Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Immigration Concerns: From Birthright to Welfare

The Immigration Dilemma- Week 5

So far in this series, I've spent a lot of time trying to nuance the immigration debate and all of its complexities. We've gone over immigration history, challenged the notion of what is "legal" vs "illegal," talked about how the legal immigration system actually works, and how we have the undocumented population that we do today.

But there are still a lot of concerns about immigration. So this part of the series is my A-Z listing of some common immigration concerns and how I would respond. I'm hoping you'll find that after having read the past posts in the series, you'll already be able to dispel these myths on your own.

The concern: Many people think that undocumented immigrants cross the border and have children--who by birthright are U.S. citizens--in order gain legal status for themselves and the rest of their family. People call these children "anchor babies." They therefore say that we should either repeal the 14th amendment where birthright citizenship is enshrined or at least re-interpret it to exclude children of undocumented immigrants.

My answer: This concern is pretty far-fetched when put in the context of the facts. Let's think back to the post on legal immigration. A U.S. citizen-child can only petition for their parents to come to the United States after they turn 21 years old. That means that someone would have to migrate to the United States and have a child only with the hope of gaining lawful status 21 years later. Not very likely.

Moreover, under current immigration law, even if a child did petition for their parent once they turned 21, the parent would have to return to their home country to be eligible for the visa through their child. However, by having spent the prior 21 years in the United States without authorization, they would be subject to a ten-year bar to re-entry without eligibility for a waiver. And even at that point, they would have to prove hardship in order to re-enter the United States through their child's petition. So once again, this does not seem like a very likely motive for migration.

Going even further I would ask, what would the cost be of repealing birthright citizenship?

Birthright citizenship was enshrined in the 14th amendment of the Constitution in 1868 saying: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." If you didn't catch it from the date (right at the end of the U.S. Civil War), this amendment was written to grant full equality and rights to ALL people in the United States and to prevent a future generation of "second class citizens." If we repealed this right, we would have a population of children who are stateless-- who do not have status in the United States (where they were born) or elsewhere because they were born and grew up here. They would be denied rights, unable to return to the country of their parents because they do not have citizenship there, yet unauthorized to stay here. They would be made more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and perhaps even subject to a lifetime of detention for having only committed the crime of being born. Is that really the ideal that we strive for?

The concern: Because we have a family-based immigration system, immigrants will come to the United States and gain legal status (either through entering "the legal way" or through an "anchor baby") and then petition for all of their family members to come to the United States, who will then petition for all of their family members, and so on and so forth until entire villages have re-located to the United States.

My answer: Once again, this concern is a bit ridiculous once we understand how the family immigration system actually works. Say I move to the United States from Mexico and gain lawful permanent status at 38. It would take an average of 6 years for me to bring my spouse or minor child to the United States, making me 44. Now say I had one of my children at 20, so that s/he was an adult (tho still unmarried when I came here); it would take a average of 16 years for my child to come join me from Mexico, making me 54. Now, on my fastest track to citizenship, I would be a citizen around the time my minor children and spouse joined me (44 years old), so at that point I could begin petitioning for my married sons and daughters and siblings to join me. I would be around 59 before my married children could lawfully come to the United States and 66 before my siblings could come. Then before any of these family members could petition they would have to naturalize, etc.

I think you get the picture. Given how the U.S. legal immigration system works, it is impossible for "chain migration" to occur.

The concern: All immigrants are criminals.

My answer: I think this concern developed out of the belief that someone is a "criminal" for crossing the border undocumented. But as I pointed out in the last post, it is only a civil offense to cross the border unauthorized, which means undocumented immigrants are not criminals merely for being undocumented.

Now, there is also a widely held belief that immigrants bring crime to communities or that they are part of gangs. However, all reputable research says that this is not true. In fact, immigrants are much LESS likely to commit a crime than a U.S. citizen; immigrant neighborhoods are far less likely to have high crime rates; and immigrants are even half as likely as U.S. citizens to be charged with a crime.

The concern: They don't speak English. They are "polluting our culture." They do not have American values.

My answer: Our society was founded upon creating communities out of diversity. Welcoming immigrants is an American value. Diversity is an American value.

The concern: By letting immigrants into the United States, we are creating a threat to national security.

My answer: First off, the vast majority of immigrants coming to the United States are hardworking individuals without any sort of criminal record. Second, I will say that it is important and perfectly legitimate to check who is entering the United States to ensure they are not violent criminals or people who engage in acts of terrorism.

However, increased enforcement is not the answer. By not having legal paths of entry and by increasing enforcement, the United States has actually pushed more people to enter the United States without inspection. If we had expanded legal avenues of entry, we would be able to more thoroughly check who was coming into the United States and protect national security.

The concern: Immigrants come into this country undocumented in order to use our social services without paying taxes.

My answer: First of all, no one can live in this country and not pay property, sales, and use taxes. Many immigrants also have federal and state income taxes withheld from paychecks, although they cannot claim refunds unless they have legal documentation of their right to work. In 2005, the IRS estimated that immigrant workers (including undocumented workers) paid more than $165 billion in federal taxes and more than $85 billion in state and local taxes.

most immigrants, documented or not, are NOT eligible for most federal programs despite paying taxes that fund them. In fact, a 2008 report by the Social Security Administration indicated that undocumented immigrants alone have contributed eight years of viability to the Social Security system, from which they will never receive benefits.

  1. What were some of your main immigration concerns before reading this series?
  2. Which of these concerns do you hear expressed most often in your community?
  3. Why do you think people feel these ways?
  4. How could you work to address these concerns in your community?


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