17…and counting?

Three of our presidents—Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Barack H. Obama—have one unique thing in common. All three of these men, at one point during their tenure, passed immigration reform in favor of protecting the millions of illegal immigrants in the United States, and to be completely honest, this doesn’t make any sense—at first.

Immigration reform has been a heated topic on the political scene since the United States’ inception. It is a path one doesn’t usually choose to wander down, not if one is holding political office and wants a peaceful term. In recent years and political elections, governors and congressional members of border states, who deal with illegal immigration on a daily basis, have based a large part of their political careers on this issue. Case in point—Texas. In 2012, Governor Rick Perry of Texas was known most for one thing—decreasing illegal immigration across the border of Texas and toughening immigration laws.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Texas is one of the largest states in the nation. It’s also a border state, which means its domestic issues often crossover with federal issues, and in this case, the issue happens to be immigration reform. On December 3, 2014, Republican governor-elect and attorney general of Texas, Greg Abbott, led the lawsuit against the President’s executive action on immigration reform. Following suit, 17 states—Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—joined his effort to block the plan that the President announced.

However, one must take into account the precedents that had already been set by Republican presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., which forestalled deportation for approximately the same segment of the population that Obama’s action will impact. The act that gets most under the skin of the current Republican leaders is this: if the children of undocumented immigrants were born on U.S. soil and are thereby natural citizens of the United States, their parents do not need to be deported. The New York Times reported the number of people affected to be approximately four million, in the same ballpark as the figure the Pew Research Center sent out after the announcement. George H. W. Bush, who halted deportation for approximately 40 percent of the undocumented population in 1990, affected about the same number of people, and yet people’s reactions varied significantly. But let’s take a look at the fundamentals of the problem itself—the asset/liability to a nation that every undocumented immigrant can be.

A nation’s income relies heavily on the taxation levied on its citizens. Undocumented immigrants are the part of the population who are able to avoid levied taxes, thereby significantly reducing the net revenue of the nation while enjoying most of the social benefits it offers. For this reason, this part of the population is consistently criticized on the political scene, and they become the focus of entire campaigns.

We look at undocumented immigrants as an immediate disadvantage. Most are fleeing conditions none of us would wish on our worst enemy, but at the same time, the pragmatic individual argues that this does not give them the right to take the resources we have built as a nation. But we are not a nation of scarce resources. We are proudly the only existent superpower, the beacon of democracy and (near) free-market capitalism, and we strive for ideals that come as close to an achievable utopia as possible. Does this not leave us with the responsibility to consider a course of strategic legalization that leaves us with a net profit from productive members of the undocumented immigrant population?

We, as a nation, have politically maintained a largely non-tolerant policy towards illegal immigration. The fact of the matter is, the number of illegal immigrants grows year after year with the same policies in place. It doesn’t take much to see that there is a change in view required not only by political leaders but also by the American public. In order for policy to change, we require an educated view of the pros and cons of who is currently defined as an illegal immigrant, what they contribute to our lives, whether it’s worth continuing with a policy of intolerance towards this group of individuals, and lastly, how to optimize our profit from the situation. For example, most people don’t realize that there is a portion of undocumented immigrants who do pay taxes, which have been recorded and studied by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Simply said, policy has tried to take down the problem all at once, when a step-by-step process is what’s needed to properly address the issue.

As for the current lawsuit, let’s look at it from the political office standpoint. The president’s second and final term ends in 2016, and the coming year will see an opposition between the Democratic president and a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate. Therefore, in order for the 114th Congress to have a productive year, there will have to be  a lot of joint committee discussions and (fingers crossed) successfully passed resolutions.  It is to the benefit of the nation to work as a cohesive governing unit.

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