Backlash Measures Will Increase Tensions
As discussion continues in Washington over the various reform bills, several measures under debate will clearly have a negative impact on U.S.-Latin America relations and increase racial tensions within the United States without having any countervailing benefits to U.S. society and economy. As such, the following policy reforms should be rejected:
- Deportation of Illegal Immigrants: While the U.S. government certainly has the right to deport foreigners residing in the country illegally (either entering without permission or overstaying their visas), such an initiative is neither practical nor ethical. By having tacitly accepted that 12 million “illegal aliens” constitute an integral part of U.S. workforce and society, the U.S. government has signaled that there is room in the United States for “illegal” residents. Rounding up and deporting massive numbers of immigrants is not practical, and would lead to human rights violations and an upsurge in anti-U.S. sentiment within neighboring countries. Not only would such a policy initiative—advocated by the restrictionists in the Republican Party—wreak havoc in U.S. communities, it would also severely debilitate the already fragile economies of sending nations by abruptly ending the flow of remittances and dangerously expanding the sectors of the unemployed and homeless.
- Criminalization of Immigrants: The proposal that those crossing into the country without visas be regarded as felons would constitute an egregious violation of international human rights norms. Not only would such a measure, actually approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, prove costly to U.S. taxpayers, it would constitute another blow against the U.S. reputation and make U.S. citizens traveling abroad vulnerable to in-kind retribution. What's more, those advocating that illegal border-crossers be regarded and treated as criminals also would criminalize the act of sheltering or otherwise assisting these millions of unauthorized immigrants. As part of this criminalization of unauthorized immigrants, restrictionists in Congress and at the state and local levels also advocate that local law enforcement officials and other government employees turn over unauthorized immigrants to federal immigration authorities for prosecution and deportation.
- Barricading U.S. Borders: Formerly high-trafficked sections of the U.S.-Mexican border are already largely impenetrable because of previous decisions to erect imposing walls or fences. These barriers have proved highly effective in reducing illegal crossings at formerly favored immigrant crossing locations. However, they have not succeeded in decreasing immigration flows since would-be immigrants have sought new points of entry. Presumably, barricading the entire U.S.-Mexico border would dramatically decrease illegal immigrant traffic, but at an extremely high cost to U.S. international standing. As the United States has stepped up border control, including walls along parts of the border, many immigrants have decided to make the United States their permanent home because of the increased difficulty of returning for seasonal, temporary, or steady jobs. Further barricading the border would accentuate this trend.
- Denial of Basic Services: Contrary to the declarations of the anti-immigration forces, immigrants come to the United States to work, not to avail themselves of the country's quickly shrinking safety net of social services. Measures that would deny immigrants and their children emergency and basic medical services and education are inhumane and would further stratify U.S. society, aggravate the public health crisis, and contribute to delinquency and crime. Such proposed initiatives would violate basic human rights. Contrary to the misinformation disseminated by anti-immigration groups, immigrants who receive basic social services are not getting a free lunch since they are taxpayers—paying their fair share of income, payroll, and sales taxes. But it should also be acknowledged that many communities, especially in the borderlands, are finding that their budgets are being depleted by the increasing immigrant-related services, and the federal and state governments should step in to ensure that these are adequately compensated.
One of the main problems in organizing support for a fair, comprehensive, and effective immigration reform policy has been the lack of a conceptual framework to help policymakers evaluate the problems and benefits of immigration while at the same time linking immigration policy to both domestic economic and foreign policy. To summarize, a comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system would include these components:
- Occurs in the context of a national economic policy that encourages full-employment at livable wages and with respect for basic rights to organize.
- Prioritizes the entry of political refugees.
- Legalizes the presence of the large sector of unauthorized immigrants that have established roots in U.S. society and economy.
- Leaves open the possibility for guest-worker programs that do not endanger the jobs of legal U.S. residents and guarantees respect for the rights of these temporary workers.
- Determines a sustainable level of legal immigration that benefits U.S. society and economy.
- Reduces immigration visas for family reunification to ensure that any earned legalization program does not lead to large increases in legal immigration flows.
- Deemphasizes border security, and instead places the emphasis of controlling illegal immigration on institution of a worker ID system.
- Reforms U.S. foreign policy in ways that promote broad development and job creation in “sending” countries.
- Protects the human rights (with special attention to labor rights and conditions) of all U.S. residents—whether legal or not.