What would you do if there were no opportunities for you to succeed in your country and you had to provide for your family? Many People have to face decisions like this every day in other countries that are going through rough times, and one way they seek to escape their predicament is to illegally enter the United States in search of the American dream for themselves and their families. Every day more and more illegal immigrants pour across the border and into The United States taking all the low skill jobs from honest hard working Americans and they’re bringing crime and drugs along with them. At least that’s the current narrative that is being thrown around by certain politicians in the U.S right now. The United States has an estimated 14 million illegal immigrants currently living here (DHS). That’s 14 million people who don’t have legal documentation to be here and are breaking the law and risking deportation to do so. Some of the ways that these “illegals” get into the United States can be extremely dangerous some even die trying to make it here. A common way of crossing is to give a lot of money to a guide know as a “coyote” who will take them across sometimes through rough desert terrain where there is weaker barriers and less border patrol agents guarding them, that is, if the coyote doesn’t just take their money and leave the travelers up shit creek without a paddle (Germano). Crossing the border with a Coyote is a massive gamble that only the truly desperate would ever consider because that coyote could turn on them at any moment and sell the travelers to a human trafficker to make even more money. That is the extent of the situation we are in right now, we have got Mexicans on one side of the border risking everything they have to escape their country in search of a better life and on the other side we’ve got the Americans spending a lot of money to keep them out and to send those that have already gotten across the border back to their home country, which costs on average “about 10 thousand dollars for each person” (USA Today). It’s a terrible situation for sure and there has to be a better way for both sides to solve this crisis than what we have in place currently. Luckily for us when there is a crisis this important there is also going to be many proposed solutions to consider and plenty of research available for us to look at to find the best possible solution.
To combat a problem as complicated as this one we must be able to understand what is causing all of these people to risk so much to come to America. I took a Sociology class last semester and towards the end of the semester we watched a documentary on immigration called The Other Side Of Immigration, Now I didn’t expect for this movie to affect me as much as it did, but it introduced me to new information about what it’s like to be on the other side of the border. Donald Trump likes to refer to NAFTA as “the worst deal ever” and it really seems like it is a terrible deal, at least for many of the livestock and vegetable farmers in Mexico who can no longer compete with the more efficient farms in America (Germano). With NAFTA pushing the Mexican farmers out of the picture there became a large amount of unskilled farm labor with nowhere to work so in search of new opportunities and a better life for themselves or their families they cross the border and work on farms for very little pay (Germano). By coming here and taking jobs it makes them a bit of a problem but another problem is the way they spend their money, many of them are men who came here without their families so they choose to live a frugal lifestyle sending money home in remittances which gets spent in Mexico instead of America (Germano). Ultimately this is harmful to the economy, with money being given to them by American businesses and then not being put back into the economy. I don’t want it to seem like migrants are the only ones taking advantage of the situation, with these workers being illegal they could be sent back at any time and they have no protections from the government concerning pay or treatment so they are at the mercy of their employers.
The main reason I bring up this documentary is because at the end of the film the people that were being interviewed talked about how they would change the way things are at the border. The Interviewees asserted that they don’t want to have to come to America using such dangerous methods just to get a job, and spend so much time away from their families. They would rather spend a set amount of time in the U.S legally to work and then be allowed to return home to their families (Germano). Programs of this nature already exist in America but are hard to get into because of how few are allowed in, according to the immigration section of the homeland security website only about 66 thousand people are allowed in each year, now compare that to the previously mentioned number of illegal immigrants in America and you can see how this program isn’t accomplishing much in its current form (USCIS). The main upsides to this program currently is that the workers are “allowed to bring along their spouses and any children who are under the age of 21, are provided with free housing and meals, protected by the same health and safety regulations as other workers and can stay in the states legally for a year up to 3 years before having to return to their country of origin for at least 3 months before reapplying” (USCIS). You would think that with acceptance in such a program the workers might receive some sort of higher quality of life than what the average undocumented worker would experience however upon further investigated I learned that this is not always the case with one southern lawyer describing it in her words as “close to slavery” (Bauer). Her law group asserts that these “legal immigrant workers are so bound to their employers without the ability to change jobs without losing their visas that they can be: cheated out of wages , forced to live in squalid conditions , denied medical benefits for on the job injuries , and even subjected to human trafficking (Bauer). The conditions for these workers is all too similar to the illegal alternative, but I see hope in this solution if the programs were to be reformed and actually be enforced and given a chance to help improve the lives of these workers.
