This was a question posed in a recent Letter to the Editor and one that speaks to the many myths surrounding immigration, both legal and illegal. The reader felt sorry for those brought over as kids but failed to understand why they or their parents didn’t take the time to fill out the necessary paperwork to earn legal status.
The answer to that question is simple: because they can’t.
Kids aren’t allowed to apply for citizenship or work visas. One must be at least 18 years of age and cannot have entered the country illegally. If an adult wishes to legally obtain a visa after having entered without permission, he/she must return to his/her country of origin and wait a minimum of ten years. Even then there are no guarantees the individual will receive a visa.
The result? Most children who crossed over with their parents will go to school, learn English, receive a diploma, and assimilate into American life. Many go on to obtain degrees in higher education, but must live in the shadows, concealing their undocumented status for fear of deportation to a country they may not even remember.
Those in favor of the DREAM Act ask why we would want to deport those who received a college degree or wish to serve this country in the military. It seems both unfair and economically unsound. When determining who should be granted citizenship or legal status, wouldn’t our most desired candidates be highly educated individuals with a desire to serve and ties to both community and country? It seems logical, but let’s look at the other side of the argument.
Many believe that if we grant legalization to children brought over illegally, we encourage lawlessness and will end up educating even more undocumented children.
My response to the first part of this argument is that illegally crossing into this country is a civil offense, not a criminal offense. I point out this fact because so many politicians and outspoken immigration reform foes use the criminal aspect of illegally crossing the border as reason enough to round ‘em up and deport ‘em all. And while I do not think that we should encourage any form of law breaking, keep in mind that a civil offense is comparable to the act of speeding and considered an administrative issue not a criminal issue. We classify lawlessness for a reason, so when discussing what’s illegal about undocumented workers, let’s also be accurate in describing the seriousness of the crime.
We also need to understand those who would be affected by the DREAM Act. It does not apply to every child who illegally crossed over. The DREAM Act recipients must have crossed over by the age of 15, lived in the United States for a minimum of five years, completed high school, and deemed of good moral character (in other words, no criminal record). These individuals are then required to obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher or enlist and serve in the military. The individual must still wait six years before receiving permanent legal residency.
Will the DREAM Act provide incentives for undocumented children? Yes. Many will complete high school then go on to college or the military. The question, though, is why these incentives are considered a negative impact of passage. Wouldn’t we rather have these individuals make a positive contribution to society versus living a secretive life and ending up in a gang or prison?
It’s true that American citizens pay for the expense of educating undocumented children. But so do undocumented families. They pay in the form of property taxes, which are collected in rent payments and mortgages. They also pay sales and income taxes, another little-known fact that some choose to gloss over or ignore.
But there’s another, bigger myth that permeates this entire discussion. It’s the belief that ‘these people’ could have applied for legal status before they crossed the border. It’s the frequent question of “why can’t they just have a little patience and stand in line like everyone else?”
Again, the answer to this question is simple: for most of these individuals, there is no line to stand in and no way to legally enter the United States.
This is a fact that many advocating for immigration reform want people to understand. Entrance into this country is neither simple nor readily available.
As American citizens we are incredibly lucky to live in a country desired by so many. It’s a good thing that people want to come here. And it’s a good thing that we don’t simply open our doors, or our borders, for just anyone.
The last thing we want is a country filled with criminals or overrun with low-skilled workers living off public assistance. But contrary to what anti-immigration groups say, that is not the situation in this country.
Here are a few facts that bear repeating.
Though the undocumented population in Arizona grew steadily over the past decade, violent crime dropped by more than 52 percent and property crimes dropped by almost 49 percent.
Mexican citizens were granted 375 non-family related work visas in all of 2009. Compare that number with the number of unskilled workers needed to bring in a winter lettuce crop in Yuma – 30,000.
If those 375 Mexicans wanted to bring along their spouses, they could apply for a family visa, but visa rules prohibit those spouses from seeking employment while in the United States. This forces most families to make the choice between living in separate countries or breaking visa rules and chancing deportation.
And while it’s true that migrants frequently use emergency rooms for care and often bear fake or stolen Social Security numbers, it’s also true that these same individuals have helped keep Social Security solvent. It’s estimated that illegal immigrants contribute, on average, five to seven billion dollars each year into the Social Security Administration’s “earnings suspense file,” an account for monies paid into the system that cannot match worker’s names with Social Security numbers. That account had a staggering $836 billion at the end of fiscal year 2009. The illegal immigrants who paid into this account cannot legally collect this money at retirement, leaving billions for American citizens.
But DREAM Act foes still argue that any type of immigration reform without secure borders is nonnegotiable. And on some level, I agree. I wish our Congressional leaders could work together for the good of this country and find a comprehensive (yes, I said the word ‘comprehensive’ and no, it doesn’t mean a.k.a. amnesty) solution to this problem. But they will not.
The fact is, unless we reform the visa process and unless Mexico’s economy becomes competitive with America’s, the problem of illegal border crossings will not end. Yes, we need secure borders, but no, it will not happen without other means of reform. Since both sides of the debate refuse to compromise, we are left with little hope of any type of reform other than a piecemeal approach.
So let’s stop waiting around for the impossible, and start working toward a part of the solution that is possible. There is no reason to let our educated and American-breed youths continue to live in fear of deportation. It’s time to educate the country about the realities of our broken immigration system, and allow our young individuals the chance to earn the American dream.