There is no escaping the fact that this is an immigrant country, built by successive waves of migrants on the dream of a better future. And for most of the country’s history, no effective restrictions existed on the free migration of people – those who wanted to live and work here simply arrived, and if they desired to make this their home they later applied for citizenship. As we have added each successive layer of bureaucracy to the process, we have caught the occasional criminal, but we have also impeded the natural growth of the population to meet the needs of industry and society, and fed the creation of a vast illegal network of people-smugglers and cruel exploitation with low wages and poor working conditions. At every step of the way this has been driven by the needs of our capitalist economy, which by its nature tries to ensure the free movement not only of goods and capital, but of labour. But the response to this development from the political right has been to demonize the immigrants themselves, rather than the systems which employ them, and to fault them for taking whatever risks they deem necessary to ensure a better future for themselves and their children. This simply has to stop.
We have often seen the distinction made between legal and illegal immigrants, with many conservatives arguing that they are not opposed to legal immigration, only to the illegal kind. If that is the case, perhaps we should simply reform the system to allow people to move here as they like and as the economy needs? Why should anyone accept the logic that the issue is only illegality while the path to comprehensive reform is blocked at every step of the way? Let us instead call that bluff, and focus efforts on changing the laws such that immigration can match the needs of businesses, of family unity, and of natural population growth to sustain our way of life. It is, after all, the constant inflow of hard-working immigrants which has made America into the great country that it is today, both from the businesses they create and ideas they contribute, and the increases in tax revenue which paid for the technological leaps forward experienced in the last century.
The United States still has a very low population density, especially relative to the level of natural resources available to meet the needs of its people, and more workers means more businesses to be created, more consumers to patronize those businesses, and faster overall growth for the whole country. It is a fact that immigrants have higher rates of entrepreneurship than the native-born, and that American prosperity, just as with post-WWII European prosperity, was built with the assistance of immigrants. So why not eliminate the whole problem of of so-called “illegal immigration” by establishing a simple system of residence-application? If someone wishes to work or reside in the United States, they submit their paperwork and undergo a brief criminal vetting process. After that, a residence permit makes them legal, requires them to pay taxes like everyone else, and protects them from the cruel exploitation that consumes so many illegal workers. People move to the United States both because there are ample jobs here waiting to be filled in many economic sectors, and because they have an idea to create jobs for others by starting a business or working as a professional. Indeed, the number of immigrants with college degrees is approaching half the total! Studies have frequently shown that immigration does not lower wages or cost the native-born jobs, but instead can expand the available job market and the wage levels alike.
I propose to end the practice of deportations for non-violent aliens, and instead offer a comprehensive path to citizenship for all undocumented peoples currently in the country who with to stay, along with reforms to the system which created the status problem in the first place. Only those with violent criminal convictions should remain subject to deportation proceedings. Doing this would save the country billions of dollars in enforcement (the courts’ case backlog, the overflowing jails and prisons, the hunting of migrants across the country, etc.), and dramatically expand the state and federal tax base. Undocumented immigrants already pay sales tax, and many pay into Social Security despite their inability to collect those benefits. But expanding that to include all of them, with full enforcement of income taxes, would see substantial net gains in federal revenue, in addition to the savings mentioned above. It would also allow us to close down the private detention system which has directly profited on the demonization of undocumented immigrants. Under no circumstances should companies be profiting on our broken immigration system, but that is exactly what has been happening. And that profit has been flowing into the Congress in the form of lobbyist cash, which has kept the system broken, ruining millions of lives in the process. This simply has to stop.
Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0