Thursday, April 18, 2013

On Immigration Reform (warning: Long post)

Normally, I wouldn't touch such a topic with a ten-foot pole.  It's loaded with emotion.  My bishop cited statistics showing that 25% of folks welcome immigrants with excitement, 25% of folks don't want any kind of immigrants what-so-ever, and 50% of folks just don't care.  Polarization at the extremes with a big chunk in the middle who don't care.  It's a situation rife to get one's self into trouble. 

And perhaps my own take will indeed get me into trouble, but I have spent some time thinking about this issue.  Living in Texas, one has no choice but to think about it as our neighbor is Mexico.  My family has a ranch near Freer, TX, and we have had a few run ins with folks avoiding the Border Patrol as they traveled toward towns and cities farther north. 

I do not wish to force anyone to my particular position, but I want to lay it out for you to see if it makes sense to you as it makes sense to me.  I draw from my faith tradition and the history of our nation to make my argument.

First, let's describe the issue.  Hundreds of thousands of people are detained each year for violating our immigration laws.  Because they have violated our laws, they are indeed illegal immigrants, by definition.  Numerous immigrants die in their attempts to enter the U.S. because they travel through the desert with inadequate supplies or shelter.  Yet, they still come, mainly because they have the opportunity in the U.S. to earn more money and have freedoms not granted in their own countries of origin.  Many employers hire illegal immigrants because they are willing to work for lower wages at tasks many Americans refuse to engage in.  The U.S. spends billions of dollars in protecting its borders, legally prosecuting deportation cases, and in the deportation of illegal immigrants.  Besides this cost, there is an emotional toll paid by immigrant families which are sometimes torn apart when parents are deported and children remain in the U.S.  In my estimation, this system is not viable or just.

What is a possible answer to the situation?  One that provides opportunity, fairness, and lessens the chance for abuse of those immigrating and those who abuse the current system?

Here's my radical idea: completely open borders.

Yes.  You heard that correctly.  (Please bear with me.  I know a good chunk, perhaps all of my congregation members may disagree with that statement, but please hear me out as I present my argument.  I do not ask you to agree, only to think about it.)

If you think back to the earliest days of our nation, you will quickly realize we were founded by immigrants--those who left or escaped the European feudal system which oppressed them religiously or relegated them to a particular status for their lifetimes.  America gave them the opportunity to be free and pursue happiness and wealth as they were ordained with inalienable rights.  Think back over history: were there any borders to our nation then?  And even though there were fights for territory by nations, was there any sort of enforcement of immigration policy?  No.  None.  People moved in and out of our nation freely.

Imagine what might happen if we took such an approach today. 

1. We would save billions of dollars as these immigration laws would no longer have to be enforced.  We would no longer have to burden the judicial system with costs of deportation trials.  We would no longer have to spend money to house immigrants who broke these laws while awaiting deportation.  We would no longer have to pay expenses for the deportation of people.  The cost savings here would be monumental.  (But, one might argue, if immigrants flocked to the U.S. would they become a burden as they entered into our welfare system.  See #5 below.)

2. No longer would the vast majority of immigrants seek to enter our nation through the back roads and through treacherous terrain.  Vastly fewer lives would be lost.  For those who are people of faith who see the image of God in fellow man, the lessening of loss of human life should be sought.  Immigrants would no longer pay "coyotes" high wages to bring them through.  A few dollars at a safe border crossing is all that it would cost.  The economics for immigrants makes tons of sense.  Further, those farmers and ranchers who see much human traffic on their lands would ideally see this traffic dwindle down to nothing along with a substantial lessening in the amount of trash, garbage, etc. that is left by those entering into the country illegally(But what about border safety?  Again, see #4 below.)

3. Upon entering our nation, we would issue a work pass without question.  This process would include obtaining a photo ID, finger prints, and the issuance of a worker number that employers could use to withdraw taxes, etc. just like an American worker.  Those entering would be given information as to the process of becoming an American citizen--and that process should be made extremely easy.  In this manner, we would know the vast majority of who came into our nation and give them a clear path to work and citizenship should they choose it.

