The Looming Question of Immigration

The Looming Question of Immigration

Zachary Greene

While the national spotlight has been focused firmly on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the next big domestic issue to be addressed is that of immigration. President Obama has taken an active stance in promoting immigration reform by year’s end, and has promoted this message through virtually all mediums.  This, however, does not change the deeply partisan nature of the immigration issue that is likely to stand in the way of any proposed legislation. While the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” commission in the Senate led by Sen. John McCain constructed a proposed immigration bill that passed in the Democratically controlled Senate this past summer, it met its demise in the House. This proposed bill was comprehensive in nature in that it included concurrent measures for a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, enhanced border security, and reconstructed family reunification policies. However, House Republicans have advocated for a piecemeal approach in which border security and policy enforcement measures would be legislated before any pathway to citizenship is considered.  These contrasting approaches deemed the proposed “Gang of Eight” bill virtually inadmissible for Republican leaders such as Speaker John Boehner.

Coming off the heels of the government shutdown, immigration again seems to be the next big issue on the Congressional docket. While lawmakers may not agree how to best approach the most significant immigration legislation in several decades, there is no question that something must be done about the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living within our borders.  Any viable proposal to this issue, whether compiled piece-by-piece or more comprehensively, must include some sort of pathway to citizenship for the undocumented persons already in America, as well as a solution for strengthening border security to mitigate the chances of a reoccurrence of similar issues.

This condition weakens America as a whole, both morally and economically. While it is important to account for the illegal status of these immigrants, moral issues of justice arise when they are not afforded, or are afraid to seek, certain human protections and harbor a constant fear of deportation.  One example of this is the exploitation of undocumented workers. Specifically, they are largely unable to protect themselves from unsafe working conditions and illegally low wages as many are levied with the threat of deportation from employers, a threat that has become a reality for more than 392,000 undocumented workers in the past year.  While immigration agencies have aimed to prevent these injustices by cracking down on exploitative employers, many undocumented workers are still left vulnerable as they fear whatever repercussions might evolve from federal involvement.

Humanitarian considerations aside, it is detrimental to many American workers for the economy to hold such a large number of these undocumented workers that operate without the duties of American citizenship.  One issue that presents itself in this framework is that this large supply of relatively cheap labor has depressed wages of native workers. According to Adam Davidson of The New York Times, “Labor economists have concluded that undocumented workers have lowered the wages of U.S. adults without a high-school diploma — 25 million of them — by anywhere between 0.4 to 7.4 percent.” With such a large pool of workers who are willing to work in unskilled labor positions for wages below or at the national minimum wage, native workers are forced to accept these wage levels to find work. While there does not appear to be an immediate solution to this issue, a pathway to citizenship for these undocumented workers would allow them to demand fair wages and better conditions, an outcome that would benefit the welfare of unskilled laborers across the country.

Although these inefficiencies would certainly point towards a call to action for immigration reform that grants amnesty or a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, opponents of such measures certainly raise valid objections.  Most notably is the notion that this policy prescription would reward those who have repeatedly broken American laws by settling illegally and effectively encourage new streams of undocumented immigrants to settle within American borders.  Bolstering these claims is that following the nation’s last widespread immigration amnesty, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, a stream of almost 12 million immigrants came to America illegally.

Will the House Republicans consider a bill that even borders on comprehensive? Will the Senate pass incremental legislation that clearly contradicts the immigration reform envisioned by President Obama?  While presently unknown, the answer to these questions will determine the fate of American immigration reform.  For now, it appears that gridlock in the policymaking process will prevent President Obama from reaching his self-imposed deadline of comprehensive immigration reform by the end of 2013.  Moving forward, it is imperative that legislators find common ground on which to pass some variation of immigration reform and begin to settle these issues.

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