Are Americans Ignoring the Immigration Issues We Need to Talk About?

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The issue of immigration reform is one that’s become big in the media spotlight by way of a couple major events and actions. The flight of over 60,000 underage undocumented immigrants into the United States last year drew national attention and sparked protests, both in favor of humanitarian efforts and in opposition to the mass influx. Congress’s inability to find bipartisan support for reform has been a target on its back for both parties in the last few years. Then Obama’s executive action for DREAMers and deferred action candidates sparked a whole new controversy, quickly followed by the lawsuit out of Congress, which has taken on a narrative of its own very much unrelated to immigration or amnesty.

But so much of the immigration system that needs reform so badly falls through the media cracks in favor of more clickable, more controversial, and more Congressional content. On the one hand it makes sense. What needs to be done hardly matters if the people in charge of doing it fail to act, or if the actions taken are only temporary or disagreed with, as is the case with Obama’s activity. Legislative reform is needed for a reason. Presidents leave office, and when they do, their actions become less than secure — something the president himself has recognized, “Only Congress can finish the job.”

But what areas and subject matter are falling by the wayside in light of these more politically flashy news points?

Push and pull factors

There are a number of things that politicians need to be considering, even on a case by case, bill by small bill basis. One is push and pull factors (i.e., factors that encourage or discourage illegal immigrants entering the United States). Push factors include everything from gang violence and recruitment, to poverty and economic weakness. Pull factors include jobs, family ties, and the chance to escape dangers from within one’s home, country, or family. By directly addressing these, countries like the United States can be far more effective in mitigating illegal immigration than they would be by solely focusing on border patrol and a wall.

But how is that money monitored?

While Obama has, to an extent, put resources toward these things in the past, this funding for increased efforts on crime and economic improvement in nations supplying many of America’s undocumented population is an imperfect effort. For one thing, they clearly aren’t enough, and more importantly, they lack the organization and accountability that foreign governments may need in order for that monetary investment to have a favorable outcome.

Just because money is donated in a small amount to Mexico or Central America does not mean that that money is going where it was intended. Corruption is a major problem, and the United States could do considerably more good if it helped the local government to monitor and control these efforts — as we see with SIGAR in Afghanistan. Perhaps not on that scale, and only with cooperation from foreign governments, but the argument is valid considering how close to home the criminal and economic problems of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras can be for the United States.

Regulation at home

Then there are the immigration issues being ignored here at home. Ross Eisenbrey, the Vice President of the Economic Policy Institute, pointed out one strong example. The U.S. needs regulation internally as bad as other countries, and we fail to keep companies and employment programs in check constantly.

One example is given by Eisenbrey with the case of Southern California Edison (SCE), which he argues is abusing its H-1B temporary foreign guest-workers program in order to fire hundreds of its employees and replace them with workers based out of India. He states that companies are legally not allowed to act as SCE has because it “adversely affect[s] the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers comparably employed.”

Both parties have had some strong ideas in the past, but they require more careful bipartisan agreement and implementation. President Obama acknowledges the cruelty and fiscal irresponsibility of trying to track and deport an already present, entrenched, and perfectly taxable group of families that could be a more positive economic force if allowed to come out of the shadows. Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) have talked about the need to control pull factors by preventing the hire of illegal workers here at home, something that the recession has shown could be effective. When employment opportunities drooped during the recession, so did illegal immigration.

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