Illegal immigrants affect every American in ways that they may not even know. In 2016, there were 10.8 million undocumented citizens living in the United States (Robertson). While making up only seven percent of the U.S. population, undocumented citizens still accounted for 64 percent of all federal crime in the country (Spakovsky). Transnational gangs such as MS-13 are responsible for a large portion of drugs trafficked through American communities (Combating Gangs). Every year a fiscal hole of 50 billion dollars is created by supported illegal immigrants and that burden falls on the documented population (Borjas). Our elected officials would rather talk about why this is an issue than actually fix it.
Usually, when there is an issue at hand affecting the country considerably, the government tends to fix it. So one would think the issue of illegal immigration would be no different. As more and more immigrants rushed to America in the 19th century, our government quickly moved to get laws in place. But while doing this, they royally screwed up the system and, to this day, have not found a way to fully fix the problem. And what was once a problem is now quickly turning into a crisis of illegal immigration and crime.
Finding a solution that will end illegal immigration but also change the laws put in place almost 200 years ago is not easy. However, that is not an excuse for the government to let this crisis carry on any longer. Therefore, in order to reduce the rate of illegal immigration, the U.S. government must change the current immigration laws that are in place by making the process quicker and more affordable to become a legal citizen, while continuing to protect our border from criminals. Doing this will rid the U.S. of one of the main reasons for illegal immigration while also promoting legal immigration.
Illegal immigration is undoubtedly an issue in the United States. Illegal immigrants account for 64 percent of all federal arrests (Spakovsky). Those arrests are not only immigration charges, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 24 percent of all federal drug arrests, 25 percent of all federal property arrests, and 28 percent of all federal fraud arrests are all committed by illegal immigrants. The Justice Department also provided the data that is 2018 a quarter of all federal drug arrests took place in the five judicial districts along the U.S.-Mexico border (Spakovsky).
Another report by the Texas Department of Public Safety showed that 297 thousand non-citizens were booked into Texas Jails from 2011 to 2019. The report later said that 202 thousand of these people booked were confirmed as illegal immigrants by the federal government. According to the Texas report, these illegal immigrants committed 494 thousand crimes. At the time of the report, some of the cases were still being prosecuted but there had already been 252 thousand convictions. Of these convictions, there are 500 homicides; 23,954 assaults; 8,070 burglaries; 297 kidnappings; 14,178 thefts; 2,026 robberies; 3,122 sexual assaults; 3,840 sexual offenses; 3,158 weapon charges and tens of thousands of drug and obstruction charges (Spakovsky).
Aside from illegal immigrants committing crime, they cause a financial burden that falls on legal citizens. Illegal immigrants have proven to lower wages for American workers and increase unemployment for the American population. Research done by George Borjas, a Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of the forthcoming “We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative” and his work has been quoted by politicians including Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, led to this conclusion “Wage trends over the past half-century suggest that a 10 percent increase in the number of workers with a particular set of skills probably lowers the wage of that group by at least 3 percent” (Borjas).
Without using statistics like these, one can still see the impact that illegal immigrant workers have. A decade ago, Crider Inc., a chicken processing plant in Georgia, was raided by immigration agents, and 75 percent of its workforce vanished over a single weekend. Shortly after, Crider placed an ad in the local newspaper announcing job openings at higher wages. This shows that illegal immigrants are taking jobs for lower wages that could be going to legal citizens for higher wages (Borjas). Borjas also found this “the flood of recent news reports on abuse of the H-1B visa program shows that firms will quickly dismiss their current tech workforce when they find cheaper immigrant workers” (Borjas).
Every year illegal immigrants cause a fiscal hole of 50 billion dollars. That burden falls on legal citizens in the United States. This is because illegal immigrants are receiving government assistance at a much higher rate than legal citizens (Borjas). The higher cost of all the services provided to immigrants and the lower taxes they pay, because they have lower earnings, inevitably implies that on a year-to-year basis illegal immigration creates a fiscal hole of at least $50 billion, a burden that falls on the native population (Borjas). That is 50 billion dollars that U.S. citizens have to pay back in taxes because illegal immigrants did not.
Illegal immigration in America is a relatively new term. Up until the late 19th century, there were no immigration laws in place, so one could not immigrate illegally. This was until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
The Act was America’s first immigration law and was blatantly racist and unfair. The Act simply banned all Chinese from immigrating to America because they were being blamed for economic issues. Mae M. Ngai, a professor of Asian American studies and history at Columbia University, had this to say about the 1924 Act, “the 1924 act is considered almost universally to be a stain on our history. It ranked people from all over the world on a kind of hierarchy of desirability based on their race and national origin … There is no controversy over that” (Little).
In the early 20th century America was beginning to become overwhelmed by immigrants. Subsequently, the U.S. implemented the 1924 act, another immigration rooted in racism that favored certain countries. The 1924 act, according to Becky Little “banned all people who could not become naturalized citizens per the 1790 Naturalization Act. That naturalization law had originally said that only free white people could become naturalized citizens. Yet by 1924, previously excluded groups like Mexicans, black Americans, and Native Americans had won citizenship rights, and the law really only applied to Asians” (Little).
