immigration reform wish list

First of all, I would to link these two articles, because I feel they provide a basis for my feelings and opinions on this subject. The first is called the case for globalized labor, by writer Stephen Faris and the other is the lengthy but exceptionally well-written and compelling reasons for the trip north, by Harvard student and Immigration Orange blogger Kyle de Beausset.

I would like to say that I am a person who takes the law seriously in my own life. I have never had anything even close to a run-in with the law and I resent when people suggest that because I do not see entering the country illegally as a very serious offense that I am a law-breaking, evil person. In the e-mail account I use for the Journal Sentinel, I have a collection of exceptionally offensive and angry messages from people who simply believe that every person in the country without papers should be escorted to the door because they are criminals and find themselves above the law. Entering the U.S. without documentation is a misdemeanor civil offense. It very simply is not criminal.

Clearly, many people feel it should be criminal, but the fact is, this issue is far more complicated than the laws of the U.S. If the U.S. economy (on a grand scale) was not demanding cheap labor (which equals cheaper goods and services for our materialistic and stuff-hungry culture) these people would not be here, gainfully employed by thousands of U.S. companies. However, if you are a person that feels that in all cases, U.S. laws trump everything else, please do not bother reading this entry and making an angry comment. There is no point, because clearly, you and I see the world, this country and human beings in a fundamentally different light, and we have nothing in common.

That said, my personal wish list for immigration reform:

1) I would like to see a two-fold approach to undocumented immigrants who are currently living in the United States and have no path through which to pursue legalization (like a U.S. citizen relative). These immigrants would need to decide whether they want to pursue lawful permanent resident status that would eventually allow them citizenship or guest worker status.

a. Lawful permanent resident status would take more time, involve some carefully thought out, meaningful fees, perhaps require English skills, no criminal record, taxes filed, etc.
b. Guest worker status would be temporary, and would allow an immigrant a pass with which to work here as well as the ability to travel back and forth between his or her home country. Guest workers would not be able to bring additional family with them necessarily, because the idea is that these people will eventually reside in Mexico (or whatever country) and are not putting down permanent roots in the U.S.

The guest worker issue is controversial, but my personal experience with many immigrants is that they do not all want to be Americans, and many do not want to live here permanently. I think we need a system that allows people to take advantage of the jobs available in this country that Americans are not interested in, particularly in the service and agriculture industries. I also feel that considering how much we as a nation benefit from NAFTA, and how detrimental it has been for Mexican agriculture, that we should be willing to allow people to live here who eventually have the intention of returning to Mexico to invest much of that capital into their own country. I think that situation is beneficial for Mexico and the U.S.

2) I would like to see adjustments made to family immigration, and the elimination of the 3/10-year bars for priority relatives of U.S. citizens who do not have any significant crininal history. A U.S. citizen should not have to provide documentation of the “hardship” it would cause them were their spouse banned from the country. That is obvious, and it punishes people who are trying to do the right thing by bringing their undocumented spouse into the open. This situation has personally affected me. We are currently in a situation where it would have been better for us to leave my husband’s illegal status alone rather than try to seek his legalization. That should not be.

I have mixed feelings about other sorts of family immigration. There are currently very long waits for people who would like to petition for their brothers, sisters, adult children, or parents to legally immigrate to the U.S. This is going to sound callous, but I’m not of the opinion that because one person in a family is allowed to immigrate here for whatever reason, that their entire family should be able to come. Maybe I’m totally hypocritical here, but that is how I feel.

I think all efforts should be made to keep spouses together as well as underage children with their parents. I think perhaps petitions for adult brothers and sisters should be eliminated in favor of allowing more guest workers. Some of those brothers and sisters would certainly be able to become guest workers, so it’s not that I don’t feel family unity is important, I just think there are smarter, more efficient ways to change the system.

3) I think we need to develop a speedier and more efficient immigration-processing system. I have received many notes from people who sympathize with my personal situation, but cannot help feeling that granting all the undocumented workers who are now living in the country legal status is “rewarding” bad behavior.

While I understand that line of thinking, I think few Americans, were they born and raised in Mexico, would do differently. For a Mexican, this is not a matter of right and wrong, it is often a matter of food or starving, opportunity or another generation of dire poverty. This is fundamentally a people who feels trapped by the economic devastation of their own country, and the U.S., as their closest neighbor and an ally and a trade partner, has done little to invest in Mexico, and has also done little to stop employers from hiring illegal workers in the U.S.

