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Immigration: Whose problem is it?

The issues we face today are often muddled by a plethora of media outlets. Whom to believe? Often, the points of the issues can get distorted or exaggerated. And all too often, we don’t discuss the issues, and when we do, we don’t always listen with an open mind. We hang on to our opinions like a spider to its web. Most of the issues are not black and white; they’re gray.This column is not about one particular person’s opinion. This column is about “why and how.” The sources are reputable organizations. If we don’t include statistics in some areas, it’s because we don’t trust where they came from. Stats can be skewed to anyone’s agenda, too.Any national issue is up for discussion. We’ll take it on – with respect to all sides.Few issues do more to polarize Americans than immigration.Arizona’s recent legislation cracking down on illegal immigrants – Senate Bill 1070 – is proof that the immigration debate is as heated as Phoenix in July.On April 23, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed Senate Bill 1070 into law, but before the bill went into effect in July, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an injunction against it – and won in part in U.S. District Court. Under the full extent of the new law, legal immigrants must carry their documentation papers with them at all times. The law requires that police verify the legal status of individuals during the course of a traffic stop or any other encounter with a law enforcement officer. Also written in the law is a provision that allows law enforcement officers to request proper identification when there is “reasonable suspicion” that a person is in the U.S. illegally. The law also increases penalties against those who employ illegal immigrants or those who harbor or transport illegal immigrants. Cities that have operated as “sanctuary cities” – safe havens for undocumented workers – will be banned under SB 1070.The injunctions against SB 1070 blocked Arizona police from intercepting people of “reasonable suspicion” and asking for their identification. The injunction disallowed any authorization of a “warrantless arrest of a person if there is reason to believe that person might be subject to deportation.” The injunction also nixed some parts of the provision mandating that immigrants carry their papers with them at all times.Arizona has appealed the injunction, but the National Immigration Law Center and a coalition of civil rights groups, among them the ACLU and the NAACP, filed a lawsuit in May challenging the constitutionality of SB 1070. Pros and Cons of SB 1070Proponents of SB 1070 say enforcing immigration laws is the right thing to do. It’s not about ethnicity; it’s about trespassing and violating the laws. Lawmakers in Arizona hope that SB 1070 encourages undocumented immigrants to go back to their country on their own, rather than face jail, and that it discourages employers from hiring illegal immigrants.Opponents of the Arizona law argue that SB 1070 promotes racial profiling. They say it’s harassment to ask people for their papers, and, as one Washington Post columnist opined, the law creates a “suspect class … considered guilty until proven innocent.” The new law also creates an aggressive environment for legal immigrants and permeates suspicion or hostility among neighbors, police officers, co-workers and government officials.The new law is popular with Arizona voters, however. A Rasmussen poll found that 70 percent of voters approved the new bill.Crime is a factor in their decision. The Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney’s Office found that 22 percent of felonies in the county are committed by illegal immigrants.In September, the Department of Justice also sued the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, because of alleged civil rights violations within the department. Sheriff Joe is one of the toughest law enforcement cops in the country. And many Arizona residents are behind Sheriff Joe.Proponents also feel that America’s own identity is disappearing; instead, the country is divided by “multiculturism.” There are concerns about jobs, health care and education: Illegal immigrants are adversely affecting a broken economy. Opponents say that Arizona is usurping federal law. Federal law vs. state lawThe population of illegal immigrants in the U.S. actually dropped in 2009. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the number of illegal immigrants in the country in 2008 was 11.6 million; in 2009, 10.8 million. Many cite the barren job market for the decline. Mexicans comprise the largest population of illegal immigrants. From 2008 to 2009, there were 380,000 fewer Mexicans in the U.S., or a total of 6.65 million.Until SB 1070, immigration issues have been under the jurisdiction of federal law, which determines who is allowed to enter the U.S. and for how long. The feds also map out the rules for U.S. citizenship and govern the nation’s borders. Congress has authority over the federal immigration law; the president has no judicial powers, except in the case of refugees – “aliens with a fear of persecution upon returning to their homelands.” According to the federal law as of February 2010, states have limited authority concerning immigration issues. Federal law dictates that “the Supreme Court shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction of all controversies between two or more States. The Supreme Court shall have original but not exclusive jurisdiction of all actions or proceedings to which ambassadors, other public ministers, consuls, or vice consuls of foreign states are parties; all controversies between the United States and a state; all actions or proceedings by a state against the citizens of another state or against aliens.”Naysayers of SB 1070 say the Arizona law is in direct conflict with the federal law and jeopardizes the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws. They fear that federal government efforts would be focused on deporting nonviolent immigrants in Arizona, instead of using resources to find criminally violent illegal residents in all states.They have a dreamIn 2009, Sen. Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, and Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, were among those who introduced the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act. Under the DREAM Act, undocumented immigrant students meeting the qualifications would be eligible for conditional permanent residency, which means they would be able to drive, work and travel. The DREAM Act amends the Defense Authorization Act and is part of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repeal.The DREAM Act allows conditional residency for six years; after, persons can be granted legal permanent residency if they have completed two years in a program for a bachelor’s or higher degree or have served honorably in the armed forces for at least two years.Eligible applicants must have entered the U.S. before age 16 (15 and younger). They must have resided in the states for five consecutive years prior to the enactment of the bill. They must have graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a GED or have been accepted into an institution of higher education. And they must have good moral character.The act covers all youths brought to the U.S., even those brought here illegally.Strict immigration reformists have lobbied against this act since its inception. But proponents argue that most of the students are “culturally American.” They have been in the system for most of their school years and know nothing different. Their first language is English. However, they are discouraged from seeking a higher education because they can’t afford it (and they can’t work), and they are often turned away from colleges and universities. They cannot legally drive and can’t vote. Some are deported back to a country they barely know. They are not at fault for their parents’ decisions.The Immigration Policy Center cites the following statistics.

