Shaking American Ethos to the Core:
The Illegal Immigration Divide
No single issue in recent times is capable of unleashing impassioned reaction from the American people more than illegal immigration. No single issue is as volatile as the issue of what to do, or how to deal with the undocumented immigrants estimated to be around 12 million (Weisman & VandeHei A01; Jordan A2; Holmes A6), or, if Justich and Ng are more correct, “the[y] … may be as high as 20 million…” (1). But be it 12 or 20 million, the number is more than overwhelming and has deeply divided the citizenry; a divide that is reflected in the policies of the Democratic and Republican Parties that represent the people. No single issue has made the Democrats and the Republicans more acutely vulnerable in the political arena, especially in an election year, other than illegal immigration. It is a very contentious issue that, depending upon how it is handled, or is perceived as being solved, could deliver victory – or defeat – for either party at the polls.
The United States of America is a nation of immigrants: from the early American pioneers of a few hundred years ago to the other settlers from various countries that came after them. That the United States continues to attract immigrants, up to this day, comes as no surprise. This country is a bastion of peace, freedom and unlimited economic opportunities for hardworking and law-abiding citizens: more than enough reasons for other people from less blessed nations to come to the United States. However, even if this “nation [that] has been enriched by immigrants seeking a better life” (“A Safer World” 16) is an undisputed fact, the other reality is that not all immigrants go through the legal processes of coming to work or settle in this “land of milk and honey.” A huge number had arrived, and continue to arrive, deceptively and stealthily; and in a country of 300 million people where — using the 12 million general estimate as guidepost – one in 20 workers is undocumented (qtd. in Phoenix par. 3), the societal challenges that have sprung from illegal immigration are enormous.
The consequences of illegal immigration are no secret to the American people. They are aware that the vast majority of the 12 million illegal immigrants are from Latin America (Jordan A2), and that many of these undocumented Hispanic workers managed to sneak in through the U.S.-Mexico southern borders, the length of which is 1,952 miles with 1,240 miles of these borders located in Texas (Castillo par.32). If NoInvaders.Org, sponsor of the Border Fence Project, is to be believed, the U.S. Border Patrol is able to detain only one in four people illegally crossing the border; meaning, of the one million illegal aliens detained annually, “at least 3 million escape into the U.S. every year” (par. 1). Aside from the tremendous risk to national security posed by some of the people illegally crossing the borders – that is, risk from potential terrorists, drug-runners and hardened criminals – the cost to the taxpayers of detaining these illegal aliens is immense. It costs $85 a day to keep an undocumented immigrant in detention (Jordan A2), and according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the estimated number of illegal immigrants being held in U.S. jails and prisons is from 300,000 to 450,000 (“Illegal Inmates” 20).
The huge cost of being home to a staggering number of illegal immigrants does not stop in their apprehension, holding them in detention, and deporting them afterwards. To illustrate: in 2005, Los Angeles County spent $80 million to keep illegal immigrants in jail (Keene par. 5); however, the total cost of illegal immigrants to the Los Angeles county is more than $1 billion a year, specifically, “$220 million for public safety, $400 million for health care, and $432 million in welfare allocations;” and this $1 billion figure does not include the millions of dollars for education (Antonovich par. 2). If these costs are multiplied by the number of other counties, cities or states that are home to large numbers of illegal immigrants, one can hardly imagine the devastating effects of these costs that are draining the economy.
In every issue, however, there will always be a flip side. This is reflected in an argument stating that illegal immigrants are good for the U.S. economy. To support the idea, a 2006 study by the Texas State Comptroller was given. The study found that the 1,400,000 illegal immigrants in Texas contributed “almost $18 billion to the state’s economic output, and more than paid for the $1.2 billion in state services they used by generating $1.6 billion in new state revenues” (qtd. in Ewing 28). Mark Kaikorian (28) assailed that argument by saying that “in purely economic terms, illegal immigration is harmful … [to] our 21st-century economy.”
The contrasting sides in the issue of illegal immigration could not be more striking when viewed through the positions adopted by the Democratic and the Republican Parties. While the Democrats strongly urge the illegal immigrants to “come out of the shadows and get right with the law” (“Immigration Reform” par. 5), the Republicans oppose giving amnesty to the illegal immigrants (“Immigration” 3). And while the Republicans support greater emphasis on border security measures including the construction of fence along the United States border with Mexico, a leading Democrat, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, called the fence “a terrible symbol” (qtd. in Bacon Jr. & Kornblut AO4).