As people flooded north, they encountered job opportunities far beyond anything that would exist in Mexico, and word spread. Undocumented immigrants have been allowed to get I.D.s (that’s in the past now, but still), file taxes, buy homes, and generally function in a way that is similar to any legal resident. We accommodated them, we “lured” them here, as Geraldo argued to Bill O’Reilly recently, to do our dirty work and now the nativists and the anti-immigrant sorts are turning this into an issue about legality, when it is far more complex than that.

I really want to see immigration reform that reaffirms that this country is a nation of immigrants, and also that takes into account the human and economic realities of today’s United States.

If a realistic, workable guest worker program were put into affect, we wouldn’t need to spend billions on border security, because there wouldn’t be nearly the numbers of people on the border to catch.

I’ve been working on this on and off all day. There is more to say about comprehensive immigration reform, but that’s all I can muster today.


5 Responses to immigration reform wish list

  1. azresistance says:

    Very thoughtful and well articulated. You are in fact spot on in your analisis of how economics has brought us to the problems we face regarding Mexican immigation in America today. With slight understanding as to your perspective in the matter, I still believe you may be getting ahead of immediate reality in your thought. I too would like to see the day of normalized immigration however, currently we suffer a saturated labor pool and the economic strains of thirteen million “undocumented migrants” removing from the economy far more than they are contributing to it. I believe it wise to temporarily suspend immigration from Mexico untill these issues can be resolved. I feel that many of the ideas you suggest sound terrific and should be worked toward. Who knows, maybe a temporary freeze regarding Mexican immigration would expidite real and viable solutions. If I were in your particular situation I very well might feel similar to you in your frustration. However, my frustration is a labor pool filled with Mexican migrants uninterested in citizenship but very interested in already over burdened social services. But anyway, heres to people like you and I… young people with a dream.

  2. laurafern says:

    Arizona — Thank you for your comments. I personally think the jury is out on whether undocumented immigrants contribute or take more from social services. I think there is a state-to-state difference as well. Some states probably have more workers that work completely undocumented (ie. paid in cash, no taxes paid) than others. I think up here (Wisconsin) the majority are paid by check from whatever restaurant/hotel/factory and are therefore contributing more than they are taking from state services. (Personally, I don’t know many immigrants here who use any sort of social services… maybe calling the cops on their aggressive American neighbors once and a while 🙂 …. but that’s just personal experience). At any rate, I really appreciate the response.

  3. Mexico Momma says:

    Here in Mexico waiting a year and a half for my husband to get his visa – which never may come though he has no police record, and always paid his taxes – I am so disheartened by my fellow Americans who don’t look at these issues from a personal, grassroots level.
    Thanks for your well thought proposals and for being able to change some minds with your ideas. Way to go!!

  4. Gary Holsom. says:

    Most illegal immigrants do not pay taxes, they have no need to, they have no documentation. I do not know if that hurts the government but it certainly does not help. To say that the only time illegal immigrants use public services is when they call the police on aggressive American neighbors is a bit absurd. To me it just comes down to fairness. Some families struggle to pay taxes yet if they were only undocumented, they wouldn’t have to. I myself have no insurance and recently had to pay a large hospital fee, but an illegal immigrant who needs medical attention gets it with no questions asked. Immigrants who go through the process of naturalization legally often must wait years before they can become citizens. Taking the stance that there are two perfectly OK ways of coming into the country, legally and illegally, seems unfair to those who come in legally. While many of these illegal immigrants provide valuable services, that is no excuse to come into the country illegally. No excuse. The way I see it, either amend the immigration laws and document every one who has illegally immigrated, otherwise it is hypocritical to uphold any other law in the country.

  5. laurafern says:

    Gary — I beg to differ on the taxes issue, just to clarify. Most “undocumented” immigrants actually work with a fake social security number at jobs that any person could apply for. Certainly, there are a number work for cash, probably mostly in agriculture and as sub-contract labor — but anyone not working for cash — I would argue the vast majority, though it’s hard to know for certain — are getting all the regular taxes deducted from their checks, even though the social security number they are using is invented (not stolen, there is a difference).

    I’m speaking from my experience as a restaurant manager AND because I am married to a formerly undocumented immigrant, who not only paid lots of taxes over the years, but also filed his taxes. The first year he filed with his ITIN number, which the IRS provides, he got a big refund!!! And it’s not like we have five kids or something, it was just him and I.

    I’m not sure where you get the idea that an illegal immigrant doesn’t have a hospital bill like anyone else. I mean, that’s ridiculous. The hospital doesn’t discriminate between people with valid documents and not. Everyone gets those bills. I know a couple who had a baby and got a $10,000 bill a few weeks later from the hospital. They probably made that in 6 months working here. I’m not quite sure how they paid it, but they managed somehow.

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