The recent political climate has created a distasteful trend of hostility toward immigrants. Even as 2016 ended with a booming economy of record-low unemployment and high employment-to-population ratio, dishonest politicians sold the American people a narrative of unbelievably-high unemployment, a failing economy, and collapsed industry all across America. They created an undercurrent of xenophobia and American imperialism by blaming trade and, especially, immigrant labor for the alternate history they pushed.
We must reclaim American compassion and restore our humanity with immigration policies focused on inclusion, on bringing the people already here into our great nation and acknowledging their part in our communities.
New immigrants quickly integrate with our economy: after scant months, our labor force adjusts to moderate labor excesses, changing the rate of retirement, grad school attendance, and transition from college to the workforce. Existing immigrant labor—those who have been here for just a short time—quickly loses its impact on the unemployment rate. Compounding this, two-thirds of unauthorized resident immigrants are visa overstays—people for whom the economy has already incorporated, rather than new immigrants competing for available jobs. Finally, the total number of unauthorized immigrants has fallen—only slightly—since its peak at 2009.
Together, this means Americans can retain our human compassion without threatening our own economic interests. Controlling our borders remains an economic imperative; and we can take a more human approach to discovering, managing, and integrating the undocumented worker labor force.
The contention between the Federal immigration services and various sanctuary cities and states has created a losing situation for both Americans and undocumented immigrants. To avoid inhumane treatment and deportation of immigrants arrested for committing crimes, cities release sometimes dangerous individuals back into our communities almost immediately. This increases American distrust for immigrants—documented and undocumented—and places our communities at risk.
To provide state and local governments greater autonomy and pursue a more-humane prison system, Congress must pass legislation allowing state and local governments to retain jurisdiction over undocumented immigrants whom they arrest, so long as those immigrants are properly detained, trialed, and housed in jails and prisons implementing more-humane restorative justice practices to rehabilitate their inmates. This creates incentive for states such as Maryland to improve our criminal justice system in the same manner as states such as North Dakota.
Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals
Current laws authorize the President great freedom in his approach to immigration. Democratic President Barack Obama created the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, based on the DREAM Act which failed to pass in 2007—a law favored by Republican President George W. Bush, a vocal supporter of immigrant amnesty programs.
Unfortunately, Republican President Donald Trump issued an executive order to end the DACA program as part of his xenophobic rhetoric, despite his Republican and Democratic predecessors both supporting such a program.
Congress must act to take the DACA program out of Presidential authority, instead mandating the framework of the program by law and allowing the President to extend from that baseline at his discretion. Such a law should not specify what conditions must be met to qualify for the DACA program, but rather that no individual shall be denied such benefits of the program should they meet those conditions set in the new Act—allowing administrative discretion to extend such benefits further.
A Path to Citizenship for Current Unauthorized Resident Immigrants
We must find a path to amnesty, identification, documentation, taxation, and finally citizenship for those unauthorized resident immigrants already with us. Many such individuals are skilled workers and military veterans. We must address their status without uprooting their lives and sending them to poverty in a land which affords them no opportunities or, worse, to their deaths in a land without humanitarian values or modern human rights protections.
The number of unauthorized immigrants has been essentially flat since 2009. Illegal immigration presents no practical threat to our economy except that of a loss of tax revenue. Our greatest imperative is the identification, documentation, and integration of these individuals into our society, and the humane deterrent of excessive illegal border crossings.