Illegal immigration is one of the most complex problems facing Americans. Since the onset of the current “Great Recession,” the financial impact of the issue on federal, state and local budgets, and the implications for the job market, have made the topic more crucial than ever.
The Supreme Court
As this report goes to press, The United States Supreme Court is preparing to hear the intense conflict between the Obama Administration and the State of Arizona over that state’s 2010 law intended to combat illegal immigration. Governor Brewer has stated she will be in attendance at the proceeding.
The statute in question requires police to check the immigration status of individuals stopped for other reasons. It also makes it illegal for immigrants lacking a work permit to seek employment. Supporters of the legislation point to the tidal wave of unauthorized immigrants, the failure of the federal government to provide adequate oversight of the border, and the costs of providing services to illegal immigrants. Opponents claim only the federal government has authority in this area, and that the measure may lead to profiling of Hispanics.
A variety of states have enacted their own measures, mostly acting out of frustration with the federal government’s failure to adequately address the issue, as well as concerns over the cost of educating and providing medical care to illegals. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, thirty states have considered 53 omnibus bills.
The Mexican government has filed an amicus brief, contending that the state measure constituted “an imminent threat to Mexico-U.S. bilateral relations.” (In May of 2010, the Obama Administration and the Mexican government issued a joint declaration “Concerning 21st Century Border Management.” The document, which is not legally binding, established a bilateral executive steering committee to further lawful trade, and curb the illegal flow of people and goods.)
The Supreme Court’s ruling will probably be issued in June. Continuing its ongoing dispute with the Supreme Court, the Democrat Party is planning to contest the Court’s decision through new legislation if it rules against the White House position, according to the Washington Post. While the move is geared to shoring up support among some Latino voters, the move may backfire in the upcoming general election. Rasmussen reports that 59% of the public supports automatic immigration checks during routine traffic stops, a type of enforcement that cannot be performed by federal authorities.
Interestingly enough, the Obama administration hasn’t launched attacks on “sanctuary” jurisdictions that defy federal law by not reporting illegals that come to the attention of local officials.
The federal Office of Immigration Statistics reports that the number of illegal immigrants has grown by 27.5% since the year 2000, jumping from 8,460,000 to 11,200,000. The number is even more significant when compared to the mere 3.5 million present in 1990. However, since 2005, the number of apprehensions by Department of Homeland Security’s Border Patrol has declined from 1,189,000 to only 340,000 in 2011.
In fact, border apprehensions in 2011 were at their lowest level since 1972. 86% of those caught last year were male, up from 82% in 2005. Despite the challenge represented by these statistics, the Obama administration has requested a decrease of 4% in the budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The White House has also requested a reduction of $17 million in the Section 187(g) program, which allows Washington to authorize state and local law enforcement agencies to carry out immigration enforcement duties, as noted in testimony before Congress by ICE Director John Morton on March 8.
According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, “Illegal immigration costs U.S. taxpayers about $113 billion a year…At the federal level, about one third of outlays are matched by tax collections from illegal aliens. At the state and local level, an average of less than 5% of the public costs associated with illegal immigration is recouped through taxes collected from illegal aliens.”
The ongoing Great Recession has caused what will probably be a temporary suspension in the growth of the number of illegal aliens present in the U.S., as many frustrated over the lack of work opportunities have voluntarily left.
Crime and National Security Issues
The Violent Crimes Institute calculates that 240,000 illegal immigrants are sex offenders. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has produced a study noting that twelve Americans are murdered each day by illegal aliens. It has been contended that even those not personally inclined towards lawlessness are vulnerable to being forced into crime by criminals preying on their vulnerability. Concern has been expressed that terrorists mingling in with illegals crossing the border for jobs present a significant national security threat.
A Heritage Foundation study concluded that “The real problem with undocumented workers is that flouting the law has become the norm, which makes the job of terrorists and drug traffickers infinitely easier.”
The impact on health care is a crucial part of the illegal immigration debate. In June of 2007, a number of Congressional Representatives, including several who are also physicians, wrote to the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to express their concern over the communicable diseases illegals may carry. Unlike legal immigrants, illegals are not subject to a health examination as part of the process for obtaining a green card.
“It is not a surprise,” the Representatives wrote, “that the rate of TB infections is highest in the states that attract the most illegal immigrants…In addition to TB, we should be concerned about the many other diseases thought to be nearly eradicated in the United States that could be brought back through unchecked immigrants, including hepatitis B, polio, and avian flu, just to name a few…illegal immigration is a serious health threat to American citizens.”
In 2008, an analysis by the Republican Study Committee calculated that one sixth of the total number of those without medical insurance were illegal immigrants.
Approximately 8 million illegals are in the nation’s workforce. Philip Valentine cites a Maricopa County study performed by economist George Borjas that indicates wages for entry level workers are approximately 4.7% less due to the impact of those illegals. Mark Kirkorian, writing in National Review, argues that there has been no proof that illegal immigrant labor has produced any net economic benefit to the nation. He maintains that self-serving employers seeking access to labor at costs below what Americans would accept is the motive for many who continue to “turn a blind eye” to this issue.
Others, however, believe that illegal immigrants produce unacknowledged benefits to the nation. Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan’s 2009 testimony to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, published on the Pro/Con site, outlines this perspective:
“There is little doubt that unauthorized, that is, illegal, immigration has made a significant contribution to the growth of our economy. Between 2000 and 2007, for example, it accounted for more than a sixth of the increase in our total civilian labor force…unauthorized immigrants serve as a flexible component of our workforce, often a safety valve when demand is pressing and among the first to be discharged when the economy falters. Some evidence suggests that unskilled illegal immigrants (almost all from Latin America) marginally suppress wage levels of native-born Americans without a high school diploma, and impose significant costs on some state and local governments. However, the estimated wage suppression and fiscal costs are relatively small, and economists generally view the overall economic benefits of this workforce as significantly outweighing the costs.”
The Cato Institute also disputes concerns about the economic impact of illegal immigrants. They argue that most jobs taken by illegals are unskilled, appealing only to the 7% of native-born Americans who lack a high school diploma. The organization has urged the federal government to refocus its border control efforts towards criminals and terrorists.
Democrats seek to leave the enforcement task to the federal government, to the relative exclusion of the states. They emphasize tougher restrictions on employers who hire illegals, and are more inclined to consider amnesty for illegals who have been in the nation for a prolonged period of time.
Republicans advocate far tighter border controls, and oppose amnesty. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has objected to the Obama Administration’s “backdoor amnesty” actions.
Both sides have forwarded positions (for example, the various versions of the DREAM act) that attempt to address the needs of those who entered with their parents at an early age and have not known life in any nation but the USA.
It is evident that the high rate of unemployment, budget deficits at the federal, state and local levels, and the threat of terrorism will continue to place America’s porous borders and the presence of a large illegal population at the forefront of public debate.