The Ambivalent Elephant in the Room

Gang of Eight

Senator Marco Rubio speaking at a press conference on Capitol Hill with his Senate colleagues outlining his ideas for an immigration overhaul
Picture Courtesy of Desecret News

Danny Zeng | May 9, 2013

Many on the Right have come out in full force against Sen. Marco Rubio’s courageous effort to reform the current immigration system. Although there are legitimate arguments to be made against “amnesty,” economic and social, some rhetoric are nonetheless blown out of proportion. Smart people on very short attention span seem to forget just how bad the current immigration system is for lawful and unlawful immigrants. As it stands now, we don’t even know who’re in our country! Not to mention an unsecure border that let’s in criminals and narcotics, a legal system that deprives many of economic and social mobility, and a conscious polarization of our society between citizens and the foreign-born. Many immigrants have been active in their communities, working and living in the U.S. for many years, paying taxes, raising a family, and saving up for college. Even the most ardent exclusionists can appreciate the powerful motive of human beings’ innate desire for a better life. Immigration is plagued by systemic problems, so naturally it requires systemic solutions. Sen. Rubio and others have started this conversation. Let’s finish it and act in good faith to make our immigration system work for those who are currently in the country and many more highly skilled workers and entrepreneurs who thirst to benefit from our capitalist enterprise and to achieve their American Dream.

The current Senate bill, first and foremost, focuses on securing the border. It asks the Department for Homeland Security to come up with a border security plan that will be conditioned as a triggering mechanism for providing undocumented a provisional status. The path to citizenship is at least 13 years. Currently, undocumented immigrants will have to pay back fines and taxes. The bill cuts down chain migration by eliminating adult siblings and children from the preference system. It also boosts the number of allowance for skilled immigrants and provides uncapped access to foreign entrepreneurs. This shift from family-centric to skill-based immigration regime is monumental. It will contribute to America’s competitiveness in an increasingly globalized economy. 

On Monday, Heritage released its heavily criticized study that concludes that “If amnesty is enacted, the average adult unlawful immigrant would receive $592,000 more in government benefits over the course of his remaining lifetime than he would pay in taxes.” Unfortunately, by only examining taxes and welfare, Heritage fails to consider positive economic contributions from provisions embedded in the reform bill, such as opening up our system more to high-skilled workers. The Heritage study counts retirement benefits that are decades away without even acknowledging the possibility of entitlement reforms in the near future. The government predicates that Social Security will dry up by 2036, at which time benefits will either be curtailed, people will shore up by paying more taxes, or government defaults on its obligations to its citizens. Entitlements will be reformed sooner or later as a matter of necessity. Thus, projecting the current welfare spending level outward into the future is misleading.

The study has also been criticized by leading free-market experts from the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute for its misleading figures that fail to take into account the dynamism in our economy. Daniel Foster, who writes for National Review Online, argues that the Heritage study, if anything, is a strong case to roll back the welfare state. Cato condbucted a study a few years back that concludes that comprehensive immigration reform will have a net positive $1.5 trillion contribution to our economy, as real wages tend to go up for unlawful immigrants who come out of the shadow, yielding higher consumption and more government revenues.

The immigration bill is also found by the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration to have a “substantial positive effect” on the economy by shoring up entitlements. According to the Social Security Administration, the bill would add more than $275 billion in revenue to Social Security and Medicare, increase the gross domestic product by 1.63 percent and add more than 3 million jobs over the next decade” (May 8, 2013 Bloomberg)

Instead of a coordinated campaign of shooting ourselves in the foot, let’s shore up our nation’s broken immigration system by actually leading on the issue. Ignore the fringe noise of exclusionists. GOP leaders should be vocal in support of reform. There are those who advocate for incrementalism in reforming immigration. Democrats and their union stooges will never opt for that route, so realistically incremental reform will get us nowhere, if not worse than status quo. Comprehensive reform is the only politically viable way forward. The defeatists within the Party would suggest that the 11 million undocumented would necessarily vote Democrat in decades to come. That is synonymous to waving white flag and admits defeat without even putting on a fight.  If our party cannot figure out dynamic ways to engage our fellow Americans with an optimistic vision and sound public policies, then our party will be swept into the dustbin of history. The GOP House will have sufficient political sway to ensure whatever safeguards deemed necessary to strengthen border security and enforcement provisions. The Republicans have the upper hand in this negotiation. Let’s not squander the opportunity to lead on an issue that will create a safer and stronger United States of America for the 21st century.

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About Danny Zeng

College student, political junkie, I like to read, and I like to learn

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