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Immigration reform: Amnesty or necessity?

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By Rhony Laigo

If most pro-immigration advocates get their way, all 11 million undocumented immigrants will become legal in the U.S…and maybe more. But while potential immigration reform is becoming more likely as the year progresses, speculations arise as to how each issue within the current but broken down immigration system will be addressed.

Take border security for example. Since more boots have been put on the ground at the border, there have been less and less people who are being caught crossing the desert, or so the government claims. To the conservatives, this is great news. Although they want a more secure, if not a totally impenetrable wall at the border, they also point to the fact that the economy is so bad that people down south may find no incentive in coming here.

This brings to mind the four senators in the “Gang of 8” from the Republican Party, namely Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), whose main concern is how to secure the border first, before they deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants.

At present, drones, cameras, the deployment of more Border Patrol and National Guard personnel and what’s left of the Minutemen seem to be reducing the number of illegal crossings. The other four are Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

In Thursday’s New American Media National Telebriefing on “Behind the Business-Labor Agreement on Immigration Reform: What Ethnic Media Need to Know,” America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry said that the U.S. should not spend a dime more in fortifying the border. Sharry said there are already 21,000 Border Patrol agents deployed in the area and “we don’t need to waste more (funds) on agents as there’s already been a tremendous effort in securing the border.”

Sharry made it known that he backs ongoing efforts in preventing people from coming up north. “Sustained effort, sure, I favor that,” Sharry said, “but we shouldn’t be wasting more taxpayers’ money.” He said what’s more important is how to address the issue on why people come to the U.S. illegally and the magnet that attracts them to cross the border.

Speaking of magnets, work and Benjamin Franklin are what drive people to risk their lives in scaling the wall, crossing the Rio Grande, trudging the desert or navigating a crudely-built tunnel. For those who braved any of those routes – as difficult as it may have been, they were successful – and as result are becoming more optimistic. Some may even be thinking back on how they made it through the ordeal, ultimately, viewing their acquisition of legal US citizenship as the fruit of their hardships.

To many, this is just. To the conservatives, an “amnesty” means rewarding those who “violated” the law. The latter just need to cite that the 1986 amnesty that President Ronald Reagan implemented, who by the way was a conservative Republican, which resulted in more people crossing the border illegally. It would appear as if the federal government had forgotten that despite its perceived strength, the border is indeed a permeable entity.

Be that as it may, it seems more likely that when a bill is introduced, the GOP in the Gang of 8 will most likely agree in making the undocumented illegals legal because of last year’s elections, where the Latino vote decisively voted for their opponent Barack Obama. As a “compromise,” they will potentially make the undocumented pay taxes, learn English and go back to the metaphorical end the line. But that’s easier said than done.

In the same briefing on Thursday, this author posed the following questions: What have the advocates heard as to how much an individual will have to pay in taxes? And if they do, what will happen to the businesses that hired them (illegally) since these companies will surely be criticized as the “culprit” and the reason as to why the millions of undocumented individuals are able to stay here, find work and survive?

The Immigration Policy and Advocacy Center for American Progress Vice President Angela Kelley, who is based in Washington D.C., said there has been no word on the amount of taxes these individuals will pay as far as ongoing House Judiciary Committee hearings are concerned, but she admitted that businesses might get exposed.

Kelley said whatever bill they decide upon, it should have some sort of protection on the part of the businesses and that there should be no risks involved when the undocumented individuals submit their papers throughout the application process. “(The bill) has to function, so that it will become achievable. If it can’t be done, then you’re not solving the problem, ” she said.

A section in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provides that companies will be held liable for hiring undocumented immigrants and that businesses or persons hiring undocumented immigrants may pay a fine that may cost them as much as $10,000 “for each such alien.” They are also criminally liable. An article by the New York Times in May 2011 stated that the raids conducted by the Department of Homeland Security on businesses netted fines totaling about $43 million in 2010, which the paper said was a record. The same article said 119 employers were convicted. This is separate from the numerous raids on several factories all over the U.S., where companies said they tried to verify the legality of their workers but didn’t have the capability to know which papers are true and correct.

As to the question of who will benefit from the immigration reform, Kelley hopes that those who have been staying in the U.S. illegally for at least a year should be accommodated, which may increase the 11 million count. She recalled, however, that those who benefited from the 1986 amnesty program were people who stayed here continuously for at least four and half years. The law allowed nearly three million undocumented immigrants to gain permanent residency.

Economic Impact

While many don’t like the idea of another round of amnesty, the Obama administration has been deporting record numbers of undocumented immigrants. Despite that however, a separate study by the Center for American Progress said deporting all 11 million “would drain $2.5 trillion from the U.S. economy over 10 years.” The same study said mass deportation could cost U.S. taxpayers $285 billion over five years.

Pro-immigrant advocates have argued that the economic benefit of making the undocumented legal far outweighs the alternative, not to mention that deporting these immigrants can often have consequences for their children, who were born and raised in the United States. In the agricultural sector alone, landowners have said that no American workers would want to work at the farms despite the high unemployment rate in the U.S. that stood at 7.7 percent as of Thursday.

According to Washington D.C.-based Urban Institute, the total immigrant income in 1989, or three years after the 1986 amnesty program, reached $285 billion (citing 1990 census figures), which the think tank said “represented about 8 percent of all reported income.”

Another study by White House Council of Economic Advisers during President George Bush (43) also stated that immigrants increase gross domestic product “by roughly $37 billion each year because immigrants increase the size of the total labor force, complement the native-born workforce in terms of skills and education, and stimulate capital investment by adding workers to the labor pool.”

Just recently, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “A comprehensive immigration plan that includes a path to legalization could add $1.5 trillion to the economy over the next 10 years and increase tax revenues by $4.5 billion or more in three years,” in an article posted on Bloomberg.com – a huge amount indeed at a time when the U.S. needs more revenues to reduce its deficit.

For whatever it’s worth, it seems that both sides of the aisle will benefit from an immigration reform. Though the “one-time” 1986 amnesty may have failed to prevent the entry of more people illegally, it doesn’t change the fact that they are huge contributors to the U.S. economy because they came here to work.

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