So The U.S. being overwhelmed by European immigrants and yet again found a way to put an outright ban on Asain immigrants instead of fixing the problem. The 1924 Act also introduced a new quota system. The new system capped the number of immigrants that can come in per country. “Turns out, the previous restrictions on Asian immigrants had made “very little impact on the growing levels of immigration to the United States,” Hsu says, because the vast majority of immigrants came from Europe” (Little).
This new system was also based on numerical caps but was much fairer and is still in use today. This new system made it so the U.S. can only issue a certain amount of visas a year and cannot issue more than seven percent of the total allowable visas to one nation (Little). With this new system, every country is receiving the same amount of visas. But in certain countries, this causes a problem. In countries like Mexico, China, and the Philippines where many people are applying for visas an extraordinarily long line is created.
The issue of illegal immigration clearly has not been solved given over ten million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. (Robertson). This is because of a few complicating factors. The first reason being that the government just simply will not change the laws. Currently, the immigration process is extremely expensive and time-consuming. It would be safe to say that most people are not immigrating illegally just to break the law or the sheer thrill of being a criminal. They are doing it because they simply can neither afford to immigrate legally nor can they wait the required time. By the government not changing the laws that are in place, they are the ones preventing change.
U.S. politicians throughout all levels of government, local and federal, make it a point to discuss immigration in their race for office. This is how a lot of politicians get a lot of their votes. Take President Trump, for example, one of his key points during his race was his strong immigration views. He used these views to connect with a large number of the population to win their votes. Trump promised to build a wall, but this is not the real solution. If Trump really solved the immigration problem, he and other politicians would lose a major debate point to get voters on their side in the next elections.
Another barrier is the visa program the U.S. is currently using. Our government is issuing visas to people trusting that they will leave when they have to and follow the rules of the program. In 2015, 44 percent of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. where from visa overstays, that data comes from the Center for Migration Studies (Robertson). The Department of Homeland Security provided an estimate that 629 thousand people on visas were expected to leave by the end of 2016 and never did (Robertson). There is data showing an alarming number of people abusing the visa system and yet the government as yet to make a change.
Although the government may not have been making the correct changes, it would be wrong to say they have just been sitting idly by watching this unfold. George W. Bush enacted the Secure Fence Act of 2006 which was meant to decrease the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border by building 700 miles of fence.
This solution was not a complete success, though there was a noticeable decline in southwest border apprehensions after 2006 (Robertson). A report done by the Government Accountability Office citing U.S. Customs and Border Patrol found that from fiscal year 2010 through fiscal year 2015, the U.S.-Mexico border fence had been breached 9,287 times, at an average cost of $784 per breach to repair (Secure Fence Act). Another report in May 2008 by the Congressional Research Service found a “strong indication” that illegal border-crossers had simply found new routes (Secure Fence Act).
After seeing that President George W. Bush’s wall did not work, current President Trump is trying to revamp the southern border wall while also increasing border patrol agents at the southern border. The President is continuing to build the wall, with 163 miles of new border wall system under construction now and 450 miles expected to be completed by the end of next year. In total, more than 977 thousand immigrants were apprehended or deemed inadmissible at our southern border in fiscal year 2019, an 88 percent increase from fiscal year 2018.
Border Patrol apprehended more than 851 thousand aliens between ports of entry in FY 2019, an increase of more than 115 percent from FY 2018. Border Patrol apprehended a record 473,682 family unit aliens in FY 2019, which is 342 percent higher than the previous record set in FY 2018 (Presidents Trump’s Efforts). This is certainly great progress to bringing illegal immigration to an end, but the aforementioned visa program that accounts for nearly 50 percent of illegal immigrants still has not been addressed by any president (Spakovsky).
The U.S. government has recently taken a step in the right direction. President Trump has started construction on the new southern border wall. Since the southern border wall started to be revamped, there has been considerable improvement.
In 2018, there was an 88 percent increase in arrests at the southern border (President Trump’s Efforts). Border Patrol saw a 52 percent increase in apprehensions of unaccompanied minors, rising to 76,000 in fiscal year 2019 (President Trump’s Efforts). This wall was not a magic fix though, as the problem was still unsolved. Building this wall will require a lot of publicly-funded money. The DHS said the wall will cost 21.6 billion dollars to build (Rennies).
President Trump’s solution of building a southern border wall does not account for the 44 percent of people that get into the country by overstaying visas (Spavosky). The visa system needs to be changed and rules need to be more strictly enforced. People on a work visa, for example, are allowed to be in the country for six months at a time.
If a person were to overstay their permitted time in the U.S., they would be barred from reentry, depending on how long they overstayed. If someone overstays for less than 180 days, they are not barred at all, if they stay for more than 180 days but less than a year they barred for three years, and finally, if they stay for more than a year they are barred for ten years (Kendall). There is no CBP agent that tracks a person down. This is because the U.S. does not track when a person on a visa actually leaves the country. There is no system in place for people departing on visas to “check out”. The U.S. currently counts on the people actually boarding the plane they are supposed too. When someone on a visa buys a departing plane it goes the APIS system and is marked on their I-94 history.
