By Gunther W. Anderson
Illegal immigration is a subject that has risen and fallen in prominence in the United States, back and forth for decades. It seems as though we’ll go a few months where the topic is everywhere; on the news, in the papers, and more recently in our social media. Then the novelty of discussing it wears off and we might go a year or better before it comes back to the spotlight. But the problem doesn’t go away in that time. Whether we’re talking about them or not, there are still thousands of people entering this country illegally every day. Rather, the best estimates suggest as much. Obviously there’s no way to know for sure exactly how many people are crossing the border into the United States without the proper documentation.
You’ve doubtlessly heard the usual arguments about the problem, that they’re breaking the law by coming here and taking jobs from American workers. Opponents to that position might say that they’re only coming here illegally because the legal route is so clogged up in red tape that it takes far too long and costs far too much. There’s even a newer term to describe illegal immigrants: undocumented workers. It’s much more polite, don’t you think? I understand why the moniker would be preferable to those who give their support to illegal immigrants, but to me the term is lacking. It brushes aside the fact that these people are in fact breaking the law by coming here the way they do. That, to me, is a very important aspect of their presence in this country. Not because they’re criminals who deserve to be punished, but because these are people who believe so strongly that the best thing they could do for themselves and for their families is to live and work in the United States even if it means having to defy the law and risk all the devastating repercussions of committing that crime, living with that fear day after day after day. Can you think of anything which you feel so strongly about and would put so much on the line for? Say what you will about illegal immigrants, every last one of them is a person more bold and more desperate than I have ever felt myself. Why face the possibility of such harsh punishments and endure the conditions they must to get here and stay here unless what they are leaving behind is so much worse?
Those that insist the unemployment rate in the United States could be brought down if only illegal immigrants weren’t taking up so many jobs that legal citizens of this country might otherwise hold would have each of those immigrants deported, sent back to where they came from. But who are we to decide who gets to support their family and who has to live in destitution? Doesn’t everyone have the right to make a life for themselves? The first sentence of the second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence says we do. It says “all men”, not “all legal U.S. Citizens.” I’m not saying the world’s problems are ours to solve. But if people see our country as a place where their lives can be improved, isn’t that an image worth embracing?
The problem is not too many workers. The problem is too few jobs. To cut costs, our corporations have abandoned us and sent jobs that were once ours across oceans to other continents. Places where laws to protect laborers are less strict, barely enforced, or entirely nonexistent.
If we had all of those jobs here, where they belong, there would be plenty of work for anyone who wanted it. In time, restrictions on immigration could then be relaxed allowing more people to enter the country more easily. More documented workers means more tax payers, more people free to openly spend their money in our economy and more revenue for the government to provide its services to us all.
More opportunities for employment is something Organized Labor has long fought for and will no doubt continue to struggle with for some time. Meanwhile, let’s not lose sight of the common ground we all share. We all want to make a living and we’re all willing to work hard for it. Some of us were born in a situation that afforded us more opportunities than others, and some of us have had to take tremendous risks to create opportunities for ourselves. Instead of dividing our strength by blaming one group for the problems of another, we ought to be uniting to fight for a solution that benefits us all.