Immigration Newsletter

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Editorial Comment on Immigration Reform

Two reasons why pragmatism must trump passion on immigration reform

Think the health care reform debate got ugly? Well maybe so, but you may also have noticed that illegal immigration already made some cameo appearances in the health care debate. The August town hall debacle was perhaps just a glimpse of what awaits in this upcoming winter of our Congressional discontent.

Having practiced immigration law in New Hampshire for over a decade now, I can attest that our national immigration system is in dire need of an overhaul. With the lingering effects of recession pumping the brakes on both legal and illegal immigration – it is a good time to tackle the problem so that we can enjoy a glorious summer of economic recovery in 2010.

The Amnesty issue

Entering the United States without admission or inspection is a crime. To be precise, it is a class B misdemeanor under federal law – or what is called a “petty offense”. But you don’t have to take my word for it, you can read U.S. v. Sanchez, 258 F.Supp.2d 650 (S.D.Tex., 2003).

In this part of the country, a good percentage of the persons who are here unlawfully actually entered the United States legally but then failed to leave when they were supposed to – this does not constitute an actual criminal offense. Most of the time, however, these matters are not handled in criminal courts at all but rather as civil matters in administrative immigration courts set up within the Department of Justice. These administrative hearings are called Removal proceedings or more commonly known as Deportation.

Everyday we as a country deport non-citizens (some of whom have lived and worked here for decades) who are married to United States citizens and who have children born and raised here. In most cases these people cannot legally return to the United States for at least ten years. This country has the right to deport non-citizens who violate the law; however, that does not mean it is always in our best interests to do so. I personally don’t believe deportation should be the only government response to a petty criminal immigration offense or a civil immigration law violation.

Other options, such as legalization after paying a fine, have been proposed – but lately these have been shouted down as an amnesty. It should be noted that there are many people who would not qualify for such an “amnesty” due to a criminal record, other previous immigration violations, obtaining government benefits through fraud, lack of a qualifying relative or lack of prospective employment, etc. Such a plan is hardly a true amnesty if there is a fine assessed for the criminal behavior, unless one considers paying a speeding ticket an act of amnesty. Rather, it is a practical way to penalize people who have violated the law but then legalize the status of those whose removal from this country would do more harm than good.

The Demographic issue

The baby boom generation is beginning to reach retirement age. The US Census Bureau estimates that in 2010 there are five people of working age (18-64) to every person of retirement age (65+). Over the next twenty years that ratio is expected to drop to three to one.

From 2010 to 2030 the total number of persons of working age is expected to grow at an average rate of less than one million persons per year. This trend does not portend well for a growth economy or for public programs dependent on payroll taxes for funding – such as Medicare and Social Security.

The United States’ current immigration policies discourage foreign students from staying in this country to work once they have graduated from U.S. colleges and universities. The number of visas made available for skilled workers has also been curtailed over the past decade. It is all the more difficult to rebound from a recession if we attract and retain an ever shrinking number of the world’s best and brightest young workers, entrepreneurs and inventors. Perhaps you noticed that a majority of the American Nobel Prize winners this year were originally from somewhere else. [insert tasteless President Obama joke here]

Given the demographic trends, however, we may have a difficult time as a country producing enough homegrown labor for even semi-skilled or unskilled jobs. Just to maintain the current ratio of workers to retirees the country would need to increase immigration and guest worker levels to approximately seven million persons per year for the next twenty years. Even if we assume that greater numbers of people will continue working past age 65 due to increased longevity and decreased 401(k) balances – the US workforce will still have to be supplemented by a far greater numbers of foreign born workers than are present today if we are to avoid escalating payroll taxes and/or ever increasing budget deficits to cover entitlement programs.

It may be difficult to picture in these times when there already more people out of work than jobs to fill – but the numbers are looming out there for anyone who cares to look. The United States must get its immigration policy back on the track of welcoming the immigrants who have always been one of the great engines of our economic growth. More (not less) new immigrants, the businesses they start, the inventions they create and the work that they perform will make or break the middle-class of this country over the next twenty years.

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