Immigration is once again centrepiece of the American media and mainstream consciousness. Immigration is truly global trend, in which the United States plays an important role; its policies impacting individuals far beyond it's borders.
Around 175 million people currently reside in a country other than where they were born - the number of migrants in the world has more than doubled since 1975, according to findings from International Migration 2002, issued by the United Nations Population Division. What the United Nations study confirms is that immigration is fuelled by economic and freedom gaps among populations of the world. Case in point, almost one of every 10 people living in developed regions is a migrant; in contrast, nearly one of every 70 persons in developing countries is a migrant. A direct impact of migration is the growth of remittances from migrant workers. According to the World Bank remittances from migrant workers in 2004 were estimated at USD $182 billion globally. The United States (USD $28.5 billion), Saudi Arabia (USD $15.1 billion) and Germany (USD $8.2 billion) are the top three host remittance nations. In 2003, Mexico received nearly $13.3 billion in workers’ remittances, an amount equivalent to about 140 percent of foreign direct investment and 71 percent of oil exports. For certain countries remittances account for a substantial proportion of gross domestic product - including Tonga (31%), Moldova (27.1%), Lesotho (25.8%), Haiti (24.8%), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (22.5%). Without a doubt, migration serves a powerful force for the redistribution of wealth throughout different regions of the world, helping curve poverty.
When examining the subject of immigration in the United States it is important to make the distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration. Furthermore, it is important to distinguish between the legislation and management of immigration - the last has proved challenging for several US presidents including the Clinton and Bush administrations. Lastly it is important to remember illegal immigration is big, big business.
The overhaul of immigration legislation in the United States occurred in early 2003, with the end of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) which served as the main body for the management and enforcement of immigration since 1933. The INS had become inefficient and fragment well before the tragic events of 9/11. The latest attempt to overhaul immigration legislation comes in the form of H.R. 4437 (Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005). H.R. 4437 was approved by the House of Representatives in December 16th, 2005 (by a vote of 239 to 182) along clear party lines - 92% of Republicans supporting the bill and 82% of Democrats opposing H.R. 4437. Adding to the immigration legislative agenda, on March 27, 2006 the Senate Judiciary Committee passed bill S 3193 which modifies certain elements of H.R. 4437 incorporating a "guest worker program". The "guest worker program" which is greatly favoured by George W. Bush could potentially open the possibility of full amnesty as well as permanent residence for over 10 million illegal immigrants in the United States. The program would provide 400,000 three year temporary work visas; with employers required to pay a fee and attest that the positions for which it is hiring meet a long list of requirements.
The adoption of new immigration legislation is long overdue. The key question and challenge is if this new legislation can be applied in an equitable manner, balancing the needs of citizens, legal immigrants and illegal immigrants. A close review of H.R. 4437 and S 3193 raises questions on two policies - border control and legal enforcement.
On border control H.R. 4437 calls for the various measures including: 1) the building of 700 mile security wall between Mexico and the United States, 2) an increase in Border Patrol Agents to 2,000 per year. Interestingly enough the call for the construction of a security wall in the United States, was swiftly pursued by several other nations including Saudi Arabia. Last month Saudi Arabia opened bids for the construction of 900km (560mile) desert border with Iraq. Saudi Arabia is mainly concerned with the radicalisation of the Shai minority which is concentrated in the oil-producing eastern region of Iraq. Evidently, the Saudi government like that of Israel believes the militarization of its borders will not further contribute to the radicalization of certain ethnic groups....The cost of building the 700 mile security fence would carry a staggering cost of at a cost of at least $2.2 billion as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year. Supporters of the project (when examining the issue from a pure cost perspective) argue that $134.5 billion have been spent so far in the occupation of Iraq - making the investment in national security an easy one to justify.
