Bush Got One Right!?
I stand in firm affirmation of USU Bill 21: The Fair and Secure Immigration Act based on President Bush’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform proposal. Said proposal, which I will refer to from now on as Comprehensive Immigration Reform would change US policy in the following ways:
(1) Currently border security, as provided by The Immigration and Nationality Act is woefully inadequate; this measure would update border patrol technology and increase funding by $327 million. (Office of the Press Secretary 2006) (D’agistino 2002) (Krikorian 2008) (Bush 2006).
(2) Repeal of ‘catch-and-release,’ policy where “four-fifths of non-Mexican illegals, when caught, are released pending an appearance before a judge.” (Economist 2005)
(3) This proposal creates a much more expansive Guest Worker program allowing significantly more foreign laborers into the country each year on a temporary basis (Office of the Press Secretary 2006) (Greenblat 2008).
(4) Currently, employers have very little obligation under the law to determine the legal status of their employees. This proposal institutes a system designed to include employers in the process of preventing illegal immigration by expanding “‘basic pilot’ - an electronic employment verification system and mandat[ing] that all employers use this system to …confirm work eligibility for all prospective employees” (Office of the Press Secretary 2006).
(5) In 1986 the US Congress passed the Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA) granting blanket amnesty to the approximately 2.7 million illegal aliens then living in the United States (Numbers USA 2007). This plan creates a similar “Path to citizenship” allowing illegal immigrants currently living in the US to obtain citizenship, bringing them under the “reach and protection of [US] Law” (Office of the Press Secretary 2006).
The Status Quo
Border enforcement in the US is laughably inadequate; each year nearly a million people enter the country illegally (D’agostino 2002). Furthermore, despite granting a woefully small number of visas each year, the US still cannot secure its borders against dangerous traffic in-and-out of the country. While the American Dream is squashed for honest, hard-working emigrants with aspirations of citizenship, the door is left wide open for terrorists to enter the United States (Malkin 2006). Also, the lack of effective border enforcement encourages over-zealous vigilantes in Texas and Arizona to take matters into their own hands (Gallegos 2004). The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, estimates that there are approximately 12 million illegal immigrants living in the US (Knickerbocker 2006). Immigrants risk their lives for the chance at a labor-intensive job with relatively meager wages (Economist 2005), but once in the States, they are forced to “live in the shadows of our society” (Bush 2007). They are denied equal rights and protection of the law. Furthermore, refugees including 10,000 Haitians fleeing from chaos and destruction, now face the threat of deportation without even hope of appeal for citizenship (Bragg 2000). Finally, without safe immigration, our economy suffers. US American businesses suffer. For instance, without foreign laborers to harvest it, perfectly good fruit is left to rot in Washington orchards (Greenblat 2008).
The Problems are many - The Solution is Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
“The terror attacks of Sept. 11 are widely blamed on the failure of American intelligence to detect and apprehend potential terrorists entering the country.” According Texas Governor Rick Perry's security overview, “Al-Qaeda leadership plans to use criminal alien smuggling organizations to bring terrorist operatives across the border into the U.S" (National Catholic Report 2006). Border security is critical to protecting US Americans from another terrorist attack. However, despite the lessons of September eleventh, illegal border crossings are currently at an all time high (Economist 2005). The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Border Patrol are incapable preventing a terrorist threat because they are hampered by bad policy and lack of funding (D’agostino 2002). Policy reform and increased funding are necessary to secure our border against incursion from a foreign threat.
Furthermore, the failure of the DHS to secure the border has undermined the semblance of law and order on the border lands. Vigilante organizations, such “the Minutemen” of Texas, have become very popular due to the permeability of the US border. Vigilante justice was responsible for six shootings in 2006. Two people were killed. All six were shot in the back while attempting to run away (Gallegos 2006). Vigilante justice does not respect the rights of people as well as established and codified governmental rules do. Therefore, the Rule of Law must be reestablished, replacing vigilante justice with proper governmental procedures. Gabriella Gallegos of Berkley School of Law writes that “the failure of U.S. authorities to meaningfully work against these instances of brutality reinforces the national vision of who matters and who is expendable. In this way the dehumanization of Mexicans implicitly supported by the U.S. government affects all border peoples.” Without rule of law the distinction between legal and illegal emigrants becomes fuzzy. This results in the dehumanization of all emigrants. Thus the stigma of illegality reduces all Hispanic Americans to “bare life” or “homo sacer”: they exist outside society and so can be killed with impunity (Wikipedia.org Agamben). Simply ignoring the problem of illegal immigration does not help immigrants. Inadequate enforcement of immigration law merely solidifies racist attitudes.
