Immigration Reform and Citizenship for Illegal Immigrants

Introduction

Immigration reform is a political discussion on how to change and improve the current condition of the immigration system. People relocate to the United States because of the promises of economic prosperity, freedom, and high quality of living. However, the current immigration system is ineffective and does not fulfill its intended objectives. For instance, there is unfair treatment of illegal immigrant workers, widespread racial and ethnic discrimination, and separation of families (Graham, 2008).

This situation contradicts the vision of America’s founding father because treatment of newcomers should be based on the virtues of justice, fairness, and equality. There is the need for the creation of an immigration process that facilitates the acquisition of citizenships for people who come to the U.S. from other countries around the world. There is an immigration crisis because undocumented immigrants lack legal ways of applying for citizenship. Therefore, they hide from the authorities. On the other hand, people who apply for legal entry wait for prolonged periods of time before they are approved because the process is slow and tedious (Graham, 2008).

Several studies have shown that America benefits immensely from illegal immigrants. In 2014, President Obama announced a plan to offer citizenship to approximately 45% of illegal immigrants. He issued executive actions to stop the deportation of illegal immigrants because Congress has not come to a consensus regarding an appropriate immigration policy. Immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is necessary because it will bring economic benefits, enhance the protection of human rights, and improve the efficiency of the immigration system.

Background: Immigration crisis

The current immigration crisis is an indication of the need for immediate immigration reforms. The main challenge is that many immigrants opt to enter the U.S. illegally because of the ineffectiveness of the current immigration policy (Graham, 2008). Immigration of Chinese began during the California’s Gold Rush period when many Chinese immigrants were running away from civil war and famine at home (Lee, 2004). They moved to America for refuge and to earn money that they could send back home to their families. The California Gold Rush led to a surge in labor demand because workers were needed to work in the gold mines and factories (Lee, 2004). Other Chinese immigrants worked in the Transcontinental Railroad. Violence and discrimination against Chinese immigrants resulted in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and the Geary Act in 1892 (Lee, 2004).

In 1943, enactment of the Magnuson Act allowed reinstated Chinese immigration and naturalization of Asian immigrants. Also, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 ended the era of excluding Asians from immigrating to the U.S. (Lee, 2004). A report released by the Migration Policy Institute showed that Chinese, South Koreans, and Indians are among the most rapidly growing groups of undocumented immigrants. For example, the population of illegal Asian immigrants increased by 203 percent between the years 2000 and 2013 (Phippen, 2015). The main reason for the surge in immigration is improvement of the economies of Asian countries. People can now afford to move to the U.S. both legally and illegally. The population of undocumented immigrants has grown rapidly in the past two decades. In 1990, there were approximately 28,000 illegal Indian immigrants. However, that number has grown to 284,000 in 2015 (Phippen, 2015).

Currently, there are more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States (Ewing, 2013). Of those, 14% are of Asian descent and come from countries that include India, China, Japan, Philippines, and Vietnam (Phippen, 2015). There is a need for an immigration system that will take into consideration the struggles and hardships faced by people who move to the U. S. The government should consider the contributions made by immigrants in order to create an effective system that keeps families together and simplifies the process of granting citizenships to newcomers.

The 2014 immigration crisis is proof enough that there is need for speedy immigration reforms that will simplify the process of granting citizenships. Unfair treatment of illegal immigrants through exploitation and discrimination create a need for immigration reform. Employees hire immigrants because they offer labor that is compensated with low wages (Graham, 2008). Lack of worker unions exposes illegal immigrant workers to risks of health violations and unfair remuneration (Schwab, 2013). Illegal immigrants are human, and they have rights that should be respected. If immigration reforms are not passed, then the number of illegal immigrants will continue to rise and present several challenges that will be lead to loss of many opportunities (Ewing, 2013).

Improvement of the efficiency of the immigration system

Immigration reform will make the system more efficient and therefore, provide people with equal opportunities. The current system is ineffective because it enhances separation of families and exploitation of immigrant workers. It offers 480,000 family-based visas annually that are issued to immediate relatives of citizens or through the family preference system (Schwab, 2013). Difficulties have emanated from the availability of limited visas for individuals in the family preference system because immediate relatives have been offered majority of the available visas every year (Immigration Backlogs Are Separating American Families, 2012).

The limits set for each category have made it difficult for some citizens and permanent residents to reunite with their families. On the other hand, the limits set regarding the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States per country also contribute to the problem. The number of visas available each year is less than the number of applications received for legal entry. This problem will only be solved by reforming the immigration system in order to ensure that the number of visas provided by the government is equal to the number of eligible applicants (Immigration Backlogs Are Separating American Families, 2012).

