Taller fences and tougher border enforcement: that’s been the U.S. government’s approach to immigration policy for the past several years. It’s an odd stance for the government of a country built by immigrants—and made great by them—to adopt. Especially when a majority in the United States, thousand of people protesting last week, and even President Bush think it’s the wrong approach.
We need fair and comprehensive immigration reform that will focus less on fence-building and more on what’s best for our national security, our workers and economy, and our national integrity. Congress should adopt a progressive way forward on immigration reform that will marry smart border and workplace enforcement with earned legalization and meaningful worker protections.
Here’s a by-the-numbers look at immigration in the United States and why reform must be fair and comprehensive.
The newest additions to an immigrant nation
59: Percentage of Americans who think that undocumented immigrants who have been in America for several years should gain legal working status and the possibility of citizenship in the future, according to a March 2007 Gallup poll
35.7 million: Number of foreign-born people in the United States as of 2005, including 12.8 million naturalized citizens, 11.8 million legal permanent residents, and 11.1 million unauthorized migrants
Enforcement implemented alone is costly and ineffective
1,954: Length, in miles, of the U.S.-Mexico border
700: Length, in miles, of a proposed fence along the U.S.-Mexico border
$2 billion: Amount the fence would cost to construct
70: Percentage of national security experts who agreed in a survey that the best way to improve security at international borders is to improve the visibility of the flow of people and cargo through ports of entry
6: Percentage of national security experts who identified building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border as the best way to improve security at our international borders
3: Factor by which the size of the U.S. Border Patrol along the southern border grew between 1990 and 2005
2: Factor by which the population of undocumented immigrants grew between 1990 and 2005
3: Factor by which the death rate of border crossings increased between 1990 and 2005
$300: Cost to apprehend one person attempting to cost the border, in 1992
$1,700: Cost to apprehend one person attempting to cost the border, in 2002
$206 billion: Estimated minimum cost of a mass deportation effort, over five years (or
$41.2 billion per year)
$34.2 billion: Entire budget of the Department of Homeland Security for fiscal year 2006
Contributing to the economy, joining American society
7.2 million: Number of undocumented immigrants who work (out of 11.1 million, that’s nearly a full two-thirds)
4.9: Percentage of the civilian labor force unauthorized immigrants represent
0: Relationship found between rates of economic growth, the absolute size of the pool of foreign-born workers, or job prospects for native-born workers during the economic boom of the 1990s, the recession that followed, and the subsequent recovery
$7 billion: Estimated amount undocumented workers contribute per year to the Social Security Trust Fund through payroll taxes paid on Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers and fraudulent Social Security numbers
2.5 million: Shortfall of low-skill workers that would result if undocumented immigrants were removed from the labor force
65: Percentage of Americans who think immigrants take jobs that Americans don’t want, according to a Pew Hispanic research survey
24: Percentage of Americans who think immigrants take jobs away from American citizens
81: Percentage of Americans who say they themselves or a family member have not lost a job to an immigrant worker
92: Percentage of Latinos who believe it is “very important” to teach English to the children of immigrant families
There’s a better way to approach immigration policy than our current border-enforcement-only strategy. The current strategy clearly isn’t working, and it draws our national security resources away from areas where they could be more effectively used. A smart approach to immigration policy would allow the Department of Homeland Security to refocus its energies on the real national security threats we face at our borders and provide avenues for people who have been living and working in the country for several years to legally join U.S. society. Most Americans, including President Bush, support comprehensive immigration reform. Congress should do the same.