Because having millions of workers paid sub-minimum wage on the black market isn't an especially fair long-term idea, especially when you introduce the element of random deportations, some policymakers are looking for ways to help undocumented workers legally apply for American citizenship without losing their jobs. But during periods of low or negative economic growth, American citizens often look to undocumented workers as competition for jobs—and, subsequently, as a threat to the economy. This means that a significant percentage of Americans believe that immigration reform would be wrong because:
1. "It would reward lawbreakers."This is technically true—in much the same way that the repeal of Prohibition rewarded lawbreakers—but that happens whenever the government repeals or revises an unnecessarily punitive law.
In any case, undocumented workers have no reason to see themselves as lawbreakers in any meaningful sense—while overstaying work visas is technically a violation of the immigration code, migrant workers have been doing that with our government's tacit approval for decades. And given that it was the U.S. government's participation in the NAFTA treaty that did so much recent harm to many Latin American labor economies in the first place, the United States is a logical place to look for work.
2. "It would punish immigrants who play by the rules."Not exactly; it would change the rules altogether. There's a difference.
3. "American workers could lose jobs to immigrants."That's technically true of all immigrants, whether they're undocumented or not. Singling out undocumented immigrants for exclusion on this basis would be capricious.
4. "It would increase crime."I don't see how. Undocumented workers can't safely go to law enforcement agencies for help right now, because they risk deportation, and that artificially spikes crime in undocumented immigrant communities. Eliminating this artificial barrier between immigrants and police would reduce crime, not increase it.
5. "It would drain federal funds."Three important facts:
- It is likely that the majority of undocumented immigrants already pay taxes,
- Immigration enforcement is obscenely expensive, and
- There are approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, out of a general population of 314 million.
6. "It would change our national identity."Our current national identity is that of a North American nation that has no official language, identifies as a "melting pot," and has inscribed the words to Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" on the pedestal of its Statue of Liberty:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,So which national identity are you talking about, exactly?
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
7. "It would make us more vulnerable to terrorists."Allowing a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants has no direct effect on border security policies, and most comprehensive immigration reform proposals combine the citizenship path with increased border security funding.
8. "It would create a permanent Democratic majority."I suspect this is the only honest policy rationale for preventing undocumented immigrants from applying for citizenship. It's true that the majority of undocumented immigrants are Latino, and that the majority of Latinos vote Democratic—but it's also true that legal Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic category in the United States, and Republicans won't be able to win future national elections without substantial Latino support.
Taking these facts into account, and taking into account the fact that the vast majority of Latinos support immigration reform, the best way for Republicans to address this issue is to depoliticize immigration reform altogether. President George W. Bush himself attempted to do that—and he was the last GOP presidential candidate to get a competitive percentage (44%) of the Latino vote. It would be foolish to ignore the good example he set on this issue.