Below are remarks given by William Van Wagenen in a debate on immigration at the Salt Lake City Library on February 6, 2011. William Van Wagenen and Gregory Lucero from United For Social Justice debated representatives from the Utah Minute Man Project.

Undocumented Immigration: Legalization is the Solution

Opponents of undocumented immigration claim that “illegal aliens are invading America,” causing a new “wave of crime,” “stealing” jobs from American workers, committing wide spread identity theft, and bankrupting our government run social service programs. Former congressman Tom Tancredo sums this all up by contending that “illegal immigration is one of the greatest threats to our nation.” As a result, he and others advocate efforts to militarize and “secure the border” and deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible.

While it is true that undocumented immigration causes some problems, they are not the problems just cited. Further, the problems undocumented immigration actually does cause can be easily solved through a legalization program that would divert illegal flows through legal channels. This is a much better approach than wasting money to deport undocumented workers and militarize the border. Let me first debunk some of the myths surrounding undocumented immigration. After that I will explain why legalization is the proper approach to the current immigration problems we face today.

Is there a Wave of Immigrant Crime?

Undocumented immigrants are not responsible for a wave of crime. Tim Wadsworth, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado, noted that, “The cities that experience the greatest growth in immigration, were the same ones that were experiencing the greatest declines in violent crime.”

Invading our country?

Undocumented immigrants are not “invading” our country. An invasion is when an army comes to another country violently, murdering people, and stealing land. This is a good description of the way European settlers came to this country and committed Genocide against the Native American population. However, it in no way accurately describes undocumented workers, who come to this country peacefully to work.

Stealing Jobs?

People often assume that there are a finite number of jobs, and that each time an undocumented worker takes a job, this must mean that a native born worker loses a job. However, James Smith, a senior economist at the Rand Corporation stated that, “No credible estimate exists that [shows] immigrants cause unemployment.”

With increases in low-skilled immigration, the U.S. economy expands, creating more jobs in higher-skilled areas. As a result, some U.S. workers now in low-paying jobs would move up to these better paying jobs, actually reducing the wage pressure on low-skilled U.S. workers who remain in low-skilled jobs.

Lowering Wages?

Do undocumented workers lower wages? According to a Wall Street Journal survey, 60% of economists believe that undocumented workers lower wages for low-skilled workers only slightly. Another 20% believe immigration lowers wages significantly. The final 20% believe immigration does not affect wages at all. So it seems there is an impact on wages for low-skilled American workers, but the effect is likely not large, as those trying to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria make it out to be.

Additionally, to avoid prosecution for hiring undocumented workers, employers increasingly turn to contractors for hiring. This way they can hire undocumented workers but maintain plausible deniability. This practice has led to lower wages for documented and undocumented workers as contractors take a cut of the pay. It also leads to fewer workers paying taxes because they are often paid in cash.

So the key is not to prevent low-skilled immigrants from entering the job market, but rather to improve the social safety net, education, and unemployment benefits for low-skilled native workers who have difficulty finding employment, as well as promoting unionization to increase wages for all workers.

Bankrupting Social Services?

Undocumented Immigrants are not bankrupting our government social services. They do not qualify for most welfare programs, and even though they are poor, they make minimal use of welfare programs they do qualify for.

That being said, providing access to public education and emergency health care for undocumented immigrants does place a burden on state and local governments. However, the Congressional Budget Office notes that “the net impact of the unauthorized population on state and local budgets . . . is most likely modest.” So it is hard to characterize this as bankrupting our social welfare programs.

So while undocumented immigrants are a modest burden to state and local governments, they at the same time pay roughly $7 billion a year to the Federal Government in the form of Social Security taxes, the benefits of which they will never see. America’s native born population is getting older, while fewer and fewer are having children. The influx of young, healthy, undocumented workers paying social security helps keep social security afloat.

Paying no taxes?

In addition to paying Social Security taxes as mentioned above, unauthorized immigrants pay taxes and other fees to state and local governments, including sales tax, and property tax, which at least partially offset education and health care costs. In addition, the IRS estimates that about 6 million unauthorized immigrants file individual income tax returns each year so that they can pay their income taxes.