  • There are about 1.5 million undocumented children in the U.S.
  • About 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year.
  • About 114,000 potential beneficiaries with at least an associate’s degree would be immediately eligible for legal permanent residency status.
  • Another 612,000 potential beneficiaries who have graduated from high school or received a GED would be eligible for conditional status.
Proponents also state that the DREAM Act would benefit the military, the universities and decrease the drop-out rate of school-age children.On Sept. 21, the DREAM Act lost ground when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was voted down in Congress. Proponents contend the DREAM Act is anything but dead.Woe is the work forceUnemployment in the U.S. is staggering. The last thing Americans need is illegal immigrants taking their jobs. But are they?Farm worker advocates and nationwide growers are pressuring legislators to pass the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act, which gives temporary legal residency to about 1 million undocumented farm workers.The National Agricultural Workers Survey reports that about 65 percent of crop pickers in the U.S. are undocumented. Some argue it’s 70 percent.Under the AgJobs bill, those who applied for legal status would have to prove they have worked in the farm industry for the past two years and pay fines for entering the country illegally. They would have to settle any taxes owed. Felons would be excluded.Currently, the H-2A temporary agricultural program allows agriculture employers an opportunity to bring in “nonimmigrant” foreign workers to the U.S., if there is anticipation of a shortage of domestic workers. Opponents of the AgJobs bill say the temporary program now on the books is sufficient, but many of the employers who have taken advantage of the program say it’s tough to ensure that every one of the workers is legal.The United Farm Workers Union presented a challenge to Americans this year: The jobs are open, come and get them. Since June, about 4,000 people responded to the challenge, but only a few dozen have followed through. Of those, many lose interest when they discover the jobs are physically demanding, with minimum wage compensation – most with no benefits. Another turn-off: heat – sweltering temperatures in the fields.But farm work is not the end of it. Construction jobs, restaurant and hotel jobs, cleaning services, slaughterhouses are among other industries that employ illegal immigrants.The Center for Immigration Studies states that immigrant unemployment in the first quarter of 2009 was 9.7 percent. The high unemployment rate creates doubt about the need to admit new immigrants.More questionsAccording to the Bureau of Justice, illegal immigrants comprised 26 percent of the federal prison population in 2009. Why are we housing illegal immigrants in American prisons?The Center for Immigration Studies reported on the impact of amnesty as it relates to Medicaid costs. Medicaid is not available to illegal immigrants, but if those in the country were given amnesty, many would be eligible for Medicaid, which will expand under the new health care reform bill. The center estimated that 3.1 million uninsured illegal immigrants would qualify for Medicaid – the cost if amnesty was provided – $8.1 billion annually.Is that fair when many Americans are uninsured or underinsured?How did we get to this point?How do we have all this data on illegal immigrants, if they are invisible when it comes to enforcing the laws?Many illegal immigrants have established their lives here, like it or not. They’ve had babies, and under the 14th amendment those babies are legal citizens.Do we want to separate families, disrupt lives?Why are Cubans granted citizenship when they cross the border without interception in Mexico or hit land in Florida? Why not the same treatment for Mexicans?Immigrant status is hard to come by.The path to becoming a U.S. citizen is difficult at best and highly selective at worst. Immigrant and employer-sponsored work visas favor the highly skilled and educated. For those who aren’t engineers, doctors or movie stars, there is the E2 investor application visa, which is granted under a treaty involving the European Union and other countries, including Mexico. A person can apply for a nonimmigrant visa by investing a substantial sum of money in a business in the U.S., including starting a new, viable and operating business – and it has to remain successful. The visa must be renewed through a loosely woven bureaucracy every five years. This is strictly enforced.Aren’t we discriminating against one group of people if we’re not enforcing the laws for everyone?We place blame on illegal immigrants, but the federal government, whether a Democrat or Republican is at the helm, keeps turning its back on the problem. It’s like the teacher who lays out the rules and doesn’t follow through.Why would they be discouraged from coming here?Zach and Mitch Rivett are 16-year-old twins – juniors in a public high school in Florida. When they were 10 years old, they came to Florida from England with their parents, who qualified to live in the U.S. under the E2 nonimmigrant visa (their parents bought a business). The E2 nonimmigrant visa does not cover the boys once they graduate from high school. The boys have been educated under the American public school system and are in advanced placement classes. They consistently achieve A’s and B’s.They are smart and technologically savvy; why would the U.S. want to lose its brightest and most talented students?As for businesses, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says illegal immigrants are essential to the work force in America. He knows so because the service company that cares for his house hires them. A service company that employs illegal immigrants and has them working at the house of one of the most prominent figures in Washington D.C.: gutsy. And that prominent figure is hiring them.What does that say?Finally, is it even possible to address any issue when our lawmakers are so divisive and obsessed with ousting the “other” party? Is it possible to come together as a country when we’re not even willing to RESPECTFULLY discuss the “other side” of an issue?

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