"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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
— From the sonnet “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, currently located at the Statue of Liberty museum.
On June 27, 2013, the Senate passed S, 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, on a 68-34 vote. The provisions contained in it are a far cry from the sentiments expressed in the quote above, but do represent a compromise between them and the stricter demands for conditions to be met by the Republicans in order to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. A potential pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants is included.
The key amendment making the passage of the bill possible on a somewhat bipartisan basis involves appropriating more than $40 billion to almost double the number of Border Patrol agents, double the length of border fence and increase other resources along our border with Mexico to stem the flow of immigrants entering the country by that route. Passage of this bill by the House of Representatives is uncertain at best, even with this enormous expenditure to virtually militarize our border with a valued neighbor and trading partner. Speaker Boehner has threatened not to even bring the Bill to a vote in the House.
The fact that we have over 11 million undocumented foreign nationals living illegally within our borders, many of whom have been here for years, is disturbing to many. Whether the reason for this is that coming here to live and work legally is too difficult, or doing so illegally is too easy has been the source of much debate. Both the contributions made to our economy and the expense these people cost the rest of us in terms of services provided them by our government have been disputed. It is important to note that many of these individuals already contribute to the economy, pay taxes and work. If there were not jobs for them, most would not be here, because food, housing and clothing are not free in this country to most people, including able-bodied adults.
Many work as low-paid low-skilled labor. Some are paid under the table, so to speak, and are not having all the taxes taken out of their pay that most of us are, but how are their employers able to achieve this? They obviously gain a lot in terms of lower labor costs by avoiding such nuisances as minimum wage and their portion of payroll taxes, for instance. Do they oppose immigration reform because they hope to continue to exploit undocumented immigrants for personal gain? Documenting more of these immigrants would help them and the economy as a whole, as has been estimated by the CBO. Federal budget deficits would still decrease by $135 billion in the first ten years even with the border security amendment ( the decrease would have been $175 billion without it).
Despite the fact that most of the immigrants living here now who entered illegally came from Latin America through or from Mexico, the net change in that number has remained relatively unchanged for a number of years. This is due to both economic conditions brought about by the deep and lengthy economic downturn here and the dramatic increase in border security and record level of deportations conducted by the Obama Administration in recent years. Do we want to continue or increase the level of deportations of productive members of our workforce, or allow more to increase their livelihoods and contribute more to our economy and government revenues at the same time?
Increasing militarization and employment of such a large number of additional border patrol agents would definitely provide an economic stimulus in terms of jobs and the purchase of equipment for the use of these new agents. Such job creation would be a welcome change considering the refusal of the Congressional GOP to approve of such spending on infrastructure improvements or other non-military spending in the past few years. Maybe this is seen mainly as a way to offset the cuts being made to the military as a result of the sequester and the winding down of the two wars in Asia which have been contributing so heavily to the deficit. This economic boom would largely affect a relatively small number of states.
Taking money out of the military budget, only to place it into militarizing our border with Mexico will be counterproductive. Myriad ways of putting these billions of dollars to more productive use in improving our infrastructure, increasing job opportunities throughout the economy and nation as a whole could easily be found by Congress. Padding the wallets of a few defense contractors should not be the priority of a government seeking to improve the economy as a whole. The vast majority of immigrants to this country wish to only be law-abiding, taxpaying members of our society who can pursue their livelihoods as we do ours. The other provisions of the bill provide ample opportunity for these people to be fined for breaking the law in entering the country, as well as proof of becoming hard-working, productive members worthy of becoming citizens for 13 years before they can become citizens. Criminals and terrorists can be weeded out using these prescribed methods. The 9/11 terrorists did not enter this country illegally via the Mexican border.
The over 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States deserve a way in which they may become law-abiding citizens of this country. Many, maybe even most, will be either unwilling or unable to avail themselves of the path to citizenship provided in this bill. For the House of Representatives to allow this initiative to die, or make it even more draconian, would be a mistake and a grave disservice both to the American people and the foreign born people it would serve to punish instead of welcome into our midst. We must act as a nation to make immigration more easily achievable for those who desire it. People who have proven themselves to be productive members of our economy and society for years must not be turned away and torn from their families because they entered illegally years ago. A system that allows them to be economically exploited for years on end for the benefit of unscrupulous business owners needs to put to an end as well.
There have been waves of immigrants into this country since even before independence. Immigrants have helped to build this country in every generation since its inception, and need to be permitted to do so in the future. Exploiting people and discriminating against them because they were not born here must stop. Militarizing the border further has diminishing returns in terms of lowering the number of illegal border crossings. Alleged budget-minded members of Congress should be reminded of that fact.
Blocking passage of any immigration reform at all in this session of Congress should not be an option under serious consideration by the House Republicans. Maintaining their majority in that body by denying citizenship and the vote to the fastest-growing segment of our population will not be effective strategy much longer. Winning elections must be done by representing the interests of all of the people, not by restricting political participation to those who finance campaigns. If America is to regain much of the democratic nature it has been losing in recent years, immigration reform that broadens political participation is an important place to start.
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