Candidates call for immigration reform

May 6, 2008 at 12:31 pm Leave a comment

Clinton, McCain, Obama

Eva Romero / Adelante staff
Volume II, Issue 3 (Crossing Borders)

Although the heated arguments and constant blows between the three remaining presidential candidates have shown the public plenty of their differences, there is one issue that both Democrat and Republican nominees can agree on: the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

With nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, the subject of illegal immigration has been one of the hottest issues in the current presidential election.

According to the National Center for Immigration Studies, illegal emigration from Mexico has been prevalent as early as the 1950s, with 1965 later becoming the year of immigration expansionism. Decades later, the rapid rise in illegal immigration is something just about everyone has an opinion about.

While some accuse illegal immigrants of stealing opportunities from legal immigrants and U.S. citizens, others applaud them for holding jobs many Americans are not willing to work. With the current construction of a 700-mile fence on the U.S./Mexico border, citizens of South Texas and Southwestern U.S., including students at the University of Texas at Brownsville, are worried that their way of life will be disrupted.

“There is a smart way to protect our borders, and there is a dumb way to protect our borders,” said Hillary Clinton at the University of Texas at Austin Democratic presidential debate in February. “UT-Brownsville will have part of its campus cut off. This is the kind of absurdity we’re getting from this administration. When [Obama and myself] voted for this, we were voting for the possibility that where it was appropriate and made sense, it would be considered.”

But efforts to curb illegal immigration have not slowed the pace of illegal immigrants coming into the country, according to a report done by the Pew Hispanic Center. Instead, such efforts are causing illegal immigrants to stay longer in the U.S. because it is more difficult to move back and forth across the border.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain have all backed comprehensive immigration reform and Guest Worker programs that will provide resident status for working aliens and their families.

“We have to stop illegal immigration, but we’ve had waves throughout our history. In Washington DC, go to the Vietnam War Memorial and look at the names engraved in black granite. You’ll find a whole lot of Hispanic names. They have enriched our culture and our nation as every generation of immigrants before them,” said McCain at a 2007 Republican debate.

For decades, the term “illegal immigrant” has conjured images of Mexicans picking fruits from trees and cleaning up hotel rooms in the minds of the American public. Indeed, a vast majority of undocumented workers hold jobs in low-skill, low-wage positions, with more than half working in construction, manufacturing or hospitality. Most of these jobs pay the minimum wage or less, giving the average illegal immigrant a yearly income of no more than $18,000.

Many Americans can’t understand why illegal immigrants are willing to risk their safety and freedom in order to work menial jobs. The answer, to seek opportunity for themselves and their families, is often repeated, but just how well do we understand it?

According to a 1996 World Bank report, at least one-fourth of Mexicans earn around $1 to $2 dollars per day, with many earning less. The average annual income is around USD $2,000, however, the poorest 40% of the population receive only $550 annually.

“Income varies widely in different economic zones of Mexico, and while not every Mexican worker is desperately poor, it is often the poor and determined ones that make their way to the U.S.,” said Jorge Borjas, a government and professor at Harvard university and author of several books concerning illegal immigration.

In Borjas’ book “Friends or Strangers: The Impact of Immigrants on the U.S. Economy,” he argues that while Americans benefit from lower prices for meals, produce and construction, illegal immigrants are viewed as more of a drain to government.

Regardless of the benefits and consequences behind illegal immigration, the ill treatment of aliens, such as Operation Endgame which plans to detain and deport all aliens living in the U.S. by 2012, remains a big issue in the upcoming presidential election. Legal and illegal Mexican immigrants, along with American citizens, are likely to experience the effects of the plan, whether it is through the $94 billion needed to fund it, mass deportations of undocumented workers and their families, or discrimination of legal Mexicans living in the U.S.

Now it seems that comprehensive immigration reform will soon become a reality regardless of which candidate gets elected. John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have all expressed a need for border patrol increases and detention capacity for illegal aliens apprehended while crossing the border.

“We need stronger enforcement on the border and at the workplace,” said Barack Obama. “But for reform to work, we also must respond to what pulls people to America… where we can reunite families, we should. Where we can bring in more foreign-born workers with the skills our economy needs, we should.”

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Entry filed under: Crossing Borders 2008. Tags: , , , , , , .

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