Jul 29, 2010
On Friday, April 23, 2010, the governor of Arizona signed into law a new immigration bill (SB10700) that has plunged the nation into a heated debate. The new bill seeks, as its goal, to deport illegal immigrants. The new bill directs state and local police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal. If the person questioned is not carrying his or her immigration documents, the police have the right to detain that individual. However, this attempt to identify who is legal and who is not legal poses some serious questions about civil rights and ethnic and racial profiling.
Understandably, the new bill has unleashed protests and divided Americans in the highly controversial question of national immigration reform. President Barack Obama himself has weighed in on the debate. He has strongly criticized the new bill. He said that the Arizona law threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”
The present economic crisis makes some Americans very slow to seek ways of integrating the undocumented in our society. We are now experiencing the highest rate of unemployment in a decade. Today, there are more than 15.4 million Americans without work. At the same time, there are at least 8.3 million illegal immigrants part of America’s work force. The presence of illegal aliens escalates the costs of medical services, education and, at times, the justice system in local communities.
At the same time that we recognize the cost to the taxpayer for illegal immigrants, we cannot forget that illegal immigrants in our workforce make a significant contribution to our society. They willingly take jobs that Americans do not want to do. Overall U.S. citizens gain an estimated $37 billion a year from immigrants’ participation in the U.S. economy, according to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors.
Immigrants pay property taxes, sales taxes and gas taxes. Some experts estimate that their contribution to Social Security comes close to $9 billion per year. Paycheck withholding collects much of the federal tax from illegal workers, just as it does for legal workers. The Social Security Administration estimates that 75% of illegal immigrants pay Social Security taxes as well as Medicare taxes. However, illegal immigrants who pay into the system have little hope of filing for a refund or drawing a Social Security check.
The number of illegal immigrants to this country increases daily. Officials estimate that the illegal immigrant population grows by as many as 500,000 every year. At the present time, there may be anywhere from 10 to 13 million undocumented aliens. The borders between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada are porous. Thousands sneak through from many other countries. They come from Mexico and South America as well as countries more distant such as Yemen, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan. Not all of them come to live the American dream.
Many immigrants face serious challenges. Their own safety is threatened as they make their way to this country. Families are broken when one parent comes to seek a better life for the family and the rest of the family is left behind. Children who do come have the opportunity to experience two different cultures, but they also face the problems of adjustment and the need for special help. They need to be educated and integrated into our society for the benefit of all.
Not all immigrants come willingly to this country. As many as 17,000 individuals are trafficked across our borders every year. Men, women and children are forced into labor and exploited at times for sex. There is a very ugly side to a badly regulated immigration flow into the United States.
Very much aware of the situation of immigrants to our country, Pope Benedict XVI, in his April 2008 visit to the U.S., addressed the issue. He emphasized the importance of treating immigrants with dignity and in a humane manner. Immediately, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs sharply criticized him for even speaking out about the issue. U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo (R-Littleton) went so far as to insinuate that the Pope was engaging in faith-based marketing, trying to recruit new members for the Church. Clearly, the presence of immigrants among us evokes both compassion and anger.
Rightly does the majority of Americans favors immigration reform. Eighty-nine percent of Americans see illegal immigration into the country as a serious problem. Some even think that the quota for legal immigration is too high. Our present system is not working. The issue of immigrants in our country continues to raise the temperature of our political climate. It is not an issue that will simply go away. In fact, immigration all too easily can become a shibboleth in a political campaign. All of us, both those in political office and ordinary citizens, need to be informed on immigration in order to fix in a just and effective way a system that is not working. But, how can this be done?
Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.