Of course it is unfair that many undocumented immigrants are not paying taxes. This is another reason to legalize their status so they can work above the table and begin paying their full share.

Identity Fraud?

Undocumented workers often use Social Security numbers that are false or belong to a US citizen in order to get a job. Legally, this constitutes identity fraud. However, this is not the same as identity fraud as we commonly know it, which takes more than just using a random social security number to work, without knowing who it belongs to. Identity theft of this sort means getting someone’s name, address date of birth, Social Security number and using this information to take out fraudulent loans and credit cards and/or steal money from the victim’s bank account.

The identity fraud that committed by some undocumented workers for the most part just allows them to work and pay taxes. Of course, paying taxes is a good thing.

There is one negative affect that does sometimes result when an undocumented worker uses a random Social Security number, which is that it may cause the income of the true owner of that number to be overstated on Federal records, which may in turn prevent them from qualifying for certain social services. For example, a child may have too much supposed earned income to qualify for state medical insurance assistance (CHIP).

This problem can of course be alleviated through a program to legalize undocumented workers and give them a tax identification number that allows them to work and pay taxes in their own name.

The Real Problems with Undocumented Immigration

The real problems with undocumented immigration are as follows:

Needless deaths: By militarizing the border, the flow of undocumented migrants has not decreased. However, this causes them to attempt to enter the country by increasingly remote and dangerous routes. In 2005 for example, a total of 472 migrants died while attempting to cross the border.

Exploitation: Because undocumented workers have no legal rights, they have no redress when employers steal their wages, or sexually harass them. They are often fired or reported to ICE officials to be deported for attempting to organize unions, or for complaining about unsafe work conditions. Because undocumented labor is underground, it allows literally slave like conditions to flourish. Many undocumented workers could perhaps be better described as indentured servants or slaves.

Having a large, easily exploitable labor pool with no rights allows big business to prevent unionizing efforts that would improve working conditions and raise wages for all workers. It also allows big business to deflect American working class anger away from the capitalist class. Few people are talking about the bank bailouts and executive bonuses anymore, a lot of people are talking about undocumented immigration.

Criminal Cartels:
Because the border is militarized, undocumented migrants pay smugglers working for criminal cartels to help them cross the borders. These smugglers sometimes rape and rob undocumented immigrants, and are also involved in the drug trade. Legalizing immigration and taxing border crossings would provide the Government with needed funds for social services, and eliminate a significant source of funds for the cartels.

Economic Benefits of Legalization

In addition to the benefits listed above, legalizing undocumented immigrants would also benefit the country economically. A study published by the Cato Institute and written by economists from Monash University in Australia found that if the numbers of undocumented workers could be reduced by 28%, by preventing border crossings and increasing deportations, this would cost Americans $80 billion in lost income per year. The money we would save on social services would be more than offset by losses in economic output and job opportunities for more-skilled American workers.

At the same time, they found that legalizing undocumented workers and charging an entry tax (perhaps equivalent to the $3,000 would be immigrants currently pay the cartels) would increase American income by $180 billion a year.

So the difference between deporting large numbers of undocumented immigrants and militarizing the border on the one hand, and legalization on the other, amounts to a difference of $260 billion in income per year.

Undocumented Immigration is not a Threat to our Nation

In conclusion, undocumented immigration is not a “threat to our nation,” unless you are trying to preserve the United States of America as a predominantly white, English speaking Protestant nation and exclude people from other ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. This is why some of the fiercest opponents of undocumented immigration are also opponents of legal immigration as well. The deplorable goal of attempting to preserve white racial dominance in America is the only reason it would make sense to attempt to deport millions of undocumented workers, waste additional tax money for enforcement, break up families, and allow additional border crossing deaths. It is the only reason you would want to further punish our undocumented immigrant brothers and sisters from Mexico and Central America living in the US, who have already suffered enough from US foreign policy, both economic and military, in their own countries.

Since racism is the real agenda of the anti-immigrant movement in the United States today, it is important that we as Mormons and socialist and anarchists fight back against it. We need to constantly struggle to remind others that all are alike unto God, whether black or white, bond or free, male or female, documented or undocumented.