On legal enforcement H.R. 4437 calls for transforming into a felony with jail terms what until now has been a civil violation for unauthorised presence in the United States subject to fines and deportation. The problem with the current version of the bill is that it makes little or no distinction between illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. For example, individuals fleeing persecution and victims of human trafficking entering the United States will face prosecution, limiting their re-entry and receiving relief or protection once their claims for asylum have been verified. It is imperative the needs of genuine asylum seekers and those fleeing prosecution are taken in consideration by a country that was not only founded by those escaping religious prosecution, but by a country that strives to uphold the beliefs of freedom and prosperity for all.
Furthermore, H.R. 4437 does not go far enough at penalising those who actively employ illegal immigrants (creating a vacuum between individual and institutional enforcement). Last year Walmart (which reported sales of $288.19 billion in 2005) agreed to pay $11 million to settle federal allegations it used illegal immigrants to clean its stores mainly through subcontracting companies. Why where Walmart executives and other members of large companies, supporting illegal immigrants for profit, not subject to individual legal prosecution beyond a simple financial settlement? Interestingly enough, the bill imposes penalties upon any person assisting others through a Church or a social service organization (up to five years in prison and seizure of assets). Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, released a statement in response to this policy contained within H.R. 4437 - "It is staggering for the federal government to stifle our spiritual and pastoral outreach to the poor, and to impose penalties for doing what our faith demands of us". Unfortunately the issue has been already politicised from both ends - Los Angeles is the largest US diocese with five million Catholics mostly from Mexican and Latin descent, providing the Church with a strong political base and funding from the Vatican.
Illegal immigration and the enforcement of an equitable immigration law is clouted by the fact illegal immigration is big, big business. In May 2004 the House International Relations Committee narrowly approved a resolution requiring that any amnesty deal for Mexican "illegal aliens" in the United States be linked to an opening of Mexico's state-controlled oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex has been a state company in Mexico since 1933). Mexico is currently the largest importer of crude oil into the United States, providing 1.774 million barrels per day based on data released by the Energy Information Administration. Given energy supply is regarded as a matter of national security by the US government, we can expect US officials to continue pressuring and bargaining with Mexico to reach an "amnesty for oil" agreement.
Not widely publicized in the fact that each year, the U.S. Social Security Administration maintains roughly $6 billion to $7 billion of Social Security contributions in an "earnings suspense file" -- an account for W-2 tax forms that cannot be matched to the correct Social Security number. The vast majority of these numbers are attributable to undocumented workers who will never claim their benefits (supporting source: Standard & Poors Econ 101 on Illegal Immigrants). Those funds could be redirected to state governments to fill in gaps for the education of citizens and migrants.
Banking institutions continue to profit greatly from illegal immigration. For example, Wells Fargo opened more than 400,000 new accounts for Mexican immigrants, using the Matricula Consular card, averaging 22,000 new accounts per month, featuring several high fee services such as remittance services. Money transfer giants such as Western Union continue to benefit from the flow of remittance payments, charging commissions of between 5% to 10% for the sending money. For Q4 2005, Western Union reported a 14% increase in money transfer revenue totalling over USD $1 billion for the quarter, and an increase in operating profit of 23% to USD $351 million (achieving a staggering margin of 35%). Host nations such as Mexico do also profit from illegal immigration in the United States from remittance contributions entering their economy.
It is clear the United States requires an equitable immigration policy that not considers not only the impact on its own borders and people, but on the rest of the world. It is to easy to answer and posture the debate of illegal immigration with crime. It is like trying to solve the drug problem by not addressing the human element of addiction. No nation, including the United States can solve the problem of illegal immigration of its own, it requires multiple partners - however this would mean a collaborative approach from US and international legislators. Preventing illegal immigration may prove difficult for any administration, however each administration should strive to have an open debate and put special interests aside - unfortunately this last matter of Dark Matter Politics is what might prove impossible.
Much is at stake, as the social adventure of the United States is no longer about conquering nature or establishing ideological supremacy, but finding an equitable way of managing migratory people.
immigration, H.R. 4437, united nations, world bank, Saudi Arabia, remittances, poverty, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Border Protection, guest worker program, Walmart, illegal aliens, Dark Matter