The Focus Of Our Attention

Monday Night LightsWhen I sit back and look at the immigration “problem” in our country, every single issue can be traced back to what our government has failed to do. We are faced with a very serious situation, and no single idea is going to solve the problem.

Most of us are descendants of immigrants, the only difference today is the system of categories and quotas set by the government which severely restrict and limit many attempts at legal immigration.

Did you know, when discussing immigration “quotas” that there are actually two different quota systems in place?

The first quota sets the number of categories in which a person can apply, regardless of country of birth. These categories include student visas, family visas, temporary worker (H-1B) visas, etc. The second quota sets the number of people who can immigrate from any one country, regardless of their place of birth. The categorical quota system now has a significant backlog. Some categories are backlogged four years or more, which means that a person who applied four years ago for a particular type of visa is eligible today for their green card.

The desire for people to immigrate to our great nation has not changed, or else we wouldn’t be discussing illegal immigration. The way our government deals with immigration, however, and which ethnic groups are singled out as “bad” for our nation, has changed.

During the 1800’s many different ethnic groups were scorned. Irish immigrants were forced to live in back alleys, impoverished Germans were frowned upon, French immigrants were considered “scum” by many Americans, Chinese immigrants were brought in to build railroads and work underground, and uneducated Italians did not fare any better by 1870. At one point Catholics were treated as a “subclass” in parts of the NorthEast, and for years now we have heard the cries of Haitians, Cubans, and many others trying to get to our shores, desperate for a chance to build a life within our borders.

So what is different now? I would say it’s the focus of our attention.

People are coming to our country daily under student visa, family visa, and temporary worker visa programs. No one seems to pay attention to them. Our attention has instead been turned toward our southern border. We see images flashing on the television screens of people desperately navigating rivers, sneaking across the desert during the hottest part of the day, and people packed into vans like sardines, driving on dirt roads in the middle of the night. These images are shown over and over, in an attempt to convince us that these people are coming here to cause trouble, to ruin our way of life, to get a “free ride”, when in reality, they just want a chance to live a life that is productive, provides for their family, and contributes to the greater good.

Are there bad people “sneaking” into our country? Without a doubt. But there are also some very bad people being welcomed with open arms into our country under the guise of student visas, family visas, H-1B visas, diplomat status, and many other legal means. You may remember a few people who entered our country legally who flew planes on September 11th. Needless to say, bad people are everywhere.

While many people scream endlessly about illegal immigrants sneaking across our borders, no one seems to notice (or pay attention to) the legal immigrants coming here on H-1B visas. Did you know an H-1B visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations? The employer can pay them far less than the going rate, and some employers even receive kickbacks from our own government just for hiring these “legal” foreign workers.

Personally, I have never lost a job to an illegal immigrant, but I did lose a job to a couple legal H-1B visa immigrants. My former employer is saving almost $40,000 per year, but thank goodness those temporary workers are in our country legally. Whew!

The number of illegal immigrants in the United States has been estimated from a low of 12 million to a high of 20 million. From 1991-2000, 11 million people immigrated to the United States LEGALLY and that number represented a mere 0.3% in population growth.

People are quick to say, “lock them all up” and “send them back home”. It’s a quick way to dismiss the whole situation, I know, because I used to be one of the people who were quick to say it. I wonder if people know how much it would cost to “lock them all up” and “send them all home”? For argument sake, let’s forget the fact we have absolutely nowhere to house 20 million people, but let’s look at some numbers…

According to the Immigration Neutrality Act, ICE has 90 days to deport an individual if they have been compliant in providing their travel documents and signing an I-229 form. The I-229 states that the individual will provide travel documents for deportation. If they are compliant, and not deported within 90 days, they can be released. If they refuse to comply, ICE can extend the 90 day deportation time frame. For argument sake let’s presume 75% of the illegal immigrants are compliant and 25% are non-compliant requiring an additional 90 day time frame, even though this is purely hypothetical and it could take much, much longer.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average cost of housing a state inmate in 2001 was $62.05 per day. The cost at facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons was $62.01 per day. Since this is 2011, not 2001, we will use the $62.05 amount, even though I am sure the cost is much higher at this time.

If we actually had a facility to house 20 million people, it would cost us $1,241,000,000 (that’s 1.241 BILLION) per day to house them all. If we use the 75/25 compliance to set our time frame it would cost $83,767,500,000 (83.7675 BILLION) to house the 75% of compliant immigrants, and $55,845,000,000 (55.845 BILLION) to house the non-compliant immigrants. The cost of housing, remember we haven’t even built the facilities to house them yet, 20 million people for the required time frame would be $139,612,500,000 (139.6125 BILLION).

Again, I need to re-iterate this number does not include the cost of building enough facilities to house 20 million people, nor the cost of personnel to “round them up” or transporting them to these new facilities. This number simply reflects the cost of detaining 20 million people for the length of time required to be processed for deportation. This number does not include the cost of actually “sending them back home”, nor the costs associated with caring for their U.S. born children (aka citizens) who are left behind. Those two costs alone would be substantially higher than the cost of merely detaining 20 million people.

The Center for Immigration Studies reports that the net cost to our country from illegal immigrants each YEAR was $10.4 billion in 2002. Since we used 2001 numbers to calculate our numbers above, we’ll use these numbers from 2002 as well. FactCheck.org (http://www.factcheck.org/2009/04/cost-of-illegal-immigrants/) goes into more detail to support this number as well.

Realistically, we’ll never have enough personnel or facilities to process and house that many illegal immigrants. Economically, it doesn’t make sense to “lock them all up” and “send them back home”. Historically, doing so won’t change anything because our government has failed to address the reason the crisis exists in the first place.

Over the course of the past two decades an incredible amount of attention has been turned toward our southern border. Personally, I think it’s time to turn our attention on Washington, D.C.

It’s time for comprehensive immigration reform. I’m sure if we all work together we can come up with a solution that secures our border, is fair and equitable to the citizens of the United States of America, and more importantly, is charitable and humane to those who have come to call America home.