4. Now, for the safety issue.  Some might complain that if we open the borders, we will have a rush of people entering for nefarious reasons.  We would not be safe should we let in potential terrorists or criminals.  I rebut this argument with the following:

  1. The economics alone mean that the vast majority of people would come through established border crossings.  If people tried to come in at other areas, in secret, it would be quite obvious they were up to no good. 
  2. By creating a photo and finger print registry as well as issuing work numbers (we have the technology to do this easily) we have a data base for those who have entered the country.  Since we have finger prints, etc. we can more easily track down people who commit crimes.  --And please spare me the criminal aspect of this.  Are there illegal immigrants who commit crimes?  Sure.  But what is the percentage?  If Wikipedia's numbers are correct 1.8% of illegal immigrants committed a crime.  Crime is not a problem.
  3. By giving opportunity, those who receive it will be zealous in their attempts to preserve it.  Just think of how the colonists gave the British army hell when Britain tried to quell the freedom people were experiencing!  Those who benefit from open borders will seek to keep them that way and keep in check those who would "spoil it for everyone."
  4. For those who continue to cross nefariously with intent to do the U.S. harm, I remind everyone we still have the Second Amendment in place.  We can protect ourselves from such threats, and I believe we are stronger when we take this responsibility upon ourselves instead of leaving it up to the authorities.  Sheriff and Police Departments will tell you they rely a lot on the public to help them solve crimes.  We already are a part of the safety process.  Why should this be any different with open borders?

5. It must be made clear, an immigrant cannot simply enter into the country to begin receiving welfare and government assistance.  I am not completely sure of the logistics; however, in my estimation, it would be in the best interest of the nation to impose a waiting period--a paying in period of sorts--of a decade or so before a person can begin receiving such benefits.  Now, does this mean people should be turned away from hospitals or other such services?  No.  But they must be held accountable and asked to pay.  We would be able to track and monitor such things because of #3 above.

I believe the benefits to open borders far outweigh the costs that might be involved.  It is a radical return to the founding principles that once made our nation great.  Once again, we would be seen as the Land of Opportunity and we would draw those who were interested in working and improving their lot in life.  Does it come with some risks?  Sure.  But I think those risks are well worth taking.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I am also interested in this subject, and like religion, it is complicated. I am guessing that since you live in Texas, when you think of illegal immigrants, generally, you are thinking of Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande.

I have lived in Miami since 1978 and I have a different perspective. First, we have had open immigration with Cuba since 1960. The results are in. It is estimated that approximately 30% of the population of Cuba has come to the U.S. since 1960. Miami was built up by the Cubans, and they are still the largest ethnic group in the city.

Now let's take a closer look. Cuba was one of the wealthier countries in Latin America before Castro. The Cubans who came to the U.S. were generally white and educated. They came for political reasons. They were able to quickly assimilate.

If the U.S. were to have completely open borders, this would be a very different picture.

Let's take the other extreme: Haiti. I have witnessed boatloads of Haitians arrive on the shores of South Florida, be arrested, and sent back to Haiti. I have also witnessed rafters come from Cuba, arrive on a beach, and because of "Wet Foot, Dry Foot," be welcomed into Miami and given government or church assistance.

The reality is that if we gave all Latin Americans the same privileges we give Cubans, we would have total chaos -- for sure in Miami. People would be pouring in for ECONOMIC reasons. My city and state would not be able to handle this.

You wrote: "For those who continue to cross nefariously with intent to do the U.S. harm, I remind everyone we still have the Second Amendment in place. We can protect ourselves from such threats...."

Well, what about organized Islamic terrorists? I don't think owning a shot gun will help.

But back to Latin America. What would happen when tens or hundreds of thousands of starving, illiterate, non-Christian (and by this I mean Voo-Doo, Santeria or Pagan/Indian [Inca, etc.] religion), primitive (and by this I mean people who do not know what an electric light switch is, who have never seen a doctor or dentist, who cannot drive a car, etc.) -- come pouring into South Florida and costal cities of the U.S.?

As a Catholic Christian, I understand this is a problem that did not develop overnight, and there is not a simplistic solution.