Forum: U.S. immigration policy

From the Left: Equal rights in the workplace

By Bernard Pollack

In December the Atlanta Journal-Constitution told the story of Yoner Tejada, an immigrant from Guatemala, who found himself a home in Atlanta as an undocumented worker. Like millions who risk their lives to enter the United States he sought the American dream – the idea that hard work and ambition can earn him a certain degree of success and opportunity. Instead, he labors for a measly $240 dollars for a 60-hour workweek hanging drywall. Many immigrants, like Tejada, continue to work for far below minimum wage in unsafe working conditions earning no benefits or overtime pay.

These workers feel that no medium exists for them to address these grievances and in most cases when undocumented workers attempt to form a union or address their bosses, managers threaten to call the Immigration and Naturalization Services. Many immigrant workers, documented and undocumented, work and live in fear of the INS and as a result are scared to assert their rights under U.S. labor and employment laws. The plight of immigrants has a direct impact on all U.S. workers and employers use them as a wedge to force down standards and wages throughout an industry. Consequently, immigrant workers who file charges alleging labor violations, such as wage and hour complaints, must become protected from deportation. The INS should be prohibited from proceeding with workplace investigations during a labor dispute.

Conservatives argue these undocumented workers freeload from the tax dollars of citizens. They often contest, “Why should they get to live scotch free off our tax dollars?” Even the far-right think-tank the CATO Institute refutes those allegations, admitting that, “Immigrants provide more to the nation’s economy and government services than they use, adding about $10 billion each year to the U.S. economy and paying at least $133 billion in taxes.”

Conservatives try to strike fear in the minds of immigrants and citizens, warning “They will take away your jobs, hurt American values!” Yet, they forget that the United States is a country built by immigrants (with the exception of Native Americans), where in the year 2000 slightly more than 10 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born, a figure that has remained consistent since the turn of the 20th century. Nearly 50,000 members of America’s armed forces are non-citizen immigrants. These immigrants hold the same dreams as any American – finding a good job, owning a home, offering their children an education and affording them opportunities and building safe communities.

In addition, for too long our leaders have tried to target legal immigrants like the 1996 Welfare Reform laws that stripped them of important safety-net benefits. This policy is unconscionable considering legal immigrants pay the same taxes as everyone else and yet are denied food stamps and other social insurance programs guaranteed to citizens. We must restore these benefits taken away under this unfair legislation and re-establish assistance, giving states the option to provide Medicaid and health insurance and restore food stamps to qualified immigrants.

Finally, we should offer amnesty to millions of undocumented workers, allow them to earn fair wages, and create a process to adjust the status of groups who should have been eligible for citizenship under earlier legalization programs. We need to find effective ways to ensure employers adhere to a certain ethical standard – replace the current I-9 employer sanctions system (a workplace document verifying an employee’s authorization to work in the U.S.) and begin actively enforcing strict sanctions and enhance penalties against employers who recruit undocumented workers.

Tejada and all workers should be treated with respect and fairness under the law and this is merely an appeal to offer immigrants the justice and equality they deserve.

-The writer is a graduate student in the School of Political Management.

From the Right: Better bored control needed

By Jenni Bradley

President Theodore Roosevelt issued the following admonition, “The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”

With the number of illegal aliens rapidly increasing every year Roosevelt’s warning is rapidly turning into fact. The most recent study by the National Research Council concluded the cost of allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the United States is substantial and if it continues to go unchecked, this nation will inevitably be faced with fiscal and social problems that it will not be able to solve or pay for.

The Center for Immigration Studies cites there are more than nine million illegal aliens in the United States and half a million more entering every year. The INS estimates that 60 percent of these illegal residents enter the United States by sneaking across the border. This is on top of the already 33.1 million foreign born immigrants already living here and the million more that join our country every year.

How is it that this country allows our immigration laws to be so thoroughly stomped upon every day by illegal aliens? With a rise in the number of illegal workers and aliens in this country, the cost of social services to pay for their health care, education and criminal justice has exploded. And who exactly is paying for all of this? Not the federal government, that is for sure.

The CIS notes states must bear the cost of federal failure, which in effect, turns illegal immigration into one of the largest unfunded federal mandates. California is the shining example of this newly accepted free-for-all immigration policy that has unrightfully replaced the legislated immigration law. It costs every native-born Californian household nearly $1,200 each year to provide government services to immigrants. This is far and above what they pay in taxes. Why should Americans have to accept this attack on our sovereignty?

Businesses welcome the flood of new “American” workers because they will work for substantially smaller wages than native citizens and legal immigrants. The Department of Labor found half of real-wage losses that face low-income American workers are a direct result of mass immigration. It is a sad day indeed when our own businesses accept and encourage these waves of illegal workers to avoid paying the salaries and giving the protections that are designed specifically for American workers.

Immigration also affects cultural norms. Illegal immigrants hold the same dreams as many Americans – job security, families and education – however, they want it on their terms, boldly refusing to accept the traditions, ideals and history that founded this great nation.

America was a country built by immigrants who came to this land in search of a dream. The difference is that those immigrants were eager to assimilate and adopt wholeheartedly the principles that built this country. Modern immigrants are holding allegiance to their country of origin and are easily resisting the lame attempts of the government to become Americanized. Why should we expect anything less than total assimilation from those who wish to enjoy the privileges and benefits of American citizenship? Amnesty proposals that allow illegal entry should be squashed and immigrants should be educated in American history and culture.

Ronald Reagan noted that a country that cannot control its borders is not really a country anymore. With American control over its borders rapidly deteriorating, what does that make us now?

-The writer is a graduate student in the School of Political Management.

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