OPINION: The facts about immigration
The politicization of undocumented workers in our country is a social issue that demands our attention and needs a solution. But it cannot be solved without addressing the xenophobic tendencies that lay below the veneer of even just societies.
My approach will not be religious, although certainly Scripture gives us much to think about when it comes to treating the workers in our midst. I base this defense of immigrant workers on past research and present analysis that comes from understanding the labor shortages which our nation experiences in various sectors; including agriculture, construction and the service industries.
A recent study by the Journal on Migration and Human Security, titled “U.S. Undocumented Population Drops Below 11 Million in 2014,” shows that the undocumented population has been falling for the last eight years, driven by declines in the Mexican undocumented population. This trend is due to many factors, including the limited availability of certain jobs. Today, because of surplus workers in some areas and new restrictive laws, many of the undocumented have returned to their countries of origin.
During the late 1980s, I produced one of the first profiles of undocumented immigrants funded by the U.S. Department of Labor as a dissertation. I found that in New York’s metropolitan area, the majority of undocumented workers had Social Security taken from their earnings. This practice continues today. In fact, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration has reported that undocumented workers make an annual net contribution of $12 billion to Social Security, but most of them will never collect Social Security benefits.
A brief review of our immigration history recognizes that until 1924, with exceptions for the Chinese and a few other groups, there were no legal immigration restrictions under U.S. law and, thus, no undocumented immigrants, as we understand that term nowadays. Today, we still welcome immigrant workers who fill important jobs. However, we don’t offer sufficient legal opportunities for necessary workers to enter the nation. Most of the resulting immigration violations involve breaches of civil law, not criminal offenses. This distinction must be kept.
Over the course of U.S. history, our political system has regularly recognized that certain groups who do not fit within our legal immigration categories should nonetheless be able to legalize their status. There are two general ways that undocumented persons who do not qualify for a visa can regularize their status. The first, cancellation of removal, applies to persons facing deportation. It covers persons of good moral character who have been here continuously for at least ten years, and whose removal would create an “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to certain close family members who are citizens or lawful permanent residents. The second, called registry, applies to very long-term and continuous residents who also meet good moral character and other criteria.
A problem to be faced is the eventual path for citizenship. To exclude the undocumented from citizenship would be to return to a two-tiered society. We have enough experience with the exclusion of former slaves and their descendants to remind us that those who are members in our society should never be excluded from the full rights of citizenship.
It is important that we look legally and logically at the present situation. Those who are in favor of mass deportation seem not to have an understanding of what this might mean for our reputation, and the lives of those who are deported. These estimated costs of mass deportation would be $400 billion and reduce the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by about $1 trillion.
Honest workers deserve to be defended because they contribute to our society and economy, and because they are human beings with dignity, rights and responsibilities.
Nicholas DiMarzio is Bishop of Brooklyn.