There are between 12 and 20 million illegal immigrants in America today. Should they be deported, given amnesty, or a means to legalize their status? Should some be deported while others be legalized? And if some are legalized, would it not encourage further illegal immigration? These are some of the burning questions that we are faced with today. Some contend that illegal immigrants are breaking the law, not just by being here, but also by committing other more serious crimes. Additionally, they believe that illegal immigrants are a burden on America’s socioeconomic system costing American taxpayers billions of dollars due to increased educational and health care expenses. The opposing view is that most illegal immigrants are essentially hardworking people who share the same values as Americans, perform jobs that many Americans don’t want anyway, and have become an essential part of the American cultural fabric. Their position is that it would be wrong to send them home and potentially break up families.
There have been two major bills in recent times, each passing one house of Congress, that deal with immigration reform. In 2006, the House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. Among its many provisions, this act called for increased fencing along the US-Mexico border along points of high rates of illegal crossings, increased penalties for employers hiring illegal aliens and the requirement that they electronically verify workers’ employment eligibility, and made it a felony to house or harbor illegal aliens. The federal government would also need to take custody of illegal aliens from state and local authorities rather than have them released due to a lack of resources to prosecute them and government agencies attempting to protect or harbor illegal aliens would be denied government grants. The Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 in the same year. This act also aimed to enhance security along the US-Mexico border but also provided a means for some long term illegal aliens to legalize their status while allowing additional foreign workers into the country through a special “blue card” program. While both these bills had many of the right ideas, neither became law.
Other proposed legislation include the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act which was first proposed in 2001 but reintroduced in 2009. This provided a means for certain illegal immigrants who arrived in the US as minors and graduated from American high schools a way to gain conditional permanent residence. In order to do so though, they would have to serve two years in the military or complete at least two years in a four year institute of higher learning. In 2010, Arizona enacted its own immigration legislation which became the strictest and most controversial law of its kind in recent years. It required immigrants to carry their documents with them at all times and local law enforcements officials would have the power to determine their immigration status. This is a move, which many contend, will simply lead to racial profiling and tensions with Hispanic Americans.
So how exactly do we then implement immigration reform? The best approach seems to be a middle ground. The direction that legislators seem to be headed would allow for at least some of the millions of illegal aliens already present in the US a path to legalization and future permanent residence after being fined and/or penalized and being made to go home and re-enter the US. To deter future illegal immigration, better technology in the form of biometrics to track aliens’ compliance with visa policies and installation of additional cameras and radar towers seem to be the logical choice. It also makes sense to have stiffer penalties to work illegally and employers hiring and/or exploiting illegal workers should also be punished more severely.
It remains to be seen what immigration reforms are implemented by the Obama administration to combat illegal immigration and what will prove to be the most effective. If you feel strongly about this matter, however, we encourage you take a stand and make your voice heard. It is only with everyone’s combined effort that we can help alleviate this very complex and divisive issue.