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Illegal immigration solution must focus on costs

By Rachel Alexander
web posted September 19, 2005

Illegal immigration is perhaps the biggest issue facing the Southwest today.  To address this problem, on Nov. 3-5, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office is putting on the Southwest Conference on Border Security, Illegal Immigration, and Crime to discuss the impact of illegal immigration and to propose solutions.  The conference  will feature many well-known experts and commentators representing a wide spectrum of viewpoints, including Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, Stephen Moore and John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, John Leo of U.S. News & World Report, Sheriff Larry Deaver of Cochise County, Arizona, and many others that you will recognize.  The conference is open to all, and promises to be one of the largest and most serious conferences on illegal immigration, you won't want to miss it.  For more information and to register, go to http://immigrationconference.com

Illegal immigration is rapidly becoming one of the biggest problems in society today. Former President Clinton stated that "our borders leak like a sieve." A workable solution has proven elusive because the problem lies not so much with the addition of sheer numbers to the U.S. population, but rather with the disproportionate increase in costs to society illegal immigrants bring along. Yet the main focus of resolving the problem has been on border control, making it difficult to distinguish the two. This results in the assumption that concerns about illegal immigration stem from a desire to keep immigrants out.

This is not accurate, since U.S. law permits a significant number of legal immigrants into the country each year; approximately 480,000 family-based immigrants and 140,000 employment-based immigrants, as well as around 80,000 refugees and 20,000 immigrants seeking asylum, who may then apply to become legal permanent residents.

Unfortunately, the problem of illegal immigration is at a stalemate, since a large portion of society, led by those on the left, is reluctant to address the costs posed by illegal immigration. As the U.S. developed into a welfare state, poor illegal immigrants increasingly used a larger percentage of taxpayer dollars through reliance on government programs and use of other government resources, such as law enforcement and deportation. Further, since many U.S. employers illegally hire these workers at substandard wages, they avoid collecting social security taxes from them in order to hide their existence. This results in less taxes paid by illegal immigrants for the government services they disproportionately use. Current U.S. immigration policy reflects the reality that U.S. government handouts are too easy to obtain, and so only 5,000 of 140,000 employment-based visas per year are granted to unskilled workers.

This dilemma is troubling in terms of the history of our country, which had virtually no restrictions on immigration (although resident minorities have been treated as second class citizens and slaves) until 1882, when the Asian Exclusion Acts barred Asian immigrants from citizenship or ownership of property. The Statue of Liberty, which historically greeted poor immigrants coming into New York Harbor, has the poem "The Great Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, imprinted on it, which contains the famous words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free." Before FDR's New Deal established the welfare state, immigrants came to the U.S. knowing they would have to work hard in order to provide for themselves. Although there were private charitable organizations, those organizations could attach whatever restrictions they wanted to their aid, such as requiring the recipient to perform charitable work or attend church in exchange for room and board.

But since the onset of government welfare programs in the twentieth century, the number of programs and their size has gradually increased, disproportionately relative to other government spending, taking up a bigger chunk of the average taxpayer's income. In 1900, the government spent $10 billion on social welfare programs, by 1988 it was spending $980 billion. Those programs made up 12 percent of the federal budget in 1940, and increased to almost 40 percent of the budget today. Spending on welfare programs alone rose from $1.3 billion in 1940 to $18 billion in 1992, an increase from half a million welfare recipients to 13 million. There are still over 5 million people receiving welfare benefits today. The average taxpayer now pays in taxes one out of every three dollars earned. Whereas in 1940, only one out of every eight dollars earned went to taxes.

Paralleling the increase in social welfare spending has been an increase in illegal immigrants. Each year the population increases by approximately 485,000 illegal immigrants – although this number is disputed, with the Census Bureau placing it at around 250,000 and the Federation for Immigration Reform placing it closer to 1 million. The total number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is estimated somewhere between 11 and 20 million, 500,000 of which live in Arizona. Almost one-third of immigrants entering the country in the 1990's were illegal.

It is all too apparent where the real problem lies - the focus needs to shift from primarily border control to reducing taxpayer funded social programs and encouraging immigrants to avoid reliance upon the government dole. Nearly 90 percent of immigrants arrive with income and social service levels less than one-tenth of those in the U.S. A Business Week poll found that 10% of immigrants in California were on welfare, compared to 8% of California residents. The bloated U.S. welfare state cannot continue expanding. Even without the influx of illegal immigrants, the cost of citizens dependent upon U.S. social programs is escalating out of control, as evidenced by the social security predicament. At some point, proponents of social welfare programs have to admit that it is their philosophy that is turning illegal immigration into a crisis.

Rachel Alexander is the Co-Editor of IntellectualConservative.com and a Special Assistant/Deputy County Attorney for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

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