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Immigration and America’s mistake

Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The United States has made a mistake. This mistake has made life very difficult for some of those around us, and has even cost some people their lives. Thankfully, there is something we can do about it.

The mistake is in our immigration system. More specifically, it is that as the demand for labor in this country grew, the government didn’t raise the quotas of visas issued. However, visas or no visas, if there are jobs, the people will come – and they did. Restaurants, landscapers, farm owners and many more all hired them for the low-wage jobs. As many have noticed, government officials have made no significant efforts to crack down on these employers. These oficials must have realized that the employers, and our nation, needed the immigrants’ labor. Now, there are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

It is not the American citizens who suffer in this situation. “Undocumented [immigrants] add at least $22 billion, in total, to the economy each year” (“and legalizing their status would increase that amount”). (www.lulac.org) Furthermore, we can see that it has not harmed job opportunities in our country: “during the period of high immigration in the 1990’s, real wages actually increased across all income levels, including those of the poorest 20 percent of American households, while the national unemployment rate fell below four percent (www.pfaw.org).” While some Americans fear that these immigrants are a drain on our social services, the facts would suggest otherwise. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for many public federal assistance programs and “all immigrants, regardless of status, will pay on average $80,000 per capita more in taxes than they use in government services over their lifetime (www.americas.org).” Though many Americans are unaware of this, undocumented immigrants do pay income, sales, gas and property taxes. Perhaps some taxes on migrant workers, whose earnings may go unrecorded, cannot be enforced, but of course, this would change with legal status. Most undocumented workers though, receive paychecks like everyone else and, like everyone else, they get money taken out for Social Security, but it is money that they will never collect on. Because of this, the Social Security system has gotten “approximately $420 billion from the earnings of immigrants who are not in a position to claim benefits” (as of 2004, www.immigrantsolidarity.org).

Though Americans do not suffer in this situation the undocumented immigrants certainly do. They have a much more difficult life because of their immigration status. Families are separated. Fathers who come alone to work in the U.S. will often not see their wives and children for two or three years. Similarly, families who have come here together, or people who have started families once they have arrived here, will not go back to visit their families. They do not want to risk bringing their children (or themselves) across the border any more than they have to. Grandparents do not see their grandchildren; adults have a tough decision to make if they want to visit a dying relative back home. And, though most people make it safely across our border, many have also died trying. According to CBS News, “upwards of 1,000 a year are dying” trying to cross the border. Those who do arrive here find themselves in a country where they lack basic rights. It is a situation of taxation without representation and at times, intimidation.

Sadly, this situation is the best option for many people. Jobs in the native countries of many are scarce and very low-paying. These undocumented immigrants chose to come to our country even though it’s risky and our country would not grant them any rights. True, they did not have to come. It was a choice. But what we have to ask ourselves is – do we feel like continuing to deny these people their rights? Do we want to be a country that takes advantage of people whenever possible?

Also, we shouldn’t forget that the people who are here without documents are already part of our country. Our children go to school together; we go to the same church. We see people who don’t have documents everyday, in passing or while they are working. Sure, we could support legislation that makes these people’s lives more difficult, but why?

If our government passes legislation that allows undocumented immigrants to get visas, this country will be fixing its mistakes. Some people though, would prefer that we show the world that we stand by our laws – be they just or unjust. Some think that we should punish the weakest members of our society for breaking a law that our own government has ignored.

I would prefer to be part of a country that can admit its mistakes, fix them, and move on. Please, support legislation that helps the immigrants who don’t have documents.

Megan JohnsonseniorPasquerilla East HallApril 16