama is already beginning to suffer because of its new legislation. After Judge Sharon Blackburn upheld HB 56, nearly 25% of the state’s construction workers have failed to show up to work. In a time where Alabama is supposed to be focusing on rebuilding infrastructure following the Tuscaloosa tornadoes of last year, the lack of construction workers in Alabama is troublesome. The Perryman Group stated that Alabama could lose an estimated 18,000 jobs and $2.6 billion in revenue because of the state’s immigration measures. Estimates from the American Immigration Council could also cost the states another $130 million in lost tax revenues.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been beaten up in recent GOP presidential primary debates over his signing of a bill in 2001 giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrant kids in Texas. Look for the issue to come up again at tonight’s debate in New Hampshire.
In a free society, so-called DREAM Act legislation would be unnecessary. Opportunities for legal immigration would be open wide enough that illegal immigration would decline dramatically. And higher education would be provided in a competitive market without state and federal subsidies. But that is not yet the world we live in.
On the federal level, the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would offer permanent legal status to illegal immigrant children who graduate from high school and then complete at least two years of college or serve in the U.S. military. Legal status would allow them to qualify for in-state tuition in the states where they reside, and would eventually lead to citizenship.
Those who respond that such a law would amount to “amnesty” for illegal immigrants should keep a couple of points in mind.
First, kids eligible under the DREAM Act came to the United States when they were still minors, many of them at a very young age. They were only obeying their parents, something we should generally encourage young children to do.
Second, these kids are a low-risk, high-return bet for legalization. Because they came of age in the United States, they are almost all fluent in English and identify with America as their home (for many the only one they have ever known). “Assimilation” will not be an issue.