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Solve the immigration problem — but fairly

REUTERS/Samantha Sais
Immigration reform should include mandatory e-verify for all employers, securing borders, properly documenting all legal visitors so they do not overstay their visas, figuring out how to deal with labor shortage in some fields, making sure that we allow the best and brightest to come to America legally, and maybe a few other things such as requiring a photo ID for voting and making English the country’s official language.

MARSHALL, Minn. — Last spring, the immigration question came to Minnesota. Many immigrant advocates wanted to let illegal immigrants have driver’s licenses and in-state tuitions (and, I guess, much more after that). And on the national level, the push is on now to pressure the Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform that will legalize all those who came here illegally.

Being an immigrant myself, I have a stake in this issue since I do believe that immigration is good for America, that immigrants contribute a lot to American prosperity, and that, with the education system failing to properly teach kids math and science which results in fewer and fewer Americans earning their degrees in those fields, highly educated immigrants are essential for the future. Immigrants, by the nature of the very act of immigration that brought them here, are hard-working people with above-average level of initiative and motivation. But the law is the law and fair is fair.

First, let’s talk about terms. Many people abhor the very term “illegal immigrant” claiming that it makes it sound like these people are criminals while, their reasoning goes, they violated only civil law, not criminal law. Well, according to the dictionary, an illegal act is any act violating the law, whether criminal or civil. Therefore, the term is absolutely correct and reflects what these people did: They came to (or stayed in) the United States illegally. These people are not illegal as persons, as some people are trying to imply in fighting the term, but as immigrants in this country; their existence in America is indeed illegal — meaning not authorized by law.

Being an illegal immigrant is not a law violation that is to be proven in court because the mere lack of official immigration papers confers the illegal status. Even though sometimes judges allow an illegal immigrant to stay, it is actually just an act of mercy or pardon, not an admission of the lack of law violation. So even if being in America without proper documentation may not be a crime, as some people contend, coming here without documents necessarily means that a crime has been committed.

It matters how they came to the U.S.

Of course, new law proponents are trying to emphasize that illegal immigrants are like everybody else who came to America for a better life, just like all other immigrants. That cannot be true since they came here illegally, and that is what should matter. As for wanting a better life, it is not an excuse for a crime. Tax evaders want to keep more money to have better lives, too, but they are routinely sent to jails.

Many supporters of the new law also claim that since illegal immigrants will have to pay fines before obtaining legal status, the term “amnesty” is not appropriate. However, even if paying fines can be considered a punishment, no lawbreaker is ever allowed to benefit from the crime (for example, keep shoplifted items), while in this case illegal immigrants, after being punished, will keep the loot, so to speak, by being allowed to stay.

Now we can get to the general fairness issue. I came here legally, and so did most immigrants. So why should people who broke the law be rewarded for doing that by being granted the same rights and privileges that legal immigrants had to work and wait for provided they qualified or won the lottery? And, yes, this should apply to children of illegal immigrants as well (and should apply even to those who were born in America and are technically American citizens). There is not a law in the world allowing children of those who committed the crime to benefit from their parent’s crime. Bernie Madoff’s children cannot get the money he stole, and the thief’s children can’t keep stolen property even if they did not know where it came from.

Specific attempts to make some activities by illegal immigrants legal do not make sense either. People living abroad and wanting to send their children to college in America will be paying out-of-state if not out-of-country tuition in any college. It seems utterly unfair to let people who got into this country illegally use taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize their children’s college degree. These people do not deserve any special privileges. If anything, let’s subsidize deserving foreigners who would come here legally.

Also misguided: driver’s licenses

The argument to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants is equally misguided. The rationale that they are on the roads already and have to drive in order to get to work is weird, to say the least. Quite a few people who lost their licenses or never held a driver’s license are still driving and are doing so because they hold a job. However, by doing so they violate the law and granting those people their licenses would not most likely be supported. The suggestion to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants is no different.

Of course, the greatest question is how illegal immigrants got their jobs in the first place. All employers require a Social Security number before hiring anyone. Even if seeking employment on its own is not a crime, giving a false Social Security number is. Sure, some of them work for cash, but then they are guilty of not paying taxes.

Actually, one has to provide a Social Security number and/or driver’s license for almost anything we do in America nowadays. And this takes me back to the term illegal. In real life it is practically impossible to exist in modern society without any documentation. Considering that illegal immigrants don’t have proper documents, most of them must have some fake papers to get by which is a crime by any definition (Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas had a fake green card).

While an argument can be made that legalizing illegal immigrants may bring economic benefits to the country because of the labor force demands, granting them citizenship has nothing to do with the economy (and fairness). In fact, all illegal immigrants presumably came here for work and a better life, not for social benefits or voting rights. They should be satisfied with a legal status and the right to work and should not be upset if an immigration bill does not include a path to citizenship. And that brings an obvious question: Why are some people so wound up about this provision?

We do need reform

Yes, we do need immigration reform. It should include mandatory e-verify for all employers, securing borders, properly documenting all legal visitors so they do not overstay their visas, figuring out how to deal with labor shortage in some fields (wait, what labor shortage – don’t we have record high unemployment and the number of people on government support has skyrocketed?), making sure that we allow the best and brightest to come to America legally, and maybe a few other things such as requiring a photo ID for voting and making English the country’s official language. What it should not include is allowing people who are here illegally to stay; that is both morally and economically wrong.

Ilya Gutman is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who now lives and works in Marshall, Minn. 


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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by chuck holtman on 11/15/2013 - 12:39 pm.


