Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Have We Learned About Immigration? Is it time for Comprehensive Reform?

Recently, a friend asked us what we really thought about immigration.  With some reflection, we put our thoughts together in the following reply:
    A few years ago we began trying to educate ourselves on the issue, visiting our local immigration prison, which is owned and operated by a private corporation, the GEO Group.  We were bothered by the idea of people making a profit from rounding up and incarcerating others.  This seemed to us like something that should only be done by the government, if it had to be done at all.  We had a vague idea that somehow the profit motive likely would creep into the mix in a way that was not good.  Some investigation turned up that the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America, both privately owned corporations, were spending mega bucks lobbying to get anti-immigration laws passed in several states including Arizona, Utah and Alabama and So. Carolina.  Why would they do this?  Because they want to fill their rooms at close to $200 per nite, just like any good business.  With more stringent laws against immigrants, more customers would come.  Of course, they couldn't come out and say this.  What we have seen is an increase in messages about immigrants taking our jobs, not paying taxes, depleting social services, adding to our crime rates etc.
   So, we started reading more on the issue, spent some time working with a local Latino service organization, took workshops, and finally started this blog last May with the idea of looking at the problem from several points of view.
Through all of this we have drawn some conclusions:
    1.  Anti-immigrant sentiment is nothing new nor limited to our current affairs or just the U.S.:  all over the world immigrants are shunned and the outside ethnic group is always seen as inferior.  Just a few which come to mind:  Shiite and Sunni,  Japanese and Chinese, Kurds and Turks, Slavs and Croats, Romanians in Spain ( the Spanish gov. recently was offering them money to go back to Romania, if they promised to stay there for 5 yrs ! ), Catholic Irish vs. English Protestants, the Algerians in France etc.  In the US we have historically found groups that were easy to discriminate against:  Native Americans, Italians, Germans, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Africans, and now Latinos.
    2. There is always an element of "otherness" commonly based on religion or skin color or language in the "outside" group.
    3.  Those in a position of influence ( talk show hosts, politicians, religious leaders, and in some cases even teachers) tend to take sides.  Those who exacerbate the dislike of the scapegoat, usually focus on the "otherness" and try to foment fear of the unknown.  Most people naturally have certain fears of that which is outside their comfort zone, their realm of familiarity.  So, this is an easy way to persuade the populace of the demons in "those people."   We hear terms like "the axis of evil," and "They are either for us, or against us." or "They are taking away our jobs."  This is a common one in our current financially stressful world.
    4.  With the passage of time, at least in the US, our "social mind-set" or popular image softens toward many of our formerly disliked groups.  Think of the changes we have seen in attitudes in our lifetime toward, say, African Americans, Japanese, and the Vietnamese.  These changes come slowly, with influence makers and moms in sneakers speaking out. 
    5.  Seeing the above pattern repeat itself several times in our lives, we now are much more skeptical of accepting the initial demagoguery.
    6.  Based on our own experiences and observations, we have found the Mexicans we have met here in the US and Mexico, mostly genuine, generous, hard-working people, who are trying to make the best of their lives.  The newly emigrated are leaving poverty, violence and corruption, looking for a new beginning, a second chance.  When we recently read in an internet forum a comment from a woman who described herself as a conservative, born again Christian who thought that all Mexicans should be deported, what came to mind was that the essence of both Christianity and immigration is a second chance, a new beginning, an opportunity to start fresh.  She obviously saw life differently from us.
    7.  Attempts to force immigrants out of our communities has proven repeatedly unworkable.  The resulting economic impact is disastrous to those who pass such legislation.  The immigrants, both legal and illegal, have their lives and families thrown into chaos.  For some, this may be the goal.  For us, it is unfathomable.
    8.  So, indeed, we would favor changing our laws to provide a path to citizenship.  Perhaps fines may be a part of the equation, but few will be able to pay them.  If it is found that back taxes are owed, certainly employers would be required to pay their portions, along with penalties and interest.  We think that it will be nearly impossible to find small business employers who have relied in the past on undocumented workers, now willing to step up and pay these back taxes, fines and interest.  Hence, "making up for the past" is a difficult part of the solution.  Criminal records should be examined and not allowed for violent crimes.  Service to the country (USA) in the form of work in the Peace Corps, Americore etc would be a good thing.  Basic English proficiency should be required, as well as knowledge of our governmental system.  We see this not as amnesty.  Rather it represents a means of earning a way into our system.  In the early days of our country, many people earned their way in - as indentured servants.  When they could not pay for their passage across the ocean, they "borrowed" the money from a landowner already living in this country, then worked for that owner for five to seven years without pay.