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform plan will secure our borders and reestablish the rule of law. The funding provided by this legislation will drastically increase the number and effectiveness of border patrol agents and provide them with new technologies which are devastatingly effective at preventing border incursions (Bush 2006). Using these technologies border patrol officers report that captured migrants sometimes have no idea how they were spotted:
“Carmen Vasquez […] says she was tip-toeing through the mountains with her family after dark when she was suddenly surrounded by Border Patrol agents on roaring quad bikes. Agent Hawkins explains… that she was seen through an infra-red camera on a distant hilltop. ‘Don't let anyone tell you we can't control our borders,’ says Mr Nicely, ‘We just need more resources.’” (Economist 2005)
Along with high-tech gadgets for securing the border, fences, including miles of infra-red ‘virtual fence’, are critical to Border Patrol effectiveness. Empirical evidence proves fencing works. In San Diego, building of fences along the border has caused “illegal crossings [to] plummet” (Krikorian 2008). We don’t need an anachronistic 8,000 mile “wall” along our border when plain, unobtrusive, even invisible “virtual” fences will do the same thing for less, without the risk of estranging the Mexican government.
The plan further solves the problem of illegality by bringing the actions of employers under the arm of the law to prevent illegal hiring practices (Bush 2006). Currently employers can easily side-step labor laws. “In the most extreme cases, some employers tell unauthorized applicants they must get fake documents to be hired” (Brownell 2005). By enforcing labor laws these reforms will protect illegal immigrants from unfair labor practices and will help diffuse the stigma of illegality placed on Hispanic Americans by also prosecuting the employers who are involved in illegal practices (illegalemployers.org). Finally, the major reason immigrants enter this country is to find work. If employers no longer hire illegal immigrants, then immigrants will no longer have a reason to entry the country illegally. The effectiveness of this principle has been recently demonstrated In Yuma, Arizona: prosecutors increased prosecutions of illegal employers and employees, and raised the penalty of hiring illegal immigrants as a deterrent to illegal immigration. During these months “the number of immigrants caught crossing illegally dropped 70 percent” (NY Times 2008).
For non-Mexican immigrants, the current Homeland Security policy of “catch-and-release” creates a “get out of jail free card” which severely hampers the effectiveness of border enforcement (Bush 2007). All non-Mexican immigrants are released after setting-up a date to return to court. However, only 75% of these immigrants have ever returned (Economist 2005). Currently this system has allowed over 1,000 illegal immigrants, from countries known to be enemies of the United States, to escape the reach of the Justice Department (D’agostino 2002). This represents a huge security problem. Comprehensive Immigration Reform provides funding for DHS officials to build and maintain facilities for detaining illegal immigrants to ensure that they receive proper legal proceedings (Bush 2006). Ending the policy of “catch-and-release” ensures that potentially dangerous people entering the US will go through proper clearance procedures before being allowed free-reign in the States (D’agostino 2002).
Many immigrants merely want a chance to work hard and make a living in a land of prosperity. Policies should reward this behavior and create incentives for immigrants to go use the proper legal channels when entering the United States (nclr.org). In an interview for American Enterprise, Michelle Malkin, a daughter of immigrants and conservative book author and newspaper columnist said, “rather than just bringing down the overall level of legal immigration we should target bad provisions that let terrorists and others slip in, so that the people who really do want to come here and achieve the American dream …are still able to get through” (2005). Badly organized policy basically rubber-stamped the 15 hijackers who instituted the September the eleventh attacks, through immigration, but makes it virtually impossible for a humble migrant worker from a small village in Puerto Rico to get a visa into the United States (Malkin 2006). According to Tamar Jacoby of the conservative Manhattan Institute “A Mexican without family in the US who wants to do something other than farm work has virtually no legal way to enter the country” (Economist 2005). US policy severely over-limits visas to unskilled Hispanic workers, while at the same time handing out visas randomly like “Pez candies to certain underrepresented minorities” (Malkin 2006). With no way to come into the country legally, most would-be immigrants are forced underground (Greenblat 2008). Comprehensive Immigration Reform rectifies this flaw in US policy by providing 800,000 temporary work permits “that can, with good behaviour, lead to citizenship within 3 to 5 years” (Greenblat 2008, Economist 2005). The plan simultaneously fixes leaks in border security while increasing the amount of immigrants, particularly unskilled workers, allowed into the country.
