(Piece was written within a few days after the initial Immigration legislation and protests in April).
Key Issues Missing From Immigration Debate
Does the Congress really want immigration reform or just “feel good legislation”? It appears that Congress is trying to create the perception that they are doing something about the issue of immigration, while in reality they are doing little to solve the real problems.
The new proposals from the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate are both unworkable and unenforceable. Both the House and Senate plans avoid addressing key issues. I believe that members of Congress are aware of the conundrum of having unenforceable plans, but they are hoping that the American public will not catch on.
The Senate plan would likely create a list of as many as 1 million undocumented immigrants who would need to be deported back to their home countries. The much tougher plan being debated by the House of Representatives is even more unworkable than the Senate plan. The House plan calls for walls and fences on the Mexican border, and criminal charges for those who are in the U.S. illegally. The House plan would create an even larger list of undocumented immigrants who would have to be deported. Under both plans, most or all of the 11 million or more illegal immigrants would have to be processed in some way.
The bottom line is that the U.S. immigration service does not have enough personnel to process millions of cases, in addition to what they already process on a daily basis. The U.S. immigration system is already overwhelmed with its day to day processing activities. There is no way that the system could take on millions of cases above and beyond what they already have to deal with. Furthermore, there are not enough law enforcement agents in the field to do any sort of meaningful roundups of the hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of immigrants who would surely refuse to comply.
Michael J. Maxwell, former director of the office of security and investigations of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, told Congress on April 6th, 2006 that officials at the immigration service had dangerously heavy caseloads. This falls in line with information given by other federal employees who have reported similar problems over the years. Maxwell described a situation where supervisors were pressuring workers to process 12 to 16 entry applications per day. He stated that the Immigration service was trying to do too much with too few workers. This situation suggests that any Immigration reform that doesn’t address the issue of hiring more workers to process cases will be dead on arrival. Any such legislation that would require the processing of millions of people is impractical and could never work.
Another major flaw with the legislation being debated, is that it would be almost impossible to determine how long an undocumented person has been in the country, due to a lack of paperwork to verify the information. Yet another huge flaw in the legislation is that it assumes that illegal immigrants would voluntarily come forward to pay fines, back taxes, and enter a huge bureaucracy with an uncertain future. It simply will not happen. And will the laws focus on punishing corporations and wealthy business people in the U.S. who exploit undocumented workers? The Republicans, the biggest beneficiaries of corporate America, have dug themselves a hole with this one. Why? Because their corporate allies would like to keep the cheap labor, and low insurance costs, while on the other hand, many from the traditional Republican base would like to see much harsher treatment. It is funny watching Republicans walk this tightrope. But Republicans did this to themselves. Republicans drew a line in the sand, really putting themselves in a box. Now they will have to deliver with harsh legislation or else risk being seen as failures by their base supporters for not delivering.
What should really be the focus of the debate is how this problem impacts national security. This should be the main focus of the debate. However, the main issues have been centered around the following: 1). Cheap labor, 2). Immigrants being a strain on local resources in the U.S., 3). Immigrants bringing down wages for Americans, and 4). Conservatives being concerned about racial demographics and fearing that more immigrants would mean more votes for Democrats. These have been the talking points on this issue for the most part.
However, if Congress was really concerned about national security they would not be so worried about poor migrants risking their lives for a better life. If Congress were really concerned about national security they would be more concerned with our Immigration entry policies- the policies and procedures that determine who can enter. For this is the real problem. Most of the 19 men who attacked us on 9/11 did not run across a desert border, evading the Border Patrol. Most of the 19 hijackers entered the U.S.- some doing so several times- through the normal legitimate entry process. It was bad U.S. entry policy that helped the 19 hijackers enter the country. Yet I do not see this as the center of the debate.
These Immigration entry policies still exist for the most part. The vulnerabilities that were exploited before 9/11 have never really been corrected. The hijackers did not get here because the U.S. military was weak. They got into the country because they were able to take advantage of Immigration policies that facilitated their entry. According to Maxwell, the former immigration security official, the immigration service is rife with corruption and fraud and entry is granted to applicants even when proper background checks are not conducted.
Just last month Americans heard a short lived debate about the high ranking member of the Taliban who was attending Yale University. This is outrageous! The same student Visa system that was exploited by the 9/11 hijackers is still intact. Sure, it is a little more difficult to get into the country, but it is still relatively easy to do, especially if the person attempting to get in is determined and learns how to manipulate the current system.
If the U.S. is really concerned about immigration reform, especially as it relates to national security, then entry policies must be the focus of the debate. We must re-frame the discussion. Migrant workers from Mexico have become a smokescreen blocking the real issues from coming to the forefront.
I am in favor of immigration, but it should be legal and controlled. I support tougher enforcement- even a wall along the border, but I also support strong policies and a realistic approach to dealing with those undocumented immigrants (and families) who are already here. Let’s demand real, creative, and substantive Immigration reform that deals with the real issues.
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