Undocumented immigration’s reality

 It’s no secret that undocumented immigrants are a problem in the United States.  From people who overstay their visas to people who sneak across our borders, the ease with which people can get into this country is frightening.

One should expect a lot from a sovereign country—and even more from the United States—not the least of which are secure and regulated borders.  However, not only do I not expect anything will be done about undocumented immigrants, I’m not sure that anything should be done about it.

Many Americans are quick to attribute our nation’s problems to undocumented immigrants.  Undocumented immigrants are characterized as leeches, as parasites that suck our resources, drain our economy, multiply and give nothing back.  They’re accused of committing crimes and taking jobs from Americans.

No subject inspires as much bile and vitriol from some of our radio and television personalities as undocumented immigrants.  It takes little prompting for these folks to recite statistics and dollars that undocumented immigrants cost us every year.

Immigrants can’t be blamed for wanting to come to the United States.  This country offers so many things that their countries do not.  For reasons that should be obvious, it is hard to pinpoint how many undocumented immigrants are in the United States today, but estimates range 10–20 million.  The Pew Hispanic Center reports that 76 percent of our nation’s undocumented immigrants are Hispanic, the majority of whom come from Mexico.

Other sources of undocumented immigrants, in descending order are Asia, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and the Middle East.  According to the Pew Hispanic Center, our undocumented immigrant workforce is concentrated in blue-collar, low skill, high labor work.  About 25 percent of our farm workers are here without documentation.  About 14 percent of our construction workers are here undocumented.  It is estimated that undocumented immigrants make up five percent of our workforce.

There is truth to some of the accusations against undocumented immigrants.  The recent article in the Los Angeles Times about the growing black tar heroin trade in the United States is a stark reminder that our borders need to be controlled.  They strain our over-burdened education system.  They take work from Americans, but because most of our undocumented immigrants are uneducated, the work that they take requires little skill.  It is work that the average individual probably would not want to take.  They wash our cars, mow our lawns and wash dishes in the backs of restaurants.

Some attempts are made to keep undocumented immigrants out of the workforce.  Employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants face civil and criminal penalties.  Employers are required to make a good faith attempt to verify that the documents that new employees show to verify their status, such as social security number, drivers license and work permits, are real.

It is certainly true that some undocumented immigrants—as it surely is true of some Americans—take advantage of what this country has to offer; many more undocumented immigrants contribute to our economy in ways that are rarely acknowledged.

With fake documents in hand, undocumented immigrants go to work and earn regular paychecks, just like Americans.  And, just like Americans, they pay payroll taxes.  State and federal taxes are withheld from their paychecks.  They pay into Medicare and Social Security.  Unlike U.S. citizens, they cannot file tax returns, nor are they eligible for Medicare or Social Security.  It is estimated that undocumented immigrants pay $7 billion into Social Security every year.

When you consider how gutless our elected officials are, the ease with which people can cross our borders, bypass laws and regulations and go to work, and the fact that undocumented immigrants are a bona fide part of our economy, it is hard to imagine that this problem can be resolved without creating a host of unintended problems. Much like endemic political corruption in the developing world, undocumented immigrants simply have become a part of our economy, and rhetoric from our elected officials is just that—rhetoric.