10,000 Haitians have narrowly escaped a violent insurrection only to now face deportation at the hands of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. One woman referred to deportation as a return to “her worst nightmare.” Nearly 3,000 of these Haitians have one or more children who were born in the United States. US policy destroys families. Parents feel obligated to leave their children behind, in the safety of the US, when they are forced to return to violent or poverty-stricken homelands (NY Times 2000). Amnesty is needed for Haitians and all other refugees to the US, but pushing amnesty through Congress is often difficult to impossible and always time-consuming (NY Times 2000). Comprehensive Immigration Reform has the potential to help refugees who are otherwise left helpless when facing deportation. The plan includes a “path to citizenship” which awards visas using a merit based points system which takes into consideration many factors: whether or not a person has children, their work record, etc. (de Leon). The path to citizenship provides a procedure for refugees – as well as other established, hard working members of the community – to apply for citizenship and allows them a chance to remain with their children in the United States.
Currently Guest Worker programs are too limited to provide the labor force necessary to fulfill the needs of US businesses. Guest worker programs cover only 2% of farm workers in the US; thus, growers are forced to “turn to the black market for undocumented workers” (Greenblatt 2008). Local businesses in the United States favor granting temporary visas to workers. Without the creation of these visas any attempts to tighten border security in the US would cause major labor shortages which could hurt the US economy by raising the cost of food (Greenblatt 2008, CIS 1996). Growers have already, experienced harmful labor shortages as result of increased border security and regulation of employers: “Some growers in the Northwest… let cherries and apples rot because of a shortage of workers, and in some in North Carolina didn’t plant cucumbers because of they feared they wouldn't be able to find the workers to harvest them” (Greenblatt 2008). The practical beauty of Comprehensive Labor Reform is that it provides increased border security while, at the same time, allowing migrant workers temporary visas so they can continue to work for local businesses in the US; thereby, preventing any harms to the US economy, caused by labor shortages, which tightened immigration standards might otherwise produce.
For the record, the “path to citizenship” is not amnesty. Amnesty forgives immigrants for breaking the law; the “path to citizenship,” on the other hand, requires illegal immigrants to pay a fine for breaking the law and to pay all back-taxes as part of the process of becoming a citizen (Bush 2006). Mass deportations of the millions of illegal immigrants currently living in the US is unfeasible, only 13% of Republicans support deporting all 12 million illegal immigrants (Economist 2005). On the other hand, while granting blanket Amnesty in 1986 brought illegal immigrants into the US legal system; it failed to stem the situation of illegality because it created incentive for immigrants to enter the States illegally (Camarota 2000). Something new must be done in order to bring the 12 million illegal immigrants back into legal system. The “path to citizenship,” is the solution. It not only provides a way for illegal immigrants to integrate themselves into US society, but also creates an incentive to not enter the country illegally punishing those who do with a fine and reparation of backed taxes. This will encourage prospective immigrants, to use the proper legal channels before attempting to cross into the United States illegally – reducing illegal border-hopping (Greenblat 2008).
Finally, by assimilating the extra-legal influx of people into the US legal system, US officials will be better able to regulate movement across the border (Bush 2006). The more people that enter the US legally the better, because surveillance and monitoring are easier when government officials have a legal framework which they can use to keep track of who is coming into the country and who is leaving it. Thus, counter-intuitive to some, this proposal would actually increase US security by allowing more people into the country.
President Bush’s proposed immigration reform is a solution with broad bi-partisan appeal, offering a real chance for members of both parties to unite in order to fix the United States sprawling immigration problem. Senator Kennedy says about Comprehensive Immigration Reform, "the plan isn't perfect, but only a bipartisan bill will become law" (Greenblat 2008). Voting for these reforms, in their entirety - not piecemeal, demonstrates that you brave, young policy-makers are willing to put ideology aside and support realistic solutions, which operate within the constraints of the political landscape, to the very real problems facing this nation. Many of you may be surprised, as was the reporter in the Economist, that “George Bush has promoted a sensible immigration plan!” (2005) But, since he has, Let’s Run With It!
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