The Center for Immigration Studies — a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank devoted to the impact of immigration on the United States — sent an e-mail blast last week asking their supporters for donations “to preserve the rule of law.”
Preserving the rule of law, according to the center’s e-mail, entails killing the immigration reform bill now being debated in the Senate. “The bill has the support of the Democrat and Republican leaders, the media and almost every single interest group . . . In contrast, most Americans want existing immigration law enforced, but their position is barely represented in Washington,” the center’s plea for money states.
A pause here to correct the record.
We’ve tried that already. The U.S. government has spent billions trying to enforce an “existing” immigration law that remains woefully out of step with the reality of the country. Two months ago, The Atlantic reported that the government spends $5 billion a year detaining and deporting immigrants.
In fact, the Obama administration has deported a record number of immigrants, including 200,000 parents of U.S-born children. (At the current rate, by the end of the year, deportations could reach two million, almost the same number of deportations that took place in the 105 years between 1892 and 1997, according to an analysis conducted by a sociology professor at University of California, Merced). Last year alone, 400,000 immigrants were deported.
Yet, 11.1 million undocumented immigrants remain in the country, and they are most definitely not going to self-deport, which seems to be the solution favored by groups that oppose uncontrolled migration.
During a recent debate at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Daniel Stein, president of the Federation for Immigration Reform — a group that seeks to stop illegal immigration — had a difficult time answering a direct question: If this immigration reform bill fails, as he forcefully predicted, what would he like to see the government do? What is the solution?
Though he didn’t say the words “self deportation,” it was clear that his only solution is removal, be it by choice or by force.
Most Americans understand that rounding up and deporting 11.1 million people would be impossible and simply not cost effective. Not to mention, though not everyone agrees with this, that deporting so many of our essential workers — from dishwashers and babysitters to home attendants and Silicon Valley engineers — would be detrimental to the economy.
Undocumented immigrants contribute about $15 billion a year to Social Security, while taking out only $1 billion. They have added about 10 percent, or $300 billion, to the $2.7 trillion Social Security Trust Fund, according to a New York Times Magazine interview with Stephen Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration.
And since this is about correcting the record, what do Americans really want?
A May survey of the Pew Research Center found that the majority of Americans want sweeping changes in the country’s immigration laws, though there is disagreement on how to go about that.
While 75 percent “believe immigration policy needs at least major changes,” 35 percent believe that the policy needs to be “completely rebuilt.” What’s more: 71 percent of Americans want a way for undocumented immigrants to remain in the country “if they meet certain requirements.” Of that 71 percent, 44 percent say undocumented immigrants should be allowed to apply for citizenship, and 25 percent think immigrants should be allowed to apply for legal residency.
But Americans remain deeply divided on their feelings about immigrants: 49 percent agreed with the statement, “immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents,” while 41 percent did not, opting instead for this statement: “Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and healthcare.”
The Pew data also show that immigration reform is not a top priority for the country. In fact, it’s number 17 on the list; the only other “priorities” that ranked lower were gun control, global warming, improving infrastructure and global trade.
Nonetheless, guided by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who introduced the bill last month, the Senate finally has a chance to reform immigration law. It is a flawed plan, an imperfect plan, even an unnecessarily punitive plan, but one that addresses the fundamental issue: It is time to do something about immigration. Anything.
Inertia is no longer a choice.
If cooler heads prevail and our lawmakers truly listen to the American people, we may just have a shot at repairing a hopelessly broken system and, in the process, begin healing a nation that has built its entire narrative on the dreams of countless immigrants — regardless of how they reached our shores.