Immigration and Its Discontents


Immigration and Its Discontents

For all the controversy that is out there these days about illegal immigration, the one thing that is continuously missing in the debate is truth and light.  Simply put, neither side is being honest.
Richard P. Swanson, Esq.
Written by: By Richard Swanson, NYCLA President-Elect
Published On: Apr 02, 2024
Category: News & Insights

For all the controversy that is out there these days about illegal immigration, the one thing that is continuously missing in the debate is truth and light.  Simply put, neither side is being honest.  Both are dissembling.  Here are some facts to consider.

First, anyone who claims we can deport our way out of our illegal immigration problem is lying.  The best evidence is that there are roughly 11,000,000 people here illegally.  We’re just not going to back up buses to deport as many people who live in New York City and either Chicago or Los Angeles together and send them back to Central America or wherever.  There aren’t enough buses or bus drivers, and not enough holding cells or immigration officers to arrest and hold all 11,000,000 until the buses can depart.  The overwhelming majority of those people are going to have to be given amnesty at some point, and the sooner we’re honest with ourselves about that, the better.  We haven’t enacted a significant immigration bill since the 1980s, back in the Reagan presidency of all things.  We passed an amnesty then too, and we have to do it again.

Second, in a 3.9% unemployment economy, we have approximately 10,000,000 job openings.  We can afford immigrants.  In fact, we can’t afford NOT to have them.  Our aging work force and our declining birth rate means that to keep our social insurance system (principally Social Security and Medicare) solvent we need more younger workers.  Canada has the right idea.  In fact illegal immigrants are better than legal ones, financially speaking, as they pay into the Social Security and Medicare systems without being eligible for benefits down the road.  If that seems unfair, well, it’s the system that we have.

We also need to expand our existing guest worker programs, principally the H1B and H2 visa programs.  H2 visas are for temporary agricultural employees, who cross the border seasonally to harvest our food.  In the case of H1B visas these are skilled employees who add to our economy, not subtract from it.  They are here for the American Dream, and they have the skills to achieve it and to create American jobs in the process.

We also need an amnesty for our Dreamers.  These are people who were brought here by their parents when they were still young, and have lived virtually their entire life here.  They don’t know of any life except for their American life.  They’ve been educated here, speak English and have their family and friends here.  And yet, they can’t work here, at least not legally, no matter what their skill or education level may be.  That is really heartless as well as dumb.  We should want them to be contributing members of our society.

But perhaps the dumbest and most hypocritical part of all is the use, or in reality, the lack of use, of the e-Verify system.  We have a really easy way to ascertain whether a particular prospective employee is both here and ready to work legally, and that is the e-Verify system.  Every employer has the ability to log on to the system and check the Social Security credentials of any prospective employee.  We don’t mandate its use, at least not subject to substantial penalties and sanctions.  You can’t tell me you’re serious about restricting immigration until you tell me you’re willing to mandate use of that system.  It’s the easiest way to turn off the jobs spigot for illegal immigrants.  And yet, small business groups who ordinarily you’d think might tilt Republican adamantly oppose mandating the use of e-Verify.  Why do you think that might be?  Maybe because they want the ability to hire illegal immigrants?  No, that can’t be it.  That’s too cynical a thought to have.

A final word about asylum.  Our current asylum system allows immigrants to come here, allow themselves to be detained, make a claim of asylum, which then entitles them to be released pending an immigration court hearing on their asylum application.  Given the size of the resulting backlog, that hearing can be 7-10 years off.  You’re free to live in the United States and work during the interim.  The system is designed to protect real asylum seekers, but since almost all illegal immigrants are aware of the system all it really does is encourage fraudulent asylum claims.  By the time an applicant’s case comes up, the applicant’s life is likely to be completely different.  He or she may be married, perhaps to a U.S. citizen; have children who were born here and therefore are U.S. citizens; and to have been educated and advanced in their career to the point where a rejection of their asylum claim with consequent deportation makes little practical sense.  A system which encourages fraudulent asylum claims has little to recommend it, yet it is the system we have.  A better outcome might be to have a quick administrative interview to weed out weak asylum claims quickly, with immediate deportation to follow, but we have to be willing to give up substantial due process to do that.  At a minimum we need to fund an immigration court system so that delays of 7-10 years to hear a case become a thing of the past.

None of these issues is actually very complicated to conceptualize.  The utter lack of meaningful discussion about any of them shows how hypocritical our entire debate over immigration has become.  Scoring political points is apparently more important than arriving at sensible solutions.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of NYCLA, its affiliates, its officers, or its Board.