Immigration reforms will provide equal opportunities to all people because the culture of exploiting immigrant workers because of their illegal status will come to end. Immigration reform will enable immigrants to seek better-paying jobs and as a result improve the quality of living for their families. Separation of families for prolonged periods of time causes mental health issues and psychological disturbances on immigrants. One of the benefits of having family members around is that they help in the adjustment process and offer emotional support. Working immigrants exhibit low productivity and poor performance because of the effects of separation from family members. Congress should update the immigration quota system, reallocate visas that are unused, raise limits for the number of people that can become legal citizens for each country (Immigration Backlogs Are Separating American Families, 2012).

Counter argument

It is true that immigration reform will make the system more efficient and provide everyone with equal opportunities. However, offering citizenship to illegal immigrants would be acting against the American constitution because it would be like protecting criminals (Schwab, 2013). Any person who enters the borders using illegal or channels or overstays their visa is a criminal who should be either deported or prosecuted for breaking the laws of the United States. The current immigration system offers legal channels for entry and citizenship. Therefore, interested individuals should follow the procedures outlined in the system.

On the other hand, it would be unfair to documented immigrants who followed legal channels of acquiring citizenship or permanent residency. The government should not allow them to burden law-abiding and tax-paying Americans by utilizing their resources, breaking immigration law, and flooding the labor market (Schwab, 2013). Many Americans are suffering because the government is protecting illegal immigrants who should be punished for breaking the law.

Economic opportunities

Many people move to the U.S. because of the many economic opportunities it offers. The huge economy allows immigrants to get better paying jobs than those in their native countries, improve the quality of their lives, and access the international labor market (Bush & Bolick, 2013). Congress should enact comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants because of their positive impact on the economy of the United States especially through increasing consumer demand, providing cheap labor, and fostering economic growth. An efficient immigration policy will increase the country’s GDP by 0.84 percent, raise tax revenues, and boost workers’ wages (The Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform, 2010).

There will be a surge in investments, purchase of homes, and consumer spending that will stimulate the growth of the economy (The Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform, 2010). Studies have shown that the United States benefits immensely from the presence of illegal immigrants in the country mainly because of their services in the low-cost labor market and consumption of goods and services. Many illegal immigrants have low levels of education and skills. Therefore, they take the jobs that Americans shun because of their high levels of education (Bush & Bolick, 2013). Illegal immigrants increase the demand for housing in the real estate market, lower the cost of production in many industries, and consume goods and services that generate billions of dollars (Bush & Bolick, 2013).

Additionally, all the money earned by undocumented immigrants is spent almost immediately and as a result increases the circulation of money in the economy. Another contribution made by immigrants is payment of taxes. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), illegal immigrants pay more than $11.8 billion in taxes every year, and therefore, contribute to the cost of financing government activities (Pianin, 2015). For example, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy revealed that undocumented immigrants paid approximately $10.6 billion in taxes in the year 2010 (Pianin, 2015).

Economists argue that immigration reform that provides citizenship to illegal immigrants would increase tax contributions by approximately 5$5 billion during the first three years (The Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform, 2010). Projections show that implementation of President Obama’s executive actions would increase undocumented immigrants’ tax contributions by nearly $850 million while comprehensive reforms would result in a $2 billion increase in taxes (Pianin, 2015). Finally, undocumented immigrants contribute towards the Social Security Fund. The Social Security Board of Trustees has revealed that undocumented immigrants have contributed more than $100 billion toward the fund in the last ten years (Bush & Bolick, 2013). The fact that they are not eligible for the benefits of the fund is proof that their presence benefits many Americans either directly or indirectly.

Counterargument

Undocumented immigrants positively impact the economy through their work, consumption, and tax payments. However, they strain government resources, increase the costs of government services such as education and health care, affect per-capita wealth, and deny jobs to many low-skilled Americans due to the high competition they bring to the labor market (Bush & Bolick, 2013). Studies have shown that children of illegal immigrants make up approximately 4% of the population in public schools around the country (Schwab, 2013).

The government caters for the education needs of these children by paying extra money for services such as remedial training. There more than 1.8 million children of undocumented immigrants in the public school system increase the cost of education (Bush & Bolick, 2013). The Obama administration is committed to using government resources to take care of illegal immigrants due to the current immigration crisis caused by delays in immigration reform. The government is providing services such as food, shelter, and health care to immigrants. This decision has been criticized because many Americans are homeless and starving.

Critics argue that the resources that are being provided to illegal immigrants should be given to homeless and struggling American citizens (Schwab, 2013). The IRS downplays the importance of immigration legislation when it accepts tax contributions from illegal immigrants who are considered as criminals under the American constitution. The IRS protects undocumented immigrants by accepting their money and allowed them to use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers to get tax deductions that are entitled to legal citizens and permanent residents only (Bush & Bolick, 2013).

Protection of human rights

As mentioned earlier, illegal immigrants come to America for reasons that include poverty, political instability, persecution, education, wars, and pursuance of economic opportunities (Bush & Bolick, 2013). Countries that experience wars, political instability, poverty, and persecution are unsafe for many people because of the numerous violations of human rights that occur. On the other hand, many have died on the border trying to enter the U.S.

