Immigration reform requires compromise

Igor Kagan

Immigration has always been a passionate issue. Its significance is such because it touches nearly every aspect of human life, from where people find shelter to how they feed their families. Most people understand that immigration is an integral part of the American tradition. The facet of immigration I wish to address today is perhaps one that draws the most anger and contention. It is illegal immigration. I would like to first make two points, which will then pave way for a three-pronged solution that, if embraced, will represent a pragmatic compromise that would address the key concerns of this contentious matter.

Whether you call them undocumented or illegal, people that immigrate here outside of the institutional framework are all human. Just like you and I, they have basic human needs and desires. Keeping in mind our joint humanity, anger regarding this issue might be better substituted with empathy at most and consideration at the least. If you are someone who considers these people criminals then recall that in this country even criminals have the right to a fair trail and are guaranteed fundamental human rights, regardless of whether they are convicted of a crime or not. To that end, it is our collective moral imperative to ensure that immigration reform is humane and conducive to the values we all hold as Americans and, more importantly, as humans.

The second point I would like to make is that people who enter this country outside the institutional framework are breaking the law. There is no need for me to argue or counter this fact. However, let us not make this fact a barrier to discussion or a justification to advocate inhumane and impractical policies. Instead, consider the following perspective in response to “let’s not reward people for breaking the law.” Laws are not set in stone. In fact, they change all the time, mostly because they are found to be impractical, but sometimes when they are found to be unjust. Obviously, our current immigration laws are impractical. They simply aren’t effective. The Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Carlos De Icaza points to a “de facto labor market” that exists between Mexico and the US. The main idea here is that when laws don’t adequately address market forces, people are pushed to respond to market forces outside the institutional framework, that is, illegally. It can also be argued that our current immigration laws are unjust. If you agree that people have the right to food, shelter and medical care, then laws that actively prevent people from attaining those rights through immigration or other means are unjust.

Since the current immigration laws are impractical and unjust, they need to be changed. In considering reforms, we must focus on three parts: The root cause of illegal immigration, the point of entry and the residency process for those who are already here.

The first part of the solution we need to consider is in addressing the root causes of illegal immigration. I believe that we have a prerogative to improve the economic situation of the countries from where people immigrate illegally. We should do this by pursuing policies that would encourage job creation and investment in root countries. The U.S. government can do this by creating special incentives for American companies or investors to create jobs in areas from where people are immigrating. This would begin to address the economic need to immigrate. Admittedly, this is a simplified version of a difficult step and addresses the problem from only one dimension, but I argue that it is an important one. Furthermore, if you consider illegal immigration an economic cost, then it would logically follow that working toward eliminating this cost would either neutralize the harms and/or bring benefits to Americans. This is why, regardless of which side of this issue you are on, you should support this part of the solution.

The second part that needs to be addressed is the point of entry, which for many illegal immigrants is the border between the United States and Mexico. It must be secured. This is not only an issue of actually being able to enforce immigration laws, but it is also a measure against drug, weapon and human trafficking. There are two main roadblocks to this, expense and symbolism. It is my contention that we would probably be in better shape using money that we are using to secure the Iraqi borders to secure our own. With regard to symbolic concerns regarding enforcement measures, there are times when a result-oriented policy should be preferred to a symbolically sound one. Due to its massive real-world impact on human lives, this issue should be looked at from a more pragmatic perspective, as opposed to caving in to peoples’ concerns regarding symbolism. Of course, as mentioned previously, emphasis on human rights should always remain.

Finally, we need to address the people that are already here and wish to remain. The first point that needs to be made on this topic is that deportation is not an option. It is simply not possible to round up more than 10 million people here illegally and send them back to their countries of origin. The cost, legal aspects and societal implications of this sort of action would be dramatic and negative. Instead, we have to work out a process through which people can either become legal or remain legally for a certain period. The process of legalization that exists now is slow and arduous, keeping people marginalized for years. It needs to be streamlined. A line needs to be drawn in the sand and a clear process must be mapped out. This step might hurt. There will be disagreement, but it is a discussion that needs to happen so that practical and just laws can be put in place and enforced.

Illegal immigration is an issue that can be looked at through a variety of lenses. The solutions I have provided address the main concerns related to it. I am cognizant that outlooks on illegal immigration will be shaped by individuals’ own interests. As such, I challenge those with an outlook that counters my own to provide a better one.