This system is very easy to abuse. In a system this flawed, it would be easy for some people to slip through the cracks. Seeing that the visa system is so fundamentally flawed, it is clear that it needs fixing. That is why the U.S. needs to change the laws that are currently in place and implement a system for people on visas to physical go through immigration to make sure they leave the country when they are supposed to.
The immigration laws themselves need to be reformed. There is currently a cap on green cards in the family and employment category. No country can receive more than 7 percent of the total number of employment-based and family-sponsored preference visas in a given year (Little).
Because of this cap, an incredibly long line has been created. The wait for U.S. citizens to sponsor adult, unmarried children was more than seven years for most parts of the world, but was 12 years for relatives from the Philippines and more than 21 years for those from Mexico (Immigration System Works). In November, 2018, there were over three million people waiting for a family-sponsored green card (Immigration system works). Of course the U.S. could not take all the people waiting at once because the massive influx in workers would drastically affect wages (). To remove these backlogs the government must allow more visas to be given out in a year.
The real solution to solve this problem would be a combination of the foregoing solutions. If the administration made it easier to immigrate legally by lowering the cost and time, changing the visa system while still keeping the border secure, the problem of illegal immigration would be solved. This proposal is strongly backed by research and facts. Cracking down on visa abusers would account for nearly half of all illegal immigrants (Spavosky). Upping border security will, in fact, lower the rate of people crossing the border illegally (President Trump’s Efforts).
Changing the laws, like the seven percent rule, will shorten the lines and remove some of the backlogs. This should be a good compromise between the major political parties. Some liberal-minded thinkers are calling for more open borders and that is exactly what this solution is calling for. It is now easier for the people who want to be in the U.S.to legally do so. This plan should appeal to conservative thinkers as well. This is because the border is being secured and the criminals will be sifted out from the people who really want to be in this country to better their lives for themselves and for their family too come.
In the final analysis, the government cannot stand by and just watch this crisis unfold. It was the laws put in place that got the country in this mess, the government should be fixing this problem. It is true that the government could not have foreseen this massive influx of immigrants, but the government completely mishandled this crisis and instead of moving towards a solution, only exacerbated it.
The proposed solution will not completely get rid of illegal immigration in America nor will it make the country have open borders. There will still be criminals who slip through the cracks whether it be by hopping the border or getting smuggled in by a coyote. But the rate at which it happens will be much less after the U.S. secures its border. And, on the other hand, people should find it much easier to immigrate legally.
It is not that hard to picture a world with this plan implemented. Just picture a family immigrating to better their lives and not having to wait up to 20 years. Or a world where crime is cut down drastically.
Our leaders would like to think they make the country safe when they can. But families are still left wondering why there are illegal immigrants in the country after their loved ones are murdered, assaulted or even raped. These are the crimes that can be prevented by simply changing the laws and increasing border security and our government will not do it for their own selfish reasons. So what will you think when you or a loved one is affected by a crime committed by an illegal immigrant?
- Borjas, George J., et al. “Yes, Immigration Hurts American Workers.” POLITICO Magazine, 2016, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/09/trump-clinton-immigration-economy-unemployment-jobs-214216
- “Combating Gangs.” ICE, 11 Dec. 2019, www.ice.gov/features/gangs.
- “How the United States Immigration System Works.” American Immigration Council, 10 Oct. 2019, www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/how-united-states-immigration-system-works.
- Kendall, Emily. “Will I Be Able to Reenter the U.S. If I Overstay My Tourist Visa?” Www.alllaw.com, Nolo, 2 May 2019, www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/us-immigration/reenter-overstay-tourist-visa.html.
- Little, Becky. “The Birth of ‘Illegal’ Immigration.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 7 Sept. 2017, www.history.com/news/the-birth-of-illegal-immigration.
- “President Donald J. Trump’s Efforts to Combat the Crisis at Our Southern Border Are Delivering Results.” The White House, The United States Government, www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trumps-efforts-combat-crisis-southern-border-delivering-results/.
- Rennie, Julianna. “Will Trump’s Border Wall Cost Less than Obamacare Website?” @Politifact, 1 Apr. 2019, www.politifact.com/facebook-fact-checks/statements/2019/mar/29/facebook-posts/will-trumps-border-wall-cost-less-obamacare-websit/.
- Robertson, Lori. “Illegal Immigration Statistics.” FactCheck.org, 7 June 2019, www.factcheck.org/2018/06/illegal-immigration-statistics/.
- “Secure Fence Act of 2006.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Jan. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secure_Fence_Act_of_2006.
- Spakovsky, Hans von. “Crimes by Illegal Immigrants Widespread Across U.S.-Sanctuaries Shouldn’t Shield Them.” The Heritage Foundation, 3 Sept. 2019, www.heritage.org/crime-and-justice/commentary/crimes-illegal-immigrants-widespread-across-us-sanctuaries-shouldnt.