While the nascent Trump administration and a large band of tea-party Republicans might feel like they’re finally straightening out America’s immigration quagmire, they’re rapidly making a bad situation much worse — and refusing to admit the obvious.
This mess is why Congress and the White House previously came so close to enacting comprehensive immigration reform. It’s the only thing that makes sense.
For decades, the problem of illegal immigration has been primarily about jobs, and Trump’s forays into the morass ignores that. Despite all the heated rhetoric and emotional arguments targeting both sides of this thorny issue, there is a growing cadre of inconvenient facts:
• There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and their stories and circumstances are astoundingly varied. Officials estimate greater Aurora is home to about 130,000 illegal immigrants.
• Many of these immigrants are settled and integrated into our communities. They have jobs. They own cars and homes. They make more than $60 billion a year from U.S. businesses. They have children in schools. They spend money in the community. If we deport them, can they retain their property? Business groups and more than a few industries haven’t been shy in making it clear that these immigrants are critical to their operations. If they leave, who will fill their jobs? Many metro businesses can’t find employees even with illegal immigrants filling the work force.
• Deporting illegal immigrants is far from being a simple matter. Many families consist of citizens and non-citizens, many with varying degrees of legality. If the father of a family of six is deported, why force his American wife and perhaps three-of-six documented children to live here in anguished poverty and on the government dole, if they don’t leave the country with him? Tearing apart families will only lead to tragedy and increased government expense.
• The cost of rounding up, collecting from jails, housing, processing and deporting millions of immigrants will be astronomical. Even proponents admit that. The federal government has tried valiantly to boost its border control and ICE force before, only to find out how difficult, ineffective and expensive it is.
• Once collection and deportation of immigrants begins in earnest, the level of angst and panic will push communities like Aurora into real trouble. Illegal immigrants will quickly go underground, pulling their children out of school, avoiding police and other government officials, hoarding cash and spending little. Your chances of being involved in a hit-and-run car crash will increase dramatically as anyone nervous about their citizenship status, or with someone like that, does all they can to avoid civilian police. Immigrants and people who appear to be immigrants will be easy and frequent targets for criminals and scams, as crooks and bandits take advantage of the fact that these people will never contact police.
We don’t have to damage the entire country to solve the problem, and given the massive challenges the country faces with climate change, health care, infrastructure and foreign wars, this really isn’t even a problem at all, even as it exists.
But we can offer those who live here work permits and work visas that allow them to live legally in the U.S. — under any conditions we choose. They must pay taxes, penalties, document their lives, anything we insist on. If they are convicted of felony crimes, they lose their visa. In order to work in the U.S., you must prove citizenship or visa status. If you are caught hiring someone without credentials, you pay a serious fine.
It’s about jobs. It’s not hard. It’s not unfair. And it’s not impractical. It’s comprehensive immigration reform that continues America’s lauded open-arms policy, a policy that made it possible for almost everyone in the country to call it home, other than the Native Americans who lived here before anyone else.
But first, Aurora, and all of Colorado, must stand firm against the Trump administration’s misguided demands to use civilian police as immigration agents. It’s dangerous and ineffective. And second, we must push Colorado’s congressional representatives into helping us fight for what’s right and what makes sense: comprehensive immigration reform.