Many illegal immigrants are discriminated against in the U.S. and experience severe violations of their human rights. In 1882, a change in immigration policy perpetuated discrimination against Chinese immigrants. Their migration was suspended for ten years, illegal immigrants were deported, and many of them were denied citizenship (Bush & Bolick, 2013). These actions were motivated by anti-Chinese movements that were formed to advocate for the evacuation of Chinese immigrants from the U.S. A mass evacuation program was implemented in 1886 and led to the deportation of many Chinese immigrants (Schwab, 2013). Racial and ethnic discrimination as well as exploitation are some of the challenges experienced by illegal immigrants (Bacon, n.d).

There is widespread exploitation and discrimination because immigrants withstand violation of their human rights for fear of being exposed to law enforcement authorities (Bush & Bolick, 2013). Their efforts to live quietly and not draw attention from authorities expose them to the risk of exploitation and discrimination. Their illegal status increases their vulnerability o exploitation especially by employers (Bacon, n.d). The results of discrimination are evident from the high numbers of school drop outs among illegal immigrants.

Counter argument

Undocumented immigrants have human rights that should be observed and respected. However, there are better ways of entering the U.S that do not involve breaking the law. Critics have argued that immigrants expose themselves to exploitation and discrimination the moment they opt for illegal channels of entry into the United States (Bush & Bolick, 2013). Protecting the human rights of illegal immigrants. However, this is very difficult because many of them live in obscurity for fear of deportation. Many immigrant workers are exploited, subjected to poor working conditions, and paid wages that are not commensurate with their work (Schwab, 2013).

Their illegal status makes it difficult for the government to intervene. Moreover, they cannot form worker unions because they are illegal residents (Bush & Bolick, 2013). Undocumented immigrants endure many hardships and problems that affect the quality of their lives. Nevertheless, their illegal entry into the United States makes them criminals who deserve legal punishment. The U.S. government should not be blamed for the discrimination and exploitation of undocumented immigrants because many of them hide for fear of deportation.

Recommendations

Implementing immigration reform by passing one bill is ineffective because it will not allow time for legislators to discuss the various issues associated with immigration thoroughly (Stimson, Rector, & Carafano, n.d). On the other hand, offering amnesty to undocumented immigrants is expensive and unfair to legal immigrants because it would undermine the rationale and importance of past immigration policy enforcement initiatives (Stimson et al., n.d). Failing to pay close attention to various immigration issues will result in a new system that will harbor loopholes, weaknesses, and limitations that will aggravate the problem. Instead, the government should focus on securing its borders and streamlining processes for legalization of immigrants (Senator’s Framework for Immigration Reform, 2013).

Also, it should provide more resources for the enforcement of existing immigration laws and adopt a gradual approach to reforming the current immigration system. It would be ineffective to implement immigration reforms without first securing the borders and controlling entry because people will continue to come in illegally and worsen the situation (Stimson et al., n.d). Offering citizenship to undocumented immigrants will encourage people to move to the U.S with the hope that the government will offer them amnesty and citizenship. Reforms should support the U.S. economy, improve the efficiency and effectiveness of immigration policy, and strengthen enforcement of immigration laws (Senator’s Framework for Immigration Reform, 2013).

Conclusion

More than 11 million illegal immigrants are residing in the United States from different parts of the world. They come to the U.S. because of many reasons that include political instability, religious persecution, poverty, education, and war. Others come to take advantage of the many economic opportunities the American economy provides. The issue of immigration reform has dominated political and social discourses for a long time. In 2014, President Obama issued executive actions that were aimed at stopping the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

The opposition to the executive actions has caused delays in immigration reform. Studies have shown that illegal immigrants benefit the American economy immensely because of their contributions to the labor market and consumption of various products and services. They have been criticized for straining government’s resources and breaking immigration law. However, their contributions cannot be downplayed and should be considered in the process of immigration reform.

References

Bacon, D. (n.d). An Immigration Policy Based on Human Rights. Web.

Bush, J., & Bolick, C. (2013). Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Ewing, W. (2013). The Cost of Doing Nothing: Dollars, Lives, and Opportunities Lost in the Wait for immigration Reform. Web.

Graham, J. (2008). Immigration Reform and America’s Unchosen Future. New York, NY: AuthorHouse.

Immigration Backlogs Are Separating American Families. (2012). Web.

Lee, E. (2004). At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press.

Phippen, J. W. (2015). Asians Now Outpace Mexicans In Terms of Undocumented Growth. Web.

Pianin, E. (2015). Study Finds Illegal Immigrants Pay $11.8B in Taxes. Web.

Senator’s Framework for Immigration Reform. (2013). Web.

Stimson, C., Rector, R., & Carafano, J. J. (n.d). Immigration: Talking points. Web.

The Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform. (2010). Web.

Schwab, W. A. (2013). Right to Dream: Immigration Reform and America’s Future. New York, NY: University of Arkansas Press.