(source: )

1630 to 1830
The peak New England settlement occurred from about 1629 to about 1641 when about 20,000 Puritan settlers arrived.   In the next 150 years, their  descendants largely filled in the New England states and parts of upstate New York.
While the 13 colonies had differences in detail, they had many things in common. Nearly all were settled and financed by privately organized groups of English settlers or families using private free enterprise without any significant English Royal or Parliamentary government support or input.
They nearly all established their own popularly elected governments and courts on as many levels as they could and were nearly all, within a few years, mostly armed, self governing, self supporting and self replicating. This self ruling pattern became so ingrained that almost all new settlements by one or more groups of settlers would have their own government up and running shortly after they settled down for the next 200 years. Nearly all, after a hundred years plus of living together, had learned to tolerate other religions than their own.
Nearly all colonies and later, states in the United States, were settled by migration from another colony or state, as foreign immigration usually only played a minor role after the initial settlements were started. Many new immigrants did end up on the frontiers as that was where the land was usually the cheapest.
Although Spain set up a few forts in Florida, notably San Agustín (present-day Saint Augustine) in 1565, they sent few settlers. Spaniards moving north from Mexico founded the San Juan on the Rio Grande in 1598, and Santa Fe in 1607-1608.
There was relatively little immigration from 1770 to 1830; indeed there was significant outmigration to Canada, including about 75,000 Loyalists as well as Germans and other looking for better farms in what is now Ontario.  Nearly all population growth up to 1830 was by internal increase; about 98.5% of the population was native-born.  Large scale immigration resumed in the 1830s from Britain, Ireland, Germany and other parts of western Europe.
Between 1831 and 1840, immigration more than quadrupled to a total of 599,000. These included about 207,000 Irish, starting to emigrate in large numbers following Britain's easing of travel restrictions, and about 152,000 Germans, 76,000 British, and 46,000 French, constituting the next largest immigrant groups of the decade.
Between 1841 and 1850, immigration nearly tripled again , totaling 1,713,000 immigrants, including at least 781,000 Irish, 435,000 Germans, 267,000 British and 77,000 French immigrants.
By 1850, this had shifted to about 90% native-born. The first significant Catholic immigration started in the mid 1840s, shifting the population from about 95% Protestant down to about 90% by 1850.
In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, concluding the Mexican War, extended U.S. citizenship to approximately 60,000 Mexican residents of the New Mexico Territory and 10,000 living in California. An additional approximate 2,500 foreign born California residents also become U.S. citizens.
In 1849, the California Gold Rush brought in over 100,000 would-be miners from the eastern U.S., Latin America, China, Australia, and Europe.
After 1870 steam powered larger and faster ships, with lower fares. Meanwhile farming improvements in southern and eastern Europe created surplus populations that needed to move on. As usual, young people age 15 to 30 predominated among the newcomers. This wave of migration, which constituted the third episode in the history of U.S. immigration, could better be referred to as a flood of immigrants, as nearly 25 million Europeans made the voyage. Italians, Greeks, Hungarians, Poles, and others speaking Slavic languages constituted the bulk of this migration. Included among them were 2.5 to 4 million Jews.
Anti Immigration
Their urban destinations, their numbers, and perhaps an antipathy towards foreigners led to the emergence of a second wave of organized xenophobia. By the 1890s, many Americans, particularly from the ranks of the well-off, white, native-born, considered immigration to pose a serious danger to the nation’s health and security. In 1893 a group of them formed the Immigration Restriction League, and it, along with other similarly inclined organizations, began to press Congress for severe curtailment of foreign immigration.
Irish and German Catholic immigration was opposed in the 1850s by the Nativist/Know Nothing movement, originating in New York in 1843 as the American Republican Party. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by Catholic immigrants , who were often regarded as hostile to American values and controlled by the Pope in Rome.
