Our immigration system is broke. However, before we attempt to fix it we must consider several factors.
First and foremost, we have a shortage of laborers. In 1960, an estimated 50% of U.S. men joined the low-skilled labor force. Today, that number is less than 10%. And of the relatively small number of workers who remain low-skilled, many of them are unwilling to perform critical low-skilled tasks. Because of this, we depend greatly on that portion of undocumented workers who fill this need.
Georgia realized this when they passed tough new immigration laws. According to the 2010 Georgia Growers Association Report, many immigrant workers left and Georgia farmers suffered a loss of more than 50% of labor and crops. Another pressure adding to this dependency on laborers is the fact that 10,000 Baby Boomers are reaching age 65 every day, according to Pew Research. This disproportionate number of retirements will have a dramatic effect on our national demographics for decades to come. Eventually, we will be begging workers to immigrate, according to George Friedman, author of The Next 100 Years.
By the way, these hard-working immigrants also benefit us through lower wages. American employers would be paying substantially higher wages if required to attract non-immigrant workers for certain labor. This would not only raise consumer prices, it would also erode our competitiveness in global markets.
Second, we must consider the financial impact of immigration. Most assume undocumented workers create a net drag on our economy. However, when one includes the lower costs to employers, higher productivity, extra discretionary spending, and increased taxes paid; our economy most likely experiences a net gain.
According to studies by UCLA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, economic activity produced by undocumented worker spending employs about 5% of the total U.S. workforce. They also pay sales and property taxes, and add an estimated $11 billion per year into Social Security and Medicare. Additionally, an estimated 50% of undocumented workers pay income taxes.
So, the number one concern of illegal immigration is not the economy, but crime. For example, according to a Fox News Report on the effects of illegal immigration; nine million pounds of hard drugs crossed the border between 2006 and 2012. This is unacceptable, especially when you consider these numbers only reflect activity for Texas.
Clearly there is a need to improve the security of our southern border and reduce the overall flow of illegal traffic, in order to better evaluate and keep the bad guys out. So, how do we do this?
Last year’s Senate Immigration Bill proposed to secure the border with an unaffordable and unnecessary doubling of border agents. Unfortunately, according to the CBO, 75% of current levels of illegal immigration would have continued.
The quickest, cheapest and most effective method to secure the border is to simply complete the double-layered fencing required by the Secure Fence Act of 2006. However, less than 10% of this double-layering has been completed, according to Politifact.com. Completing this fence could dramatically reduce the flow of illegal activity, and afford us the capability to keep more of the hard-core criminals out.
Once this is accomplished, we can all agree on a more rational way to deal with the estimated 11 million undocumented workers and families living in the country today. But until we secure the border, a path to citizenship will never be accepted for two reasons.
First, Republicans still remember the 1986 deal with President Reagan that gave citizenship to nearly three million undocumented workers with a promise to secure the border. While citizenship happened immediately, securing the border never did; and less than three decades later we face the same problem.
Second, granting citizenship to those already in the country illegally is a slap in the face to the Rule-of-Law and millions of immigrants who come to the United States legally. It is simply unfair to make citizens of those who broke the rules without first fixing the problem along our border.
We are an immigrant nation. Not only do we depend on the skill level provided by many of those crossing our southern border, we need those who desperately seek a better way of life; this is what made our country great. However, a loose border means increased crime that must be controlled.
Ironically, the best way to maximize those who truly seek to become Americans is to first secure the border. Then, we can come together with a plan that will be fair to all. This will not only help our economy; it will also preserve the Rule-of-Law, restrict bad guys, keep families together, and provide millions of hard-working, well-intentioned folks the blessings of the American Dream.