These opposing positions, to be sure, are in keeping with basic policy differences of the Democratic and Republican Parties. The Democrats have liberal policies; the Republican, conservative. The Republicans reject giving a “pathway of citizenship” to the illegal immigrants because “the rule of law suffers if government policies encourage or reward illegal activity” (“Immigration” 3-4). On the other hand, the Democrats –
… support a system that requires undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens (“Immigration Reform” par. 5).
Another controversial stand that the Democrats have taken on is the issue of granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. All the Democratic presidential candidates – except Senator Chris Dodd (Conn.) – support the granting of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants: from Senators Hillary Clinton (NY), Barack Obama (Ill.), Joe Biden (DE), John Edwards (NC), Dennis Kucinich (OH), to Governor Bill Richardson (NM) (Bacon Jr. & Kornblut AO4). This policy is opposed by 76 percent of the American people according to a survey conducted by CNN (AO4), the reason why the Democrats do not publicize their stand unless the media press them for it. The Republicans oppose the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
Yet another issue that has stirred public disapproval is the sanctuary ordinances officially adopted by the following cities: Washington, D.C; New York City; Los Angeles; Dallas; Houston; Austin; Detroit; Jersey City; Minneapolis; Miami; Denver; Baltimore; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Chicago; San Francisco; Santa Ana; San Diego; Salt Lake City; Phoenix; New Haven, Connecticut, and Portland, Maine (“No Sanctuary Components” par. 8). In these cities, city employees and police officers can not ask individuals about their immigration status. In other words, undocumented aliens can take refuge in those places, and enjoy or avail tax-funded services without any fear of being apprehended and detained as an illegal immigrant. The current mayors of those cities are all Democrats.
The Republicans are against sanctuary cities. Many Republican officials have enacted laws to specifically counter those sanctuary ordinances. One of them is Missouri Governor Matt Blunt who has issued this statement:
I recently signed a comprehensive immigration reform package enacting tough laws to… prohibit[s] sanctuary cities within our state… prohibit[s] the issuance of Missouri driver license to an illegal immigrant…prohibit[s] illegal immigrant from receiving welfare benefits… We reserve the benefits of citizenship for legal residents (“Protecting Missouri” par. 5-8).
Other Republican lawmakers who have introduced bills on tough immigration reforms in the state legislatures are Representatives Daryl Metcalfe (R-PA), Tom Creighton (R-PA) Mark Mustio (R-PA) (par. 8); and in other state legislatures around the country, 198 employment-related immigration bills were introduced during the first half of this year, and 18 new laws were enacted in 15 states (Deschenaux 26). In Illinois, however, instead of a bill, Congressmen Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced a resolution calling on Governor Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) to “comply with federal immigration laws” and “remove the lure of illegal employment” (par 1-2, 4).
But just as the Democratic and Republican state and city officials enact laws that are in keeping with their basic policies, the sitting president, George W. Bush, has tried to fix the illegal immigration problem. In 2007, he proposed a measure on comprehensive immigration reform. There has also been a bipartisan effort to solve the illegal immigration challenges like the bill authored by Senators John McCain (R-AR) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA). The proposed bills did not pass Congress. The conservative base of the Republicans opposes the “pathways to citizenship” element in it that they consider as amnesty to the 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country. The McCain-Kennedy bill was also called, rightly or wrongly, as an amnesty to the “law-breakers.”
This volatile issue gets more challenging for both parties: the Democrats cannot be perceived by the conservative voters as too pro-illegal immigrant; and the Republicans cannot be perceived as heavily anti-illegal immigrant, or they could alienate the Hispanic voters who are sympathetic to, and are working for the legalization of the illegal immigrants. Both parties woo the Hispanic even if the Hispanic vote is only 9 percent of the electorate nationwide; however, the Hispanic vote is 37 percent of the electorate in New Mexico, 14 percent in Florida and 12 percent each in Colorado and Nevada (qtd. in Holmes A6). Their vote could spell victory or defeat in those swing states so both parties try to be on the good side of the Hispanic population.
Twelve million illegal immigrants, no matter how they are viewed, whether through ultra-liberal or super-conservative eyes, is a problem that seems to defy a solution that will make every American happy. While both the Democratic and Republican Parties agree in varying degrees to strengthen security in the U.S.-Mexico border, it is what to do with the illegal immigrants already on U.S. soil that is tearing the Democratic and Republican Parties apart – and the people they serve. It is true that the Democrats are way too liberal in giving sanctuary and welfare benefits to the illegal immigrants to the detriment of the taxpayers. It is also true that the Republicans could be too rigid in opposing the proposed “pathway to citizenship.” Nevertheless, with political will, both parties can reach out across the aisle and find a middle ground; like outlawing sanctuary ordinances and in its place, a tough national immigration reform package and an even tougher pathway to citizenship for the illegal immigrants who are hardworking and law-abiding. The United States, a “nation [that] has been enriched by immigrants seeking a better life” can reach even greater heights by assimilating those already in their bosom who are truly well-deserving.
