Blog Archive

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Amnesty: A bigger, better DREAM

By Nick Wallace
Indiana Daily Student
January 17, 2011

December turned out to be a good month for President Obama.

But when you win a lot, you lose some.

Unfortunately, those who lost the most as the 111th Congress came to a close were the motivated, successful children of undocumented immigrants. Had the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act been approved by Congress, by 2010 it would have provided a route to citizenship for an estimated 700,000 young people.

But by only providing a path to citizenship for very successful and very young immigrants, the DREAM Act avoided addressing our morally and economically untenable immigration policy as it applies to the estimated 11.5 million undocumented U.S. residents.

For them, and for all reasonable Americans, a general amnesty offers the only real solution.

Amnesty for all immigrants who have not broken any law other than entering the United States without the proper paperwork will undoubtedly be met with resistance from those who cling to the principle that immigration must always proceed in an orderly fashion.

If we take them at their word, these critics of amnesty genuinely want to safeguard the rule of law. Therefore, they claim immigrants already residing in the United States should move to the “back of the line,” returning to their own countries to reapply to re-immigrate lawfully.

With 11.5 million immigrants, or 4 percent of all U.S. residents, living in the country illegally, the idea that our immigration laws have been in any way realistic or enforceable is simply not credible.

If we want immigration laws to be respectable in the future, first we will have to make our laws compatible with our practices. Our government has for decades given immigrants the signal that, though illegal, they are welcome in the United States.

The Center for American Progress writes that the past 20 years of immigration policy amount to a “de facto invitation to undocumented workers to live and work in our country.”

There can be little doubt about the contributions laboring immigrants have made to the United States. Because immigrants without papers cannot take their employer to court for abuses such as less than minimum wage pay, less than ethical employers have used them as a steady supply of cheap labor.

And collectively, we have all benefited not only from the fruits of undocumented immigrants’ labor, but also from their tax contributions to the social services they themselves cannot claim.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that between one-half and two-thirds of undocumented workers in the United States “pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, file tax returns, or do both.”

Economists and business leaders unequivocally agree that, were it possible, driving undocumented workers from the United States would be extremely detrimental and perhaps even catastrophic.

Removing 5 percent of the workforce, many of whom perform jobs that current legal residents are unwilling to accept, would produce damaging labor shortages.

So en masse deportation, or any plan that intends to banish undocumented immigrants, is not a real solution.

In addition to the inestimable costs of forgoing the services provided by undocumented workers, a forced deportation would be costly if not impossible.

Estimates indicate that mass deportation would require a $300 billion commitment over a period of five years.

The human costs would be equally, if not more, severe.

How should the American citizen children of undocumented immigrants be handled? Neither deporting these American citizens with their parents nor separating them from their families provides an acceptable course of action.

Because we cannot enforce current laws, we are faced with the choice of either changing or ignoring them. Currently, we are stuck doing the latter.

Those who oppose amnesty have no substantive alternative. This subjects immigrants and their families to an arbitrary execution of the law.

Deportations will not — and cannot — be enforced uniformly, so a relatively small number of undocumented immigrants are detained and deported to give the law an aura of success. This must change.

Our society has collectively benefited from the labor of undocumented immigrants, and it is beyond time to recognize them as full participants in the civic and economic life of this nation.

Accordingly, they deserve to live without fear of being tossed out as if they were worthless or, worse, dangerous and scheming criminals. Elected representatives and the American public alike should support amnesty.

It is not every day that we have the opportunity to make choices that are both morally and economically sound.