President Bush’s proposal to address the problem of undocumented immigration by creating more opportunities for legal immigration and providing a legal status to those already here is a useful starting point in reforming a broken immigration system that costs hundreds of lives and billions of dollars every year.
In the hours following the deadly terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States government took the extraordinary step of sealing U.S. borders to traffic and trade by grounding all aircraft flying into or out of the country and imposing a lock-down on the networks of transportation and commerce that are the lifeblood of our economy and society. Given the uncertainty over what might happen next, these emergency procedures were a necessary and appropriate short-term response to the attacks.
Comparisons of the mostly “minority” foreign-born and mostly “white” native-born populations that fail to account for the socioeconomic impact of ethnicity incorrectly suggest that place of birth, rather than minority status, is the primary factor explaining disparities between immigrants and natives. However, a more accurate – and fair – comparison of immigrants and natives within the same ethnic group suggests otherwise.
Latinos experience substantial socioeconomic progress across generations compared to both their immigrant forefathers and native Anglos. But this fact is lost in statistical portraits of the Latino population which don’t distinguish between the large number of newcomers and those who have been in the United States for generations. Advocates of restrictive immigration policies often use such aggregate statistics to make the dubious claim that Latinos are unable or unwilling to advance like the European immigrants of a century ago.
It is not surprising that Victor Davis Hanson’s latest book, Mexifornia: A State of Becoming has transformed him into the new darling of the anti-immigrant movement. Unencumbered by the references, footnotes, facts and figures which clutter most books about immigration, Hanson relies largely upon personal anecdotes and emotional tirades to create a pastiche of fearful imagery. In general, Hanson’s arguments are wildly inconsistent, informed more by stereotype than substance, and characterized by a remarkable unfamiliarity with Mexican history and culture.
America’s strength lies in its openness and dynamic character. Current concerns about the U.S. economy should not distract from an understanding that in the long term America’s economic success requires the nation to attract 1) skilled professionals from across the globe to increase the competitiveness of American companies and 2) workers at the lower end of the skill spectrum to fuel the growth of the U.S. labor force, filling jobs created by the aging of the population.
In a somewhat meandering August report, Breaking the Piggy Bank: How Illegal Immigration is Sending Schools Into the Red, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) attempts to make the argument that the cost of educating undocumented immigrant students in public elementary and high schools is a major cause of the budget deficits currently facing most states and precipitating cuts in school funding. However, the report’s own statistics do not support this claim. Even if the report is correct in its assertion that the cost to states was $7.4 billion in 1999-2000, this represents only 1.9 percent of the $381.8 billion spent nationwide on public elementary and secondary education and a miniscule fraction of the roughly $1 trillion in total spending by state governments.Moreover, the report neglects to mention that the estimated 1.1 million undocumented K-12 students in 2000 comprised a mere 2 percent of the total student population and that many state governments – including California’s – were running budget surpluses at that time. It is no more plausible to claim that undocumented students are somehow largely to blame for current budget deficits than it is to claim they deserve most of the credit for the budget surpluses of three years ago.
Victims of persecution who make it to the United States and are granted asylum from their persecutors must wait 12 years to become lawful permanent residents and 16 years to become U.S. citizens because of arbitrary numerical caps and federal mismanagement. This state of affairs not only is inhumane, but undermines the original intent of Congress to help those who have escaped persecution to integrate quickly into U.S. society.
The new Department of Homeland Security divides into three separate agencies immigration functions that previously were combined. This reorganization raises questions about who is in charge of immigration policy as a whole and how immigration services will fare in a department heavily tilted towards enforcement.
Policymakers in states from Iowa to Utah and in cities from Albuquerque to Boston have realized that immigration is a key source of long-term economic vitality, particularly in urban areas experiencing population loss, shrinking labor pools and growing numbers of retirees. Immigration, if properly cultivated, can be a key ingredient in urban economic development and recovery.