The issue of immigration has taken renewed significance in American political discourse over the last ten years. This was largely prompted by the flood of illegal immigrants crossing over from Mexico and other central American countries. Considering that Hispanic Americans already comprise 13 percent of the population and have the highest birth rates among all ethnic communities, one can see the complications that would arise in the future if this problem is not suitably addressed (Starr, 2007, p.3). The problem of illegal aliens is compounded by the legal immigrants from Asian and European countries, who initially come to the United States on work permits and later take up authentic citizenship. As opposed to the poorly skilled illegal alien population, the legal immigrant group is very highly skilled making them indisposable for the stable functioning of the economy. At this juncture, the policy makers are asked to consider social and humanitarian aspects of immigration alongside the economic one. This is the thrust for immigration reforms and the debate surrounding it. This essay will outline some reasonable and practical proposals to address the issue of illegal aliens. Suitable sources of information from news media, scholarly journals and books are perused for the essay.
Immigration reform is the common term used in political discussions regarding changes to immigration policy. In a certain sense, reform discussions can be general enough to include promoted, expanded, or open immigration as well as the aspect of reducing or eliminating immigration altogether. In that sense, reform typically refers to a wide spectrum of viewpoints which may include anti-immigration and immigration reduction. However, the term is also widely used to describe proposals to increase legal immigration while decreasing illegal immigration. Usually, the liberal sections of the American polity take a compassionate and sympathetic view of the illegal aliens. The conservatives, on the other hand, give importance to issues of national security, drug smuggling and economic costs associated with it (Leiken, 2002, p.87). Both sides have valid arguments to make in support of their positions. For example, the conservatives are right in that illegal immigration affects our economy, our homeland security and the core infrastructures of our country. Our homeland security is threatened by illegal immigration in the following ways; gun smuggling, illegal crossings, convicted Mexican fugitives fleeing to the U.S. and cross border drug smuggling operations. But these criminal elements comprise only the minority (Leiken, 2002, p.87). A overwhelming number of illegal aliens are honest, hardworking people, who sneak into the United States in search of a decent standard of living. Considering this fact, we need a humanitarian approach to solving the problem. For example,
“Many of the estimated 12 million undocumented workers currently in the U.S. have resided here for many years, pay taxes, have children who are U.S. citizens, and are well integrated, contributing and (immigration status notwithstanding) otherwise law- abiding members of their communities. Supporters of more open immigration policies note that under the current system, which makes no provision for legalizing the status of undocumented workers, or under House proposals to criminalize the status of undocumented workers, the law creates an unacceptable underclass of undocumented workers in the U.S.” (Som, 2006, p.287)
The solution to the problem of illegal aliens is not as elusive as it seems. There were times during the Clinton and Bush presidencies when feasible solutions was not implemented for lack of political will and divisive politics rather than practical difficulties. A case in point is the proposal made in 2004 by Democrats in the House of Representatives, when they proposed “granting legal residency and the eventual option of U.S. citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants now working in the United States” (The Washington Times, Jan. 2004, p.A01) . This came on the back of President Bush’s temporary-worker program that did not get sufficient support. The proposal plans to allow illegal immigrants “who have worked in the United States for a yet-to-be-determined minimum period of time to stay here and be granted permanent legal residency, creating a ‘pathway’ to eventual citizenship” (The Washington Times, Jan. 2004, p.A01). According to Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, “the plan purports to provide a meaningful way for illegal aliens to become U.S. residents or citizens; reduce the backlog of U.S. citizens’ petitions on behalf of relatives who are here illegally; and help tens of thousands of teenage illegals attend college here and eventually be granted legal status” (The Washington Times, Jan. 2004, p.A01). The Democrats’ proposal is better thought out, for it tries to fix a basic flaw with the “temporary-worker” program promoted by the Republicans. They correctly reason that implementing the deportation of millions of temporary workers once their work permit expires is logistically and politically impossible. The Democrats’ plan includes special provisions for re-unifying families of illegal aliens. But unfortunately the plan never got the approval of the House and the Senate, stalling progress in the area of immigration reform.