December 16, 2019

Undocumented Immigrants

Guest Opinion
By Tom Gutowski | Sept. 28, 2019

Here are a few basic facts about undocumented immigrants. If any of what follows looks incorrect, I invite you to look it up yourself, preferably using multiple, unbiased sources.
 
Apprehensions on the Southwest border peaked at 1.64 million in 2000, then declined to 396,579 by 2018, before rising again in 2019. The decline was due to increased enforcement and to the Mexican economy doing well, while ours went into recession. As the influx from Mexico slowed, the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras— became the major new source of undocumented immigrants. These people are fleeing horrific gang violence and extreme poverty made worse by drought. Many are requesting asylum; that’s legal, though historically only about 25 percent of requests from the Northern Triangle countries are granted.
 
The history of American intervention in these countries isn’t pretty. Anything we could do now to stabilize them would reduce the flow of migrants. Unfortunately, Trump has withheld millions in aid intended for that purpose.
 
Immigrating to the US. via an immigrant visa — i.e. without seeking or being granted asylum — for those with no relatives here,no college degree, and no corporate sponsor ranges from extremely difficult to nearly impossible.
 
Undocumented immigrants have a lower crime rate than do American citizens. In fact, states with more undocumented immigrants tend to have lower levels of violent crime.
 
Some police chiefs are advocates of sanctuary cities. They worry that if the immigrant community is afraid of the police, they won’t share information. They also don’t think it’s the local police force’s job to enforce immigration law.
 
Undocumented immigrants pay, annually, about $9 billion in payroll tax and $11.7 billion in state and local taxes. Around half, believing it’ll boost their chances of becoming citizens, file tax returns using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers.
 
Undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for Social Security, Medicare, non-emergency Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. They’re not eligible for insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and can’t buy health insurance on the exchanges. They can get healthcare in the ER. All children, regardless of immigration status, are eligible for K—12 education and school meal programs. Immigration status does not disqualify a child from Head Start. Some undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. And some indirectly receive certain benefits by living in households that include citizens, often their own children or a spouse. In sum, it’s complicated.
 
So is the question of whether the taxes they pay outweigh the cost of the benefits they receive. Trump says illegal immigration costs us over $200 billion per year; experts say that’s wrong. According to several nonpartisan studies, there’s a slight positive effect at the federal level. For example, the Social Security Administration estimated in 2013 that unauthorized workers subsidize the Social Security system to the tune of about $12 billion per year. At the state and local level there’s a modest negative effect, due primarily to the cost of educating the children of undocumented immigrants. The long-term effect is likely positive, because those kids go on to get jobs or start businesses, and pay taxes.
 
Economists disagree about whether undocumentedimmigrants take jobs from or depress the wages of low-skilled citizens. Some say they do. Others say immigration, legal or otherwise, vitalizes the economy and actually creates jobs, and what’s causing wage stagnation is automation and globalization.
 
The number of undocumented immigrants in the US has decreased in recent years but remains around 11 million. In 2017, just under 14 percent of US residents were foreign born (that includes legal immigrants). In 1970 it was under 5 percent.
 
About 45 percent of undocumented immigrants living here now came in on legal visas and stayed after their visas expired. Most of the drugs entering illegally come through legal ports of entry, hidden in vehicles and shipping containers. A border wall wouldn’t address either of these problems.
 
As of the end of August no new wall has been built, though about 60 miles of old fencing has been repaired or upgraded on the Southwest border.
 
More than 60 percent of undocumented immigrants show up for their court hearings, not the 2 percent claimed by Trump. A pilot program designed specifically for families seeking asylum was achieving a court appearance rate of 100 percent by assigning case workers, but Trump terminated it. The cost of the program had reportedly been $36 per day per family.
 
Twenty-four undocumented immigrants have died in ICE custody since 2016. Absurdly, toddlers have had to represent themselves in court, and the Trump administration had to be forced by a court to provide children with toothpaste and soap. The Obama administration also separated children from parents at the border, but only in limited circumstances, such as suspicion of trafficking or fraud. Trump made family separation a centerpiece of his border policy.
 
Lastly, the Democratic Party does not support open borders, despite calls for making illegal border crossing a civil instead of criminal offense. Democrats repeatedly vote for additional fencing, increased use of technology, additional border patrol agents, etc. Claims to the contrary are, to be polite, campaign rhetoric.

Tom Gutowski earned degrees in economics and history before entering the insurance industry, from which he retired a few years ago.

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