Friday, January 22, 2010
Worse than nothing: New bipartisan proposal blocks immigration reform
Taking a "tough on illegal immigration" stance appeal to elected officials who are eager to please constituents. But simplistic solutions to complex problems are almost always wrong.
Yesterday Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) along with several Republican and Democratic Congressmen introduced an immigration-related resolution. Its non-binding statement will attempt to put representatives of both parties on-the-record in support--not only of securing the borders --but also of these two propositions:
* All employers must check every prospective employee they hire against a federal government database called "E-Verify" to ascertain that the person can work legally in the U.S.
* No one now in the United States illegally can attain legal status.
Those may sound like reasonable propositions to many who are concerned about illegal immigration, but they are both quite problematic, each in its own way.
E-Verify, deeply flawed
The government database E-Verify does not effectively prevent immigrants here illegally from working, but too often it stops legal immigrants and U.S. citizens from getting employment because the database on which it rests is so inaccurate. Moreover, prohibiting people currently here illegally, regardless of what restitution or process they are willing to do to make amends, ties Congress's hands. It guarantees we'll continue to have a millions of immigrants here illegally for the foreseeable future and beyond. Keeping people illegal inhibits economic growth and jobs while playing into the hands of terrorists and international criminals.
A fact sheet on E-Verify from the National Immigration Law Center succinctly outlines its difficulties. Reliance on E-Verify will booby trap the U.S. economy, do little to rectify the situation of unauthorized workers in the U.S. workforce, and further erode the privacy of our workforce and citizenry.
Banning legal status for immigrants here illegally appeals to those who are against "amnesty." However, its underlying premise is that Congress either
1) supports a policy of mass deportation or
2) tolerates a vast underground of undocumented workers in this country that will continue on into the unforeseeable future.
Let's take a closer look at these two choices.
1) Mass deportation: It is generally estimated that there are 12 million undocumented persons present illegally in the United States. Forcibly removing a population equivalent to the state of Pennsylvania involves hearings, detention, and transportation costs with the U.S. taxpayer footing the bill. At the same time mass deportation eliminates 12,000,000 consumers (and many tax-paying immigrants) from an economy that is already weak. The cost to deport just 10 million immigrants in 2005 would have been approximately $41 billion dollars, reported the Washington Post. The cost of deporting 12 million now will be significantly higher.
2) Maintain the status quo: Barring a mass deportation, Congress must then tolerate the presence of 12,000,000 undocumented immigrants in the U.S., thereby pushing their contributions off the books and their presence farther underground. Do we want to allow an underground economy and a black market of smuggling, false documents, and unknown identities? Does that contribute to the safety of our citizenry and our republic? Outlawing a legalization process for people who are here already and would like to be in the U.S. legally means we are living with immigrants among us who have never passed a criminal background check.
Benefits of legalizing immigrants
Legalization of those now present illegally offers several advantages worth mentioning here. It would
* benefit the U.S. economy, adding $1.5 trillion to the gross domestic product and government tax rolls over ten years.
* force immigrants to register, pass a criminal background check (weeding out serious criminals), and pay fines and taxes to get their documents.
* promote fair wages and employer respect for U.S. labor laws for all workers, eliminating hiring under-the-table or off-the-books.
* align our laws with the will of the American people: 63% of whom favor a pathway to legalization according to a poll by the Pew Research Center (May 2009).
Unfortunately what Chaffetz's bipartisan group offers is not bold leadership tackling complex social and political realities and addressing the challenges we face as a nation. Their proposal is not even legislature; it is merely a non-binding resolution. It's an attempt to circumvent a vital discussion of immigration reform before it has even begun. And that makes it worse than nothing.