Why amnesty for undocumented immigrants should be considered despite conservative objections
Immigration reform is a topic which brings out longstanding opinions in conservatives and liberals alike. There is something hidden in this debate which I feel must be recognized if real change is to come to America. It appears that there is a key, fundamental concept which is missing a solid definition. This concept is, of course, that of what constitutes a “person.”
We’ve all heard the catchy slogan, “immigrants are people too.” This is true, immigrants are people, however conservatives tend to draw a line at the legal definition of “person” which carries with it the social and economic benefits of citizenship and participation in an overarching state body.
The United States has had a long history of xenophobia going back over two hundred years. For decades during the twentieth century immigrants were subject to highly restrictive quotas and naturalization procedures which, at one time or another, made entry into the country for all manner of specific ethnic groups almost impossible.
In 1986 the Reagan administration granted amnesty to over three million undocumented immigrants living within the borders of the United States. This acted to extend the basic social safety net to those individuals and families which undoubtedly form an integral part of the economy. It also brought many laborers under the legal workplace umbrella, granting them benefits and better wages.
The general conservative narrative places a bizarre slant onto reality. Immigrants are only to be desired if they are of a certain, let’s say, economic class. This narrative generally mentions something about the desire for college-educated immigrants. This is all well and good, however, once one considers the socioeconomic reasons for the working habits of millions of undocumented immigrants, it becomes clear that they are far more concerned with putting food on the table. One can see a subtle level of class discrimination in this view.
Some conservatives also inevitably make the argument that many undocumented workers do not necessarily intend to completely assimilate into American society. This is often evidenced by the fact that many undocumented workers tend to send their earnings back to their home countries, instead of circulating the currency within the United States. This criticism harkens back to the days of mercantilism and has little place in a modern, highly interconnected economy.
On Sunday, president Obama remarked that “I believe that Republicans are patriots, that they love their country, but they are a broken record,” He has hit the nail directly on the head. The arguments of the past are becoming less and less relevant. On top of this it is clear that amnesty has history on its side. The efforts made during the Reagan administration acted to improve quality of life for millions of individuals who were awarded with citizenship for their part in building the American system.
The simple fact is that undocumented immigrants are an essential part of the economy. They may not all pay income taxes, however every single one consumes products (food, gasoline, clothing, electronics, etc.). Consumption will always reign supreme. To that end it is clear that the undocumented population most definitely adds a good amount of demand to the system which would not be there otherwise.
No, sending American troops to the border will not solve anything. The last thing that Washington needs is another set of allegations regarding abuses of military power (in light of the past decade or so of US gallivanting in the middle east). Certainly, however, conservatives tend to think the opposite.
There are two fundamental struggles that progressives must seek to confront with respect to immigration. The first is one of definition. Where the legal status of the word “person” is concerned, there is a disconnect between the legal recognition of a human being and its social equivalent. The value of human life and the human experience cannot go ignored by those within the establishment who wish only to serve to corporate oligarchy which feeds off of the misery of millions of individuals who are often times barely able to scrape out a living.
The second is one of systemic change. It is a necessary fact of due course that as the economy evolves it must assume a place of welcoming to those who have, up until now, served to build and drive much of the root of middle and upper class live in the United States. The work done by undocumented immigrants is work nonetheless.
It is true that American citizens of any race or ethnicity are just as capable and willing to do those jobs which generally go to those who work for less than a legally established wage minimum. The fact is, however, that these jobs go to persons who have fallen through the cracks of the system. These cracks allow blatant exploitation and must be filled promptly. Amnesty in any efficient, measured form is a step in the right direction for America.