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Traps to Watch For in the Immigration Debate

February 18, 2013
Plain English Version

The path to citizenship is only one problem the reform of immigration has to tackle. Three important topics will be discussed in the weeks ahead as the nation debates comprehensive immigration reform.

Border Security

The federal government is spending $18 billion a year on border security. This is more than it spends on the enforcement of all other federal criminal laws. Undocumented migration into the United States is down to a trickle.

In Arizona last year border agents arrested the fewest undocumented migrants in 19 years. The number arrested was 43 percent fewer than it was two years earlier. It was an 82 percent drop from 2000.

Experts say better border security is an important reason the arrest number has dropped. A second reason is the weak U.S. economy and a growing economy in Mexico.

The Obama administration has focused on border security and deportation. It has increased the number of temporary work visas. Many people would say Mr. Obama has been tougher on undocumented people than any recent president.

Still, some U.S. senators want to tie immigration reform to increasing border security.

Immigration and Government Spending.

People cost the government money. Whether people arrive over borders or are born here, they cost the taxpayers money. People will go to  school, call the police and fire department, and will need health care. Some will need welfare-type programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. Many will use the earned-income tax credit program. Eventually, they will go on Social Security and Medicare.

About two-thirds of undocumented residents do pay taxes through their employers. And many work in the cash economy. However, all undocumented people and some legal residents  cannot get the benefits citizens get. Public schooling is the exception.

Not paying benefits to people who pay in creates a big cash bonus to the government. The government collects billions of tax dollars from non-citizens that it gives to citizens.

Generally, people who are against legalizing undocumented residents do not mention this. However, there will be an increase in government spending for new people here legally.

All the children born in the U.S. to undocumented residents are American citizens. They are entitled to all the benefits starting at birth.

Anti-immigrant conservatives say that extending legalization will cost the government too much money. This is an argument against a growing population — something essential to a growing economy.

Immigrants and Jobs

Immigrants play a vital role in the American economy.

Experts say low-skilled immigrants largely hold farming and low paying jobs that Americans do not want. Higher-skilled immigrants are in great demand by high-tech companies, which say there are not enough trained Americans to fill the jobs.

When immigrants take jobs, the wages of American workers go up over time. That is because immigrants boost the economy and create managerial jobs for higher paid workers. The big U.S. labor unions support immigration reform.

Also, immigrants bring an entrepreneurial energy to starting new companies and opening new stores all around the nation.

Studies show that low-skilled undocumented workers sometimes compete with low-skilled American high school dropouts for factory and maintenance jobs. The U.S. economy is still in a weak condition. There are a growing number of part-time jobs. Unemployment is still high.

Conservatives will continue to argue that immigrants compete with American workers. However, there is widespread agreement that immigration powers a growing economy.

The New York Times

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