Immigration and border security is a hot button topic right now in the United States. Admittedly, President Trump is one of the more assertive if not hostile of recent presidents to discuss immigration reform. However, he is not the first president to making immigration reform a key talking point. In reality, provided one examines news or information to some level of impartiality, they will discover that the topic of undocumented immigration is not a partisan issue at all. In fact, rather easily one can find a host of videos online of any one of the last four presidents of the United States making some tough statements on border security or immigration reform.
Psychological and scientific research studies have demonstrated that the three most significant factors which influence voter behavior are fear, anger and pride. The topic of immigration or border security can easily be utilized to galvanize a political support base by instilling fear or anger against immigrant and pride in America staying “American.” Most importantly though, the undocumented immigrant makes a perfect target for a politician to use as a political stooge because inherently they are barred from voting in elections. Therefore, regardless of one’s political party of allegiance using the undocumented immigrant as a fever pitch runs very little risk of upsetting anyone in the voting populous.
Of course the intrinsic consequence of using undocumented immigrants as your rally cry to instill fear, anger and pride is that it results in…well… fear and anger towards immigrants and prideful thinking that the immigrant is not “American.” All of these attributes are the hallmark of instilling sentiments of xenophobia, prejudice and racism. Suddenly, the naturally born U.S. citizen who doesn’t look “American” becomes “one of dem illegals!”
In an effort to peel away some of the political rhetoric regarding undocumented immigration that can inspire hatefulness, I am going to share some distinctive truths regarding the topic of immigration.
First of one issue of contention is how one describes a person who enters into the United States and becomes a member of American society without following the outlined policies and procedures for lawful immigration. Some will describe a person who “adopts” American standards of living as being illegal immigrants. Indeed, I have used the term illegal immigrant before. However, upon careful consideration I have concluded that I don’t particularly care for the term illegal immigrant.
There are the obvious connotations of radicalization associated with the term “illegal immigrant.” Excluding this debate, I personally do not like the term illegal immigrant because to me, for me to use it, that requires me to exude a degree of hypocrisy. To classify another person as being “illegal” that requires one to suggest that the commission of an unlawful act renders their entire being as one of lawlessness. This would be a strict legality view of life. However, virtually no one person is actually a strict legalist. In fact, most of us wantonly break laws every day. How many people drive above the speed limit any given day? We all have done it at some point, if not multiple points every single day. Often we can rationalize our violation of the law as being a necessity based on running late, or the flow of traffic patterns. However, under a strict legalist view any violation of the law is equal in nature as it isn’t the individual act that bears any significance, rather it is the action of obey or disobeying the law. Under this standard, murder and speeding are equivalent in they both are violations of the law. Nevertheless, we all know that speeding and murder are not equivalent and furthermore we would not consider our disobedience to a speed limit to classify use as being an “illegal.”
The kinder and gentler term often substituted for illegal immigrant is “undocumented immigrant.” This term is less drastic in semantics and gives a perception of someone who just happened to not provide their information through conventional channels. To some degree, I consider this to be a bit of a diminishment of the reality of someone who has entered the country through informal means. Given this thought, I don’t consider either illegal immigrant or undocumented immigrant to be appropriate. For me personally, I think the most applicable term is “unauthorized migrant.” Unauthorized covers the formality of one’s status of coming into the country through alternative means, while taking some of the legalistic perspective off of the classification of “illegal.” Additionally, the word migrant encompasses one who has crossed national borders in order to seek better employment and way of life.
With my own semantical views out in the open, let me share the truth regarding some misconceptions about unauthorized migrants. One myth is that unauthorized migrants take jobs away from Americans. There are some fundamental flaws with this vantage point. The unauthorized migrant can indeed be an employee; however, they are also a consumer. Every single good and service that any other American requires or uses (i.e. food, housing, clothing, recreational goods or services, etc.) is also a necessity for the unauthorized migrant. Therefore, the unauthorized migrant increases economic demand and pushes organizations to expand operations. The expanse of operations…wait for it… creates more jobs.
This is the only benefit the unauthorized migrant provides to the American economy. In addition, to unauthorized migrants filling manual labor positions that most Americans lack the desire to perform, in the underground world of the economy the unauthorized migrant contributes to lowing the cost of goods and services to virtually every sector.
Most unauthorized migrants are employed by less than virtuous companies who do not afford the rights to their employees that are required by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Now, excluding the morality behind this action, the results are cheaper production cost and thereby affording products and services at a cheaper rate to the American consumer.
The next misconception is that unauthorized migrants fail to pay taxes. Organizations who do follow Fair Labor Standards Act guidelines, yet they pay little attention to the details of an employee’s immigration status, still withhold federal and state taxes just like every other American worker. Interestingly, the byproduct of one paying federal taxes is they contribute to social security. However, without a social security number or de facto lawful citizenship status, this means that they are ineligible to collect social security benefits. What this means is that, in 2015 the Social Security Administration estimates that unauthorized migrants contributed $12 to $17 billion dollars in social security taxes. However, they are ineligible to ever collect social security benefits. In essence, millions of unauthorized migrants are contributing to a benefit that American citizens can enjoy, but they cannot.
Hmmmm… Maybe we should be thanking them instead of criticizing them?
Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that the number of unauthorized migrants to the U.S. is increasing. In fact, it is the exact opposite. The Pew Research Center has stated that the number of unauthorized migrants in America has been reduced by over a million people in the last ten years. Essentially, there is not some rampant unauthorized migrant problem that is snowballing out of control.
Another fear mongering concept is that unauthorized migrants contribute to the commission of more crimes in America. Dozens of empirical research studies do not support this assentation. In fact, they conclude the exact opposite. Unauthorized migrants break less laws than the average American citizen. Studies at the Immigration Policy Center have shown that native-born American men between 18-39 years old are arrested five times more often than foreign-born men in the same age range. Moreover, other research has shown the when it comes to immigrants, the likelihood of one committing a crime increases based on the number of generations one has resided in America. First generation immigrants are some of the least likely to commit a crime.
Ultimately, these are some of the truths surrounding some of the most pungent topics in the immigration issue. Now, I am not suggesting some sort of porous free flowing immigration process as being a solution to immigration reform. However, prejudices, xenophobia, or decisions based on alternative facts or untruths are not a solution either. In the end, the contributions by unauthorized migrants and the complexities surrounding the entire issue are exactly why the topic is so hotly discussed by both political parties. Which side is for or against immigration reform is solely dependent on the party in power at any given time.
In the end, I am all for the removal of individuals who are in the United States who are here running from criminal past, or here to commit criminal acts. However, we must not allow the political rhetoric from either side to cause us to believe that the bulk of unauthorized migrants are inherently criminals. Ultimately, in order to actually see true change, we as people are going to have to stop requiring a level of fear, anger and pride to influence our behaviors. Instead, we are going to have to try to take some of our personal emotion out of the equation in order to demand viable solutions.
In my heart, I do believe that 99% of Americans do not desire to solely judge others by the color of their skin or their ethnic heritage. So it is important to not let political speechifying cause us to unwittingly be comfortable with prejudice attitudes. Remember, individuals can be guilty of being bad. However, no single class of people are categorically bad. Therefore, we should always reject any ascertains that make us feel like a group of people are the “bad guys” in a society.