The immigration debate reflects the confusion, much of it deliberately engineered, that dominates our public discourse in America today.
On a practical level, the recent major increase in border security spending and record number of deportations still will not address the problem of roughly 11 million people living here without citizenship. At the human level, the impacts of deportations on families and children are worthy of moral consideration.
Refusal to allow that consideration reflects confusion at the economics of our immigration problem. Illegal immigrants are not taking large numbers of jobs away from Americans because they are doing many jobs that most Americans don’t want to do, such as agricultural harvest. The attraction for employers who hire them is that they work more cheaply, precisely because they are illegal.
If these workers are put on a path to earning citizenship, they cease to offer that inducement. They begin in fact to pay income taxes and Social Security, and provide new revenue to other parts of our system, with a potential $1.1 trillion increase in gross domestic product, according to estimates by the Center for American Progress. Ignoring the economic opportunity this presents amounts to biting our nose to spite our face.
That many of our leaders are ready to do so reflects further confusion about law and policy, fueled by mindless opposition to President Barack Obama. Executive orders are not themselves unconstitutional. Their content is what is at issue. All Americans should look closely at what the president actually proposes, rather than listening to inflammatory rhetoric.
The legal precedents set by executive actions on immigration by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush are being ignored by some Republicans, along with President Obama’s point that any action he takes would be superseded if Congress passes immigration reform. House Republicans have refused to vote on a bill, while railing about an “emperor” acting “unilaterally,” even though the president is acting within the confines of current law.