Red v. Blue: Immigration Reform
By Isabel Gibson Penrose, Vice President, College Democrats
The other day I found myself talking about politics with someone I don’t know very well – always a good decision. After declaring myself the liberal I am he responded, “I’m a pretty liberal person but…” Ah, the but. I braced myself.
“But I think we should close the borders,” said my new acquaintance, who happens to be a white boy.
To me, white people that oppose immigration will always be one of the greatest ironies in the world. Very few of us here at Gettysburg can pride ourselves on being native to America – most of us have ancestors who were immigrants. Since our very inception America has been a nation of immigrants.
The difference is now the immigrants coming to America, looking for a new life, for safety, shelter from war, the people who are looking for hope do not look like the Irish, English, and Scandinavians that immigrated here in years past.
Immigrants coming from Mexico and numerous South and Central American countries are changing the demographics here in America. They have a massive impact on elections and are one of the fastest growing groups of people in the country. We are still a nation of immigrants.
The news that President Obama is planning to issue an executive order that may keep as many as five million people from being deported brought the issue of immigration back into the issue foreground, and quickly.
While there are those who take extreme stances (“completely closed borders!” and “completely open borders!”) most people fall somewhere in the middle, unable to take a hard stance on immigration. However, lots of people in the middle are still hesitant to support reform. Those who resist reform mainly take issue because of their perceptions that immigrants take jobs from American citizens and have a generally negative impact on the economy, that immigrants benefit from social security without paying into it, and immigration reform rewards those who have broken the law by immigrating illegally.
To those who believe immigrants take jobs from American born citizens: study after study (one of the more recent ones outlined by the Center for American Progress) has shown that immigrants and native-born workers do not compete for jobs. They work in different labor markets, and are rarely in competition with each other because of differing occupations, educations, and locations.
A 2012 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that immigration to the United States actually brought up wages for those who are American born. The explanation is simple: immigrants are consumers, just as they are employees. The more people putting money into our economy the more profits seen by business, and the more business creators can afford to pay their employees. It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle.
A similar positive impact can be found when one looks at the effect immigrants on social security. While some immigrants are paid under the table the majority are paid by check, and a chunk of that check is taken out to pay for Social Security and Medicaid. In 2009 an estimated 7.7 million workers who could not be matched to Social Security numbers paid 72.8 billion dollars into social security. Illegal immigrants understand they will not see that money again. “That money is lost,” said Yesica, an illegal immigrant interviewed for a Seattle Times article, who declined to give her last name. “I don’t really think about it. I’m just happy we’ve had work.”
There are those who scoff at the contributions immigrants offer to Medicaid and Social Security, because they claim the cost of education, welfare, and medical services for illegal immigrants far aweigh them. Ira Mehlmen, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is one of these people. His frequently used statistic – that illegal immigrants takes 100 billion federal dollars a year – is highly contested and only backed up by a study conducted by FAIR.
The last major problem found with immigration reform – rewarding those who have broken the law – can seem the hardest to justify. It is absolutely true that illegal immigrants are just that: illegal. But they are illegal in the way that actions of black people sitting at a restaurant section reserved for white people were illegal. They are illegal in the way the actions of homosexual people in states that had anti-sodomy laws were illegal.
Laws that harm more people than they protect are not laws that we need to worry about enforcing; they are laws we need to look into amending, and potentially even removing. Illegal immigrants are not the criminal masterminds some would have you believe – they are all too often children (the number of children coming to the United States borders is up 241 percent since 2009) or refugees fleeing war in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. These people are coming to America looking for a better life, and it is patently unfair to deny them.
Furthermore, a huge number of immigrants start families when they come to the United States, and deportation only hurts them. Actor Diane Guerrero recently wrote a piece for the Los Angeles Times where she opens up about the painful experience of her parents deportation when she was only fourteen. After her parents and older brother were taken away Guerrero writes, “Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me. No one checked to see if I had a place to live or food to eat.”
Guerrero’s story is heart wrenching, and all too common. Children of deported immigrants often spend the rest of their young lives in foster care, or even the juvenile justice system, because the parents who want to care for them cannot.
President Obama’s executive order, an admittedly bold move that he has refused to use in the past, is a necessary one. Moving ahead with immigration reform in the face Republican control in both the House and the Senate does not look promising, but our President is going to do all he can to push forward.
Editor’s Note: Though Red v. Blue is typically composed of two articles, one by the College Democrats and one by the College Republicans, this particular article went unanswered by the College Republicans.