    Mr Gutman – The entirety of your essay (apart from your wish-list at the end) appears to consist of the proposition (stated & restated) that if someone violates a law, there is no justification to allow that person’s position to be improved in any way as a result of having done so. You presume this is self-evident. However it is not self-evident, either as a matter of moral/legal theory or as a matter of the pragmatic setting of public policy, and it certainly is not self-evident in practice, as there are myriad examples all around us of those who have benefitted from violating the law, some in small ways and some in ways quite spectacular.

  2. Submitted by Diana B. on 11/15/2013 - 02:19 pm.

    Reform must include a path to citizenship

    Mr. Gutman, congratulations on gaining your US residency, you undoubtedly worked very hard and were very fortunate to have the chance to go through the legal immigration process. I think your argument against a path to citizenship hinges on your belief that since you were able to come here legally, then that means there’s a way to enter the US legally for anyone who wants to get in “the line.” But, the reality is, there are many lines and the length of the line depends upon the country that the immigrant is coming from. Under our current system, there is no “line” for most people who are living in poverty and lack a college education.

    Generally, gaining permission to live and work in the United States is limited to people who are 1) highly trained in a skill that is in short supply here; 2) escaping political oppression; or 3) joining close family already here. Due to the current backlogs, 4.4 million people who fit one of these legal categories are waiting for visas. Many people have been waiting 10-20 years, or longer, often to reunite with their families.

    So, when there is no access to a viable legal path to a visa, many immigrants resort to making the trip without papers. It’s not a decision taken lightly, since it often means taking out thousands of dollars in loans to pay for the trip, and risking extortion by drug cartels or death at the border. It is a decision made out of desperation to escape conditions of extreme poverty and violence in the hopes of improving your family’s quality of life.

    You say undocumented immigrants should be satisfied with a legal status and the right to work. But a few sentences later, you say that allowing undocumented immigrations to stay here is “morally and economically wrong.” So basically you are arguing that the only solution is to deport the immigrants who are here without papers in order to punish them for breaking the law. Deporting 10-20 million undocumented immigrants would cost the US government billions of dollars and would have a devastating impact on our communities, on families (millions of which are mixed status families, with one parent who is a citizen and one who is not), and on our economy. Undocumented immigrants pay taxes every time they buy gas, clothes, appliances, or rent an apartment. The Social Security administration estimates that 50-75% of undocumented immigrants pay federal, states and local payroll taxes, including $6 to $7 billion in Social Security payroll taxes they pay each year for benefits they will never get.

    As Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said in a speech to Congress last week: “As a moral matter, our nation cannot continue to receive the benefits of the work and contributions of undocumented immigrants without extending to them the protection of the law. Keeping these human beings as a permanent underclass of workers who are unable to assert their rights or enjoy the fruits of their labor is a stain on the soul of the nation.”

    Let’s fix our broken immigration system and pass comprehensive reform that will boost our economy and keep families together. It is the morally and economically RIGHT thing to do.

  3. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 11/15/2013 - 09:24 pm.

    Let’s be logical

    Thank you for commenting on my thoughts. I would like to add a few comments here. First, I do realize that people benefit from their crimes all over. However, it does not make it right and this practice should not be legalized. So I would like to see any examples of the laws allowing someone to benefit from the crime since Mr. Holtman appears to imply that they do exist.

    I never assumed that everyone can get into the US legally – I know how the system works. I also understand that I was lucky. But the fact that many people can’t come to America or have to wait for very long time to get here makes a perfect argument AGAINST allowing illegal immigrants to stay. Why would anyone let law breakers get ahead of law abiding people? Should anyone and everyone be allowed to immigrate to America?

    It should be obvious to anyone that an idea of allowing illegal immigrants to stay in America and giving them citizenship may logically be expanded to everyone else. If illegal immigrants should get it, why shouldn’t everyone else who wants to come here? After all, they have not broken the law so they should be even more deserving. People who want to allow illegal immigrants to stay but say that they do not support an open immigration system (and I have not seen many who do) are either illogical or hide their true ideas.

    I did say that illegal immigrants should be satisfied with getting a legal status but I said it only to emphasize that attempts to bestow citizenship to them are politically motivated. My opinion is that most of them should be deported (hopefully requiring e-verify will make it easier) for various reasons that I tried to present in my articles and many others such as not to invite more illegal immigrants. There are various points of view on whether illegal immigration is economically beneficial to the country with some making a very strong argument that it costs much more than it brings. Yes they pay sales tax but so does everyone else. Should we invite the entire world to come here to pay sales tax? And of course they do use community resources – schools, hospitals, libraries, etc. I am also wondering how they pay any payroll taxes – based on the fake social security numbers? As for mixed families, if one spouse is a citizen, he or she has the legal right to invite the other one to be here legally (and of course, that is what most people do).

    I understand that deportation is not an easy thing to do and may be costly. However, even if the new law does not include deportation of illegal immigrants, it should not include granting citizenship to them either – that would be wrong and bad for the country (and a previous attempt to do it is a clear proof of that).

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 11/18/2013 - 04:46 pm.

    Illegal immigration was caused by politicians

    For years politicians have turned a blind eye to America’s immigration problem because it benefitted our country. For a long time politicians essentially said they can come do the jobs no one else will do. This migration served to benefit the mega agricultural companies in places like California and Arizona, among others. Families came here, did the work, and had children (now American citizens). The pressure was put on the politicians, who had looked the other way for years, to do something about all the illegal Mexican people here. If we actually had a real border policy and enforced it we wouldn’t have this problem. Here we are with families made up of Mexican and American citizens. You can’t morally send the Mexican family members home and break up the families, especially when it was caused by the politicians who now finger point like they didn’t have any part in this, when they did. It is time to hold the politicians accountable.

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