“A Safer World and a More Hopeful America.” 2004 Republican Party Platform (Washington, D.C.) 2004; 16. Accessed on 18 September 2008, from http://www.gop.com/images/2004platform.pdf
Antonovich, Michael. “Welfare Costs for Illegal Immigration in L.A. County Over $36 Million in March. ” US Fed News Service, Including US State News [Washington, D.C.] 2 May 2008. Accessed on 24 September 2008, from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1528442151&sid=5&Fmt=3&clientId=57020&RQT=309&VName=PQD
“American Citizens Securing the Borders Themselves.” Border Fence Project. NoInvaders.Org. 2005-2008. Accessed 26 September 2008, from http://www.borderfenceproject.com/about_us.php
Bacon, Perry Jr. & Kornblut, Anne. “Issue of Illegal Immigration Is Quandary for Democrats.” Washington Post. [Washington] 2 November 2007: AO4. Accessed on 18 September 2008, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/01/AR2007110102668.html
Castillo, Juan. “As Valley Border Fence Work Begins, Questions Resurface.” American Statesman. 11 August 2008: par. 32. Accessed 26 September, from http://www.statesman.com/search/content/news/stories/local/08/11/0811fence.html
“Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” Immigration. The Democratic Party Website [Washington] 1995-2008; par. 5. Accessed on 18 September 2008, from http://www.democrats.org/a/national/american_community/immigration/
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Ewing, Walter. “Are Illegal Immigrants Good for the U.S. Economy?” New York Times Upfront. [New York] 1 September 2008: 141 (1) 28.
Holmes, Elizabeth. “Campaign ’08: McCain Balances Dueling Stances on Immigration; Tighter Borders Call Wins Hard-Liners, Risks Latino Voters.” Wall Street Journal [New York, N.Y.] 8 Jul 2008, Eastern edition: A.6. Accessed on 18 September 2008, from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1506907321&sid=2&Fmt=2&clientId=57020&RQT=309&VName=PQD
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“Immigration, National Security, and the Rule of Law.” 2008 Republican Platform. [Washington, D.C.] 2008: 3-4. Accessed 18 September 2008, from http://www.gop.com/2008Platform/
Jordan, Miriam. “U.S. Plans to Offer Voluntary Deportation; Illegal Immigrants In Several Cities Will Get Assistance.” Wall Street Journal [New York, N.Y.] 31 Jul 2008, Eastern edition: A.2. Accessed on 18 September 2008, from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1522193251&sid=2&Fmt=4&clientId=57020&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Justich, Robert & Ng, Betty. “The Underground Labor Force is Rising to the Surface.” Bears Stearns Asset Management [New York]. 3 January 2005, 1. Accessed 18 September 2008, from http://www.bearstearns.com/bscportal/pdfs/underground.pdf
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Krikorian, Mark. “Are Illegal Immigrants Good for the U.S. Economy?” New York Times Upfront [New York] 1 September 2008: 141(1) 28.
“LAWMAKERS UNVEIL ‘NO SANCTUARY’ COMPONENTS TO NATIONAL SECURITY BEGINS AT HOME ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION REFORM PACKAGE. ” US Fed News Service, Including US State News [Washington, D.C.] 28 Jun 2008. Accessed 24 September 2008, from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1505847401&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientId=57020&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Phoenix, Tim Gaynor. “Factbox: Illegal Immigration in the United States.” Reuters.com. 8 February 2008. Accessed 18 September 2008, from http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSN0731888120080208
“PROTECTING MISSOURI FAMILIES, TAX DOLLARS FROM ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. ” US Fed News Service, Including US State News [Washington, D.C.] 11 Jul 2008. Accessed 24 September 2008, from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1545359901&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientId=57020&RQT=309&VName=PQD
“REPS. ROSKAM, KIRK CALL ON GOV. BLAGOJEVICH TO END ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION OPEN DOOR POLICY IN ILLINOIS.” US Fed News Service, Including US State News [Washington, D.C.] 31 Jul 2008. Accessed on 18 September 2008, from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=1524504661&sid=2&Fmt=3&clientId=57020&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Weisman, Jonathan & VandeHei, Jim. “Presidential Hopefuls Offer Their Proposals Ahead of Senate Vote.” Washington Post. 24 March 2006: AO1. Accessed on 24 September, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2006/03/23/AR2006032301785.html