Shortly after the U.S. Civil War, some states started to pass their own immigration laws, which prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 1875 that immigration was a federal responsibility.[26] In 1875, the nation passed its first immigration law, the Page Act of 1875, also known as the Asian Exclusion Act, outlawing the importation of unwilling Chinese women for sex slavery.[27]
The Dillingham Commission was instituted by the United States Congress in 1907 to investigate the effects of immigration on the country. The Commission's analysis of American immigration during the previous three decades led it to conclude that the major source of immigration had shifted from northern and western Europeans to southern and eastern Europeans.   The 1910s marked the high point of Italian immigration to the United States. Over two million Italians immigrated in those years, with a total of 5.3 million between 1880 and 1920.
About 1.5 million Swedes and Norwegians immigrated to the United States within this period, due to opportunity in America and poverty and religious oppression in united Sweden-Norway.
Over two million Eastern Europeans, mainly Catholics and Jews, immigrated between 1880 and 1924.  People of Polish ancestry are the largest Eastern European ancestry group in the United States.
Congress passed a literacy requirement in 1917 to curb the influx of low-skilled immigrants from entering the country.
Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924, which was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s.  In 1924  quotas were set for European immigrants so that no more than 2% of the 1890 immigrant stocks were allowed into America.
Restriction proceeded piecemeal over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but immediately after the end of World War I (1914-1918) and into the early 1920s, Congress did change the nation’s basic policy about immigration. The National Origins Formula of 1921 (and its final form in 1924) not only restricted the number of immigrants who might enter the United States but also assigned slots according to quotas based on national origins. A complicated piece of legislation, it essentially gave preference to immigrants from northern and western Europe, severely limited the numbers from eastern and southern Europe, and declared all potential immigrants from Asia to be unworthy of entry into the United States.
The legislation excluded the Western Hemisphere from the quota system, and the 1920s ushered in the penultimate era in U.S. immigration history. Immigrants could and did move quite freely from Mexico, the Caribbean (including Jamaica, Barbados, and Haiti), and other parts of Central and South America. This era, which reflected the application of the 1924 legislation, lasted until 1965.
In 1952, the McCarran Walter Immigration Act affirmed the national-origins quota system of 1924 and limited total annual immigration to one-sixth of one percent of the population of the continental United States in 1920, or 175,455. The act exempted spouses and children of U.S. citizens and people born in the Western Hemisphere from the quota.
In 1954, Operation Wetback forced the return of thousands of illegal immigrants to Mexico. [4]. Between 1944 and 1954, "the decade of the wetback," the number of illegal immigrants coming from Mexico increased by 6,000 percent. It is estimated that, in 1954, before Operation Wetback got under way, more than a million workers had crossed the Rio Grande illegally.
It is difficult to estimate the number of illegal immigrants that left due to the operation—most voluntarily. The INS claimed as many as 1,300,000, though the number officially apprehended did not come anywhere near this total. The program was ultimately abandoned due to questions surrounding the ethics of its implementation. Citizens of Mexican descent complained of police stopping all "Mexican looking" people and utilizing extreme “police-state” methods including deportation of American-born children who by law were citizens.[40]
In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was passed, creating, for the first time, penalties for employers who hired illegal immigrants. IRCA, as proposed in Congress, was projected to give amnesty to about 1,000,000 workers in the country illegally. In practice, amnesty for about 3,000,000 immigrants already in the United States was granted. Most were from Mexico. Legal Mexican immigrant family numbers were 2,198,000 in 1980, 4,289,000 in 1990 (includes IRCA) and 7,841,000 in 2000.


