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US Immigration: laws made to be broken?

August 20, 2010

by Immigrant Friend

Many US citizens begin their thought-processes about immigration with the following assumption: people who are in the US illegally are law-breakers and must be held accountable for breaking the law. My husband, who came to the US illegally twenty years ago, is according to this logic a law-breaker who must pay by leaving the US.

I ask people of this mindset to consider the following facts:

1. Across the US are many towns where the US-citizen population of those towns cannot fill the jobs available. Furthermore, the jobs in those towns are low-paying (minimum wage or just above) and the cost of living in those towns is high, so US residents do not relocate to those communities to fill the jobs. Communities all across the US have factories, agricultural businesses, restaurants, or tourism outlets that leave them in this predicament. Therefore, they rely on an influx of foreign-born workers willing to do the necessary jobs and accept the lower standard of living that accompanies them. Because of this situation, the US border is marked by two blaring signs: one says “Keep Out” and the other says “Help Wanted.”

2. Avenues for legal immigration have largely been closed off to Mexicans and Central and South Americans since the 1990s. This strict border closure from the south became more pronounced after September 11, 2001. A chart that can be viewed here (scroll down to see chart) shows how few immigrants from the south are granted entry into the US by legal means. The chart, entitled “How Long Must I Wait” shows, by country of origin, how long an immigrant must wait to receive a green card. While a 40-year-old British man will wait 6 months on average, a 30-year-old Mexican high school graduate with a sibling who is a US citizen will wait on average 131 years.

3. US economic policies of the last 20+ years have had detrimental effects on the Mexican economy. (The large majority of undocumented workers in the US are from Mexico). Within three years of the institution of NAFTA, one million Mexican farmers were put out of business, unable to compete with the highly-subsidized US agricultural sector. Shortly thereafter, the peso crashed and the real wages of Mexicans declined by 27 percent. Unemployment in Mexico grew dramatically following NAFTA while US businesses have profited exponentially. Not surprisingly, illegal immigration from Mexico to the US soared in the aftermath of NAFTA.

4. Many Mexican families are split between two countries. The impulse to be near ones spouse and/or one’s children is inconceivably strong, no matter what obstacles stand in the way of reuniting with them.

In my estimation, the preceding facts create an impossible situation, which is why US immigration policy is broken and must be revised.

The entire US economic system requires that immigration laws be broken. This is evident most starkly in the US agricultural sector, which could not begin to function without the breaking of laws related to immigration. Many parties, from farmers, to stores, to factory owners, to restaurant and hotel owners, to undocumented workers break laws in order for our economic system to function, but the ones branded “criminals” and forced to pay for the law-breaking are the severely low-income, severely under-employed Mexicans, and Central and South Americans who come to the US to find work. They break the law in search of a better future for themselves and their families. But they are certainly not the only ones breaking the laws. In fact, all Americans who benefit from the low prices made possible by foreign workers are party to this law breaking. We are all culpable in the system that makes the law-breaking necessary. Most Americans do not want to pay dramatically higher prices to take vacations, to eat out, or to buy produce at the grocery store. Thus, we implicitly want the system to function as it does.

I am tempted to call the US immigration system dysfunctional. But “dysfunction” is a matter of perspective. If the system is designed to profit Americans, especially American businesses, while granting the fewest benefits possible to our less “wealthy,” less powerful southern neighbors, then the system functions perfectly.

My husband graduated at the top of his high school class in the years directly following the institution of NAFTA. He and his fellow graduates faced very little hope of good employment if they remained in Mexico. Those who chose to come to the US “illegally” simply participated in a broad system that has profited US citizens impressively over the last 20 years. If he and those like him are deported as a result of their actions, what justice is there in that? What about the employers who have profited from their labors all these years? What about the Americans, you and I, who have profited from the low prices they have helped to maintain?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Diane Benton permalink
    August 20, 2010 3:29 pm

    It seems to me that the perspective of most people is fear and the worldly cure for fear is to be in control. There are many ways of spinning circumstances to make control seem necessary, reasonable and even benevolent.

    My perspective is that perfect love casts out fear and the earth and all that’s in it belongs to the Lord who is caring for all of it with perfect love. Borders were put in place by fearful people trying to take care of themselves over against others out of a sense of scarcity and vulnerability.

    People who experientially know God’s love for them can live without fear and provide self-giving service to others, thus partnering with God in bringing people into the experience of God’s perfect love.

    Why it’s such a painfully slow process, God only knows, but it’s the one lasting solution I see to the immigration dilemma.

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