As is quite often the case in political discourse things become very black and white, with this particular issue the most common talked about solutions are either Amnesty or a better means of denying entry into the U.S for the immigrants. Amnesty is when a government forgives officially pardons someone for their crime, in the case of illegal immigration the crime would be crossing the border illegally of course. If amnesty were granted to the illegals currently in America they would be allowed to stay and pursue citizenship without the fear of being deported. If Amnesty were granted to the 13 million illegals currently in America they would be granted the rights of citizenship and wouldn’t be abused by their employers as they are now. This idea was once talked about as a real possibility for our country in a speech given by Former President Obama in which he stated “we’ve offered the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, you pass a background check, you are willing to pay your fair share of taxes –- then you’re going to be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows, get right with the law” (Obama). The deal that Former President Obama was referring to never happened however and the political climate has since shifted in favor of stricter border control and more deportations. Amnesty sounds like a pretty crazy idea to consider granting to so many people but it has already happened once before in America in 1986, when we reformed immigration law to be more secure against people entering illegally, President Reagan granted amnesty to 3 million immigrants who had entered the country illegally before 1982 (NPR). Reagan himself stating during a debate “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though some time back they may have entered illegally,”(NPR). Reagan is still seen as a great president to the Republican Party despite their change of tune regarding Amnesty instead opting to focus on improved border security. The main message of support for Amnesty is that people shouldn’t be exploited the way these immigrants are and that granting them citizenship is the humane thing to do. However by granting them Amnesty it could also be taken as encouragement to cross the border showing that we are soft on people who break immigration laws.
During the 2016 elections Immigration was a very hot topic for at least one candidate, who is now our President, Donald J Trump. His campaign slogan was to “Make America Great Again” but another slogan you would often hear at his rallies was “Build That Wall” referring to his promise to reform border security and build a large wall across all of the southern border to stop “Aliens who illegally enter the United States and Transnational criminal organizations” (Trump). Now that he is our President he has signed the executive order to begin construction on the wall, but it’s not just the wall (that everyone seems to be focusing on) it’s also “5 thousand more Border patrol agents” and “an end to catch and release where illegal immigrants were released into the United States” which would mean an increase in deportations (Trump). While reading this executive order I was surprised to hear that illegal immigrants who were caught could be released on our side of the border but Brandon Judd, head of the Border Patrol Agents’ Union, testified before Congress last year that “80 percent of apprehended illegal aliens are being released into the United States”(Krikorian). Under this executive order a lot of money (possibly taken via a new tax on Remittances or trade tariffs with Mexico) is going to be spent to keep illegals on their side of the border and to send those already here back to their origin. Though we focus on Mexico and the people who cross from that border an “estimated 40 percent of illegal immigrants are people who have overstayed their visas and are now living here illegally” (Krikorian). This executive order will be targeting these people with deportation but they are largely overlooked compared to our border with Mexico. At the end of the day this new reform is what’s going to happen but I’m not sure it’s going to solve the issue completely and without great cost to both sides but we will have to wait and see.
Many of these solutions mentioned are proposals that will happen on a federal level, but states also have their own ways of dealing with illegal immigration some of which supplement the policies of the federal government and some of which undermine it. California has programs such as The California Dream Act which offers a pathway to citizenship for undocumented college students which is significantly faster than going through the standard path, and these students are allowed to apply for Cal grant loans to pay for their educations. There is also currently 18 cities in the United States known as “sanctuary cities” which “do not permit municipal funds or resources to be applied in furtherance of enforcement of federal immigration laws, these cities normally do not permit police or municipal employees to inquire about one’s immigration status” (Salvi). These sanctuary cities help to keep undocumented immigrants under the radar of the federal government by not reporting them and not cooperating with ICE agents trying to enact deportations in their area. Cities like this completely undermine the new policies put forth by President Trump by harboring criminals that would otherwise be deported, however other states along the border have laws which are much stricter on enforcement of immigration laws. Arizona for example enacted the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act which is the law that allows Arizona police officers to ask for proof of Citizenship or Immigration papers when they pull someone over for a traffic stop. The law has been fairly controversial because it allows officers to racially profile and single out citizens who are of Mexican heritage or at least appear to be, the law has even been to the Us Supreme Court and was upheld. Laws like this help supplement the policies of the government and have no doubt led to the apprehension of undocumented immigrants in Arizona.
Out of all the possible solutions I support the Temporary work visa idea the most because it seemed the most logical solution, people coming here illegally to get jobs?, so grant them visas so they can work legally and under the protection of the government. As long as no Americans want to do the job then why not import the labor from Mexico when they desperately need the help right now. I don’t see increased security as a full solution because it doesn’t solve the problem of people still wanting to cross our border illegally, even if they couldn’t get over the wall or sneak past the border patrol guards the problem still exists of them wanting to and that’s an issue that can only be solved by working together rather than shutting them out. Amnesty is also only a half solution because even if all the people already here were granted Amnesty others would likely still come and would see The United States as lenient against Illegal aliens. It is important to remember that these people who cross the border are people even if they broke the law to get here they should be treated with respect instead of like an invading force. The governments of both The United States and Mexico should come together and come up with a real solution rather than just increasing security along the border which only solves half of the problem. I sincerely hope that in the future the idea of a Temporary work visa will be given more thought and reformed into a system that we can be proud of instead of the terrible state that it is in currently, I also hope that Mexico can find a way to fix the problems that are plaguing the nation and give its’ citizens the quality of life that they deserve.