(Source: Immigration Policy Center

Fuzzy Math: The Anti-Immigration Arguments of NumbersUSA Don't Add Up

According to the anti-immigration group NumbersUSA, immigration to the United States is all about arithmetic: immigration increases the U.S. population, and more people presumably means more pollution, more urban sprawl, more competition for jobs, and higher taxes for Americans who must shoulder the costs of “over-population.”  At first glance, this argument is attractive in its simplicity: less immigration, fewer people, a better environment, more jobs, lower taxes. However, as with so many simple arguments about complex topics, it is fundamentally flawed and misses the point.  “Over-population” is not the primary cause of the environmental or economic woes facing the United States, so arbitrary restrictions on immigration will not create a cleaner environment or a healthier economy.

  • According to the World Resources Institute, the United States is home to 23% fewer people than the European nations of the EU-15, yet produced 70% more greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, as of 2000.
  • Environmental degradation is caused by a host of factors unrelated to population size, such as the degree to which a society depends upon polluting and non-renewable fossil fuels; utilizes pollution-reduction technologies; develops systems of mass transit to minimize individual automobile use; uses plastics and other non-biodegradable materials in manufacturing and packaging consumer goods; recycles potentially recyclable materials; and controls agricultural run-off into waterways.
  • A few people can pollute a lot, or a lot of people can pollute a little, depending on the systems of production and consumption within a society.  The problem is less about how many people are in the United States, and more about how the United States produces and consumes.
  • NumbersUSA argues that immigration imposes a financial burden on U.S. taxpayers because most immigrants earn relatively low wages and therefore don’t pay enough in taxes to cover the cost of the public benefits and services they receive.
  • This argument is based on a narrow and misleading fiscal snapshot of how much the health and educational services utilized by immigrants and their children—even those born in the United States—“cost” in comparison to the taxes they pay at a single point in time. In reality, the income levels and tax contributions of immigrants tend to increase over time, and all children are “costly” when they are still in school and not yet working, tax-paying adults.  A more accurate fiscal analysis would estimate how much immigrants and their children pay in taxes and utilize in public services over their lifetimes.
  • Even a lifetime fiscal accounting does not capture the many other economic contributions that workers—both immigrant and native-born—make through their consumer purchasing power and formation of new businesses, both of which increase the nation’s economic output, create jobs, and provide federal, state, and local governments with additional revenue through sales, income, business, and property taxes.
  • Because it ignores the many economic contributions that workers make over their lifetimes, the one-year fiscal snapshot favored by NumbersUSA would also incorrectly portray the more than 32 million native-born Americans who live below the federal poverty line, as well as nearly all native-born retirees, as a net “burden” on U.S. taxpayers.
Immigrants Don’t “Steal” Jobs
  • NumbersUSA portrays immigrant workers as little more than job competition for native-born workers.  In truth, most immigrants are not competing with most natives for the same jobs.
  • Immigrants tend to have either very little education or a great deal of education, while most natives fall somewhere in the middle of the educational spectrum, which means they are filling different niches in the labor force.  As a result, immigrants usually complement the native-born workforce—which increases the productivity, and therefore the wages, of natives.
  • A 2006 study by economist Giovanni Peri of the University of California-Davis found that, between 1990 and 2004, the roughly 90% of native-born workers with at least a high-school diploma experienced wage gains because of immigration that ranged from 0.7% to 3.4%, depending on their level of education.
  • A May 2009 report by Rob Paral & Associates demonstrates that, even in the midst of the current economic recession, there is no correlation between the presence of immigrants in the labor market of a particular locale and the unemployment rate among native-born whites, blacks, Latinos, or Asians.
  • The reliance of the U.S. economy upon immigrant workers is unlikely to diminish in the coming decades given the seriousness of the “aging” crisis precipitated by the impending retirement of the Baby Boom generation.
  • A 2008 report by demographer Dowell Myers of the University of Southern California estimates that the ratio of seniors (age 65 and older) to working-age adults (25 to 64) will increase by 67 percent between 2010 and 2030. Immigrants, who tend to be younger than natives, will be increasingly important as workers, taxpayers, and homebuyers.

Taxes and State Services
.   1.    I have a friend who is an employer, currently looking to hire someone.
    2.    If he hires someone “above board,” paying all taxes, it will cost him  $ 15 per hour after collecting the taxes from the employee, adding the employer's portion of the taxes and sending them to the government.  ( This is the only legal way to do it.)
    3.    If he hires a legal citizenunder the table” without sending any taxes to the government, he might get the same work done for $ 11 per hour.  For various reasons many citizens prefer this.
    4.    If he hires an illegal immigrant he might get the work done for $ 8 per hour.
    5.    What then is the value of the work?  Those who argue that illegals are “stealing our jobs” would have to say that the value is $15 per hour since that is what they see as the loss to their income.  The government would agree.
    6.    In a quid pro quo equation there are two parts:  the worker gives an hour of time; the employer gives $15.
    7.    BUT when an illegal gives his hour of time and the employer only gives up $8, who is shorting the system (State of Calif., for instance) causing the state to go bankrupt?  It's not the immigrant and his kids who are draining the system dry. 
       Now, if all the farmers, business owners and homeowners who have hired someone to do their gardening would just pay back all the money they have pocketed by paying immigrants below the prevailing wages, plus interest and penalties, the state system would be solvent.  The real moral question is, "Who has stolen the money from the state?"
    8.    For a good book that illustrates this concept of thinking deeper, asking the right questions, look at the #1 best seller Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner.

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