By: Amy Wees
Currently, the American and Mexican governments are attempting to come up with a solid plan for what to do with the hundreds of thousands of illegal Mexican immigrants whom reside in and continue to enter the United States daily. Should the U.S. allow these immigrants to continue to come in droves and work without paying taxes? Should we build a bigger fence to further secure our borders? Might we come up with a plan to allow citizenship for some of these immigrants? What impact will the decision have on the businesses that employ these immigrants? While we are attempting to answer these questions, thousands of Mexicans will cross the vast mountains and desert into the U.S. to look for work, and hundreds will die during their journey. What is the price of their lives? Who is responsible and what can we do to find a positive solution for everyone involved? This is our debate. Mexican President Vicente Fox has expressed strong support of amnesty for illegal aliens while American President George W. Bush is proposing a Mexican guest worker program. There have been strong opinions and inputs expressed by these governments, American business owners and citizens, and Mexicans themselves.
In July, 2001 the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) compiled a study of the costs and benefits of Mexican immigration in America. Some of the findings were as follows: Large scale immigration is a recent phenomenon as the immigrant population has climbed from 800,000 in 1970 to over 8 million today. Two-thirds of Mexican immigrants do not have a high school diploma and are unskilled, causing a job competition and wage decrease for the nearly 10 million unskilled American natives looking for work. This reduction in wages for the unskilled has had a minimum impact on the price margin of products as unskilled labor accounts for only a tiny fraction of the overall economic output. Mexican immigrants account for 4.2 percent of America’s population and 10.2 percent of persons in poverty. 25 percent of families headed by illegal immigrants use at least one major welfare program while only 15 percent of American households use welfare. However, these immigrants hold down labor costs for businesses that employ unskilled workers but taxpayers must pick up the responsibility of providing services to a larger poor population. All of the above findings led the CIS to recommend that the U.S. create programs to improve the labor skills of legal immigrants and use greater resources to stop illegal immigration by enforcing the ban on hiring illegal aliens. The CIS also disagrees with President Bush about the proposed guest worker programs, stating they are unlikely to solve the problems found in the study because the wages of unskilled American workers would still be adversely affected. Also, the program would allow guest workers to receive welfare on behalf of their U.S. born children creating an even larger government deficit.
President Bush feels differently towards guest worker programs. He said in a recent white house press release that our country is a nation of immigrants and that we wouldn’t be what we are today without the hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of immigrants. A guest worker program would allow willing workers to enter the United States and fill jobs that American citizens are not filling. The new laws the President is pushing call for more rationalization and humanity. The current immigration laws do not follow through with punishment for American companies that look to the illegal labor market for workers, leading those immigrants who are here to work to be afraid and uncertain of their future. Not to mention to have to create false paperwork and social security numbers to work in these jobs. President Bush made a strong point that the system we have now is not working. Laborers want the illegal immigrants to fill jobs American citizens will not, our borders are not secure, immigrants who do cross the borders are unsafe and practices such as this will cost the United States more money in the long run than if we were to offer Mexicans a chance to cross the borders legally to work for a period of time. Of course none of these practices have been proven, but the U.S. government is working on making this a reality.
Mexican President Vicenza Fox has similar ideas to solve America’s immigration ordeal. President Fox is campaigning in the United States to request money and resources to improve the economic development in Mexico so that it can absorb its own workforce. He also recently met with congress to propose a guest worker program and the potential legalization of the several million undocumented Mexicans currently residing in the U.S. He is touring the U.S. to meet with immigrants and business owners to gain support for his cause and make apparent America’s need for Mexican immigrants, legal or illegal. Recently, Fox visited fruit orchards in Washington State where 6 out of 10 workers are immigrants. Dave Carlson, the president of the Washington State Apple Commission stated to Fox “We need some type of guest-worker program; there are not enough people who are willing to do that work to get the job done.” Washington’s Governor also shares this opinion as she arranged for Fox to visit the state in order to discuss expanding trade and improve ties with Mexico. He and President Bush agree that something must be done to reform immigration.
What about the American public? Isn’t this a country for the people and by the people? In a May 2006 citizen poll given by the Pew Research Center, it was found that most American’s are divided about whether immigration is good for the country but the significant majority considers it to be a serious problem. It also seems to be the general consensus that these migrant workers are filling jobs Americans don’t want and that illegal immigrants already in the country should have the option to stay. These polls show general information about feelings towards immigration but some American’s feel very strongly against it. A recent article in the Observer states that the benefits for border crossers do not outweigh the costs to the American public. According to the author, there are over 30 percent of Mexican immigrants that are able use welfare benefits and this figure will only get worse as statistics show that even third generation descendents are likely to use welfare. If laws allowing more Mexicans to enter legally are passed, this figure will double and our tax dollars will be devastated.
United States medical costs and state and federally supported programs are also a concern; with more unskilled workers that don’t carry medical benefits we could experience a significant problem with the U.S. medicare and social security programs possibly going under. This is considering that 53 percent of Mexican immigrants do not have medical insurance compared to only 14 percent of natives. Education and crime are an additional concern. Statistics show that third generation Mexican-Americans are three times more likely to drop out of high school and to commit violent crimes. This would drag down our standards as a nation and contributes significantly to our already overcrowded prison populations. The observer claims the solution is to make it harder to come into the United States and that before allowing citizenship, Mexicans should be better screened based on wealth, skills and education. So are we to test these immigrants when we do not require our own naturalized citizens to be tested and held accountable?
After analyzing the positions I must say I think the center for Immigration studies holds the best point. We need to look at the facts, the statistics and behaviors of those entering the United States. I don’t think a guest worker program is the answer. Perhaps humanitarian efforts in Mexico would be a better idea. I agree with President Fox in the idea of improving Mexico’s economy to absorb its own work force. The United States has enough problems with our own poor; we do not need to take in millions more in the same situation. Perhaps we could pay a bit more for a piece of fruit and offer a decent wage to farm workers. I know this will not solve every problem but I’m not sure an increased population of migrant workers won’t either. On the other hand, I have experienced first hand while working in the farming industry that our next generation of workers is not interested in this type of work and it is very hard to fill these positions. Why not offer a screening program that allows immigrants to fill these positions for a specific period if they agree to pay taxes on the income they earn and work legally in the United States for a specific period of time with the agreement to return to Mexico when their contract is up?
In conclusion, border security needs to increase and at the same time a better immigrant screening process should be put into practice; one that allows immigrants to fill open positions in the United States if our own population has been given a chance and has not filled these positions, not a screening process that tests an immigrants aptitude of the United States. This is not what our country was founded upon and it is not fair to scrutinize immigrants when we do not hold our own people accountable for the same basic educational skills. It will be interesting to see what solutions unfold in the upcoming years.
President Bush Proposes New Temporary Worker Program. (2004, January 7). Retrieved June 9, 2006 from http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releasess/2004/01/print/20040107-3.html Objectivist: Border crossers cost us plenty. (2006, June 7). Retrieved June 8, 2006 from http://www.observertoday.com/articles.asp?articleID=1600 The State of American Public Opinion on Immigration in Spring 2006. (2006, May 17). Retrieved June 7, 2006 from http://pewhispanic.org/factsheets/factsheet.php?FactsheetID=18 Fox defends Mexican immigration in Washington state tour. (2006, May 24). Retrieved June 7, 2006 from http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/news/14654157.htm Immigration from Mexico: Study examines Costs and Benefits for the United States. (2001, July 12). Retrieved June 7, 2006 from http://www.cis.org/articles/2001/mexico/release.html