Monday, December 10, 2012

An op-ed from my favorite immigration lawyer, Matt Hirsch

Immigration Reform Rally 2010
Immigration Reform Rally 2010 (Photo credit: Anuska Sampedro)

Five Good Reasons for Supporting Comprehensive Immigration Reform (and legalizing the undocumented).

By Matthew I. Hirsch (copyright 2012)

Since the election, renewed attention has been focused on the issue of immigration reform and, like boxers circling in the ring, opposing sides seem to be inching towards some kind of compromise.

Why this sudden tack into the current of controversy? One, the Republican leadership recognizes that shifting demographics helped President Obama win re-election and they do not want to be the party of “No” on immigration. Two, both parties understand that Congress is seen by the public as a pit of petty partisanship and they view immigration as an issue which has the potential for a bipartisan bill they can all claim as their own. 

And though these are good reasons for compromise on immigration, there are at least five other good reasons for supporting immigration reform which includes legalization of the undocumented.

1)         The current system actually contributes to illegal immigration. Most Americans don’t realize that it takes years for a person with a green card to bring their spouse to the U.S. As a result, some separated spouses obviate the law by entering the U.S. illegally or by overstaying. Similarly, it takes years for a U.S. employer sponsoring a foreign professional or skilled worker to bring that person in “the right way.” Instead, faced with the pressing demands of ripening fruit, or unkempt hotels, or uncut grass, employers hire the undocumented. Reform is needed to align supply with demand in the family- and employment-based categories.

2)         Legalizing the undocumented will help to reduce the deficit. Everyone complains that the undocumented don’t pay taxes. In fact, the undocumented contribute to government revenues in many ways, through sales tax, gas tax and “sin” taxes; through lottery tickets, fees for licenses and applications, through rents used to pay real estate taxes. And they commonly have Social Security and Medicaid withheld, often under mismatched social security numbers. (This means that they put in to that system, but don’t take out - to the tune of $7.0 billion per year). Allowing the undocumented into the system would yield substantial increases to federal, state and local coffers in income taxes and FICA contributions.

3)         Immigrants help to revitalize cities.  Immigrants, whether legal or undocumented, bring new life to old cities. Neighborhoods that had seen better days are seeing new life, as waves of 21st. century immigrants replace prior generations. These new immigrants are often thrifty and hardworking, and move quickly from renting to homeownership. Soon, these neighborhoods see the opening of small shops, groceries and restaurants, catering to the tastes of the community. While the sights, sounds and spices of these changing neighborhoods might roil some of the earlier settlers, without these new groups, many city neighborhoods would be left lifeless and impoverished.

4)         Immigration restriction has high social costs for “blended” families. There are an estimated 12.0 million undocumented in this country. Many of them have U.S. citizen spouses and children. Deporting them or creating conditions which make their existence untenable hurts those citizen family members, and drives them towards dependency. With a wage earner in the household, these families have a better chance at economic stability and upwards mobility. Without a wage earner, the children are faced with the negative challenges of single-parent households, with lower income, more reliance on government support and higher likelihood of falling prey to drugs, gangs, teen pregnancy and dropping out.

5)         Economics favor legalizing the undocumented. No one thinks it is possible to deport the undocumented. Estimated costs of removal of the undocumented exceed $200.0 billion. In these days of record deficits, no one in Washington who thinks that this is a good idea. As for self-deportation i.e. increasing pressure through restriction, this is self-defeating. Just ask the people of Hazleton, PA or other cities that decided to drive out the illegals with tough laws. In short, the vast majority of the undocumented are here to stay. In contrast, while no one would argue that the undocumented do not impose costs in such areas as law enforcement, medical care and education, on balance, the economic impact would be substantial and favorable, by some estimates adding $1.5 trillion to GDP over the next decade.

These are just some of the reasons to get behind comprehensive immigration reform, including a “path to citizenship.” Other aspects of reform are less controversial. Yes, we want to secure the border against threats and we want to promote respect for the law. But we also want to create an immigration system that helps America be stronger, more vital and more competitive. At the top end, we want to attract and retain the “best and brightest” and not erect barriers that discourage them from staying in America. We also need immigration laws that recognize the demands of our economy in such areas as hospitality, healthcare and agriculture. We also need immigration laws that unite families and which do not force eligible immigrants to wait a decade or longer to come legally to America.

For some Americans, immigration feels like a threat – to culture, to jobs, to ways of life. This is not an unusual sentiment or a new one. Ultimately, it will be up to our lawmakers – in both parties – to look beyond the politics of fear and to summon the courage to enact reform which is in America’s national interest.

Reprinted with permission.  Previously published in the Harrisburg Patriot News and the Trenton Times.

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