Notes by Sally Hollemon
Three panelists each discussed one part of this topic at the well-attended meeting on December 5, 2007, at the Salem Library.
Professor James Nafziger, Professor of International Law from Willamette University College of Law, said that most migrants leave their countries for work, education, family, curiosity, or to escape war. He reminded us that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants and that many came undocumented, including the first ones from Europe. He added that about every ten years people in the U.S. get upset about immigration, so the current controversy is not new. Between periods of anti-immigration sentiment, most Americans are supportive of immigration; a poll in 2006 showed 78% favor a path to citizenship for immigrants.
The U.S. government didn’t regulate immigration until the 1870s when Congress passed laws against immigration by prostitutes, criminals, lunatics, and those who would be a security threat. Later, Chinese and Japanese people were added to that list after the nation no longer needed their labor to build railroads or to work in mining. In 1921 and 1924 Congress established quotas based on where immigrants came from; the largest quotas were for northern European nations.
Refugees: In 1951 the U.S. signed the Convention on the Status of Refugees; treaties are law under the U.S. Constitution. There are two categories of refugees. (1) Oversees refugees are lodged in camps under U.N. supervision. Very few are admitted to the U.S. The brunt of mass migration due to war falls on poor nations who have borders with the nation whose citizens are fleeing war. (2) Asylum seekers are people with a well-founded fear of persecution for various discriminatory reasons, such as political opinion; economic reasons are not included. Asylum seekers are few in comparison to the total number of refugees.
Since its establishment in 2003, the Department of Homeland Security has responsibility for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Other departments with immigration responsibilities are State for visas, Labor for prospective immigrant employment, and Human Services for health requirements for immigrants. States cannot interfere with federal powers over immigration when there is federal law regarding the issue even if state law would strengthen federal law.
The U.S. relies on classification of immigrants before they come here; certain classifications have preference, such as family reunification. Canada and Australia have pre-admission controls, too, but they have point systems that give points for education, skills, family, etc.; so several values are considered rather than just one as in the U.S. The immigration bill before Congress that failed last year included a point system.
The U.S. does not have national ID cards as other nations do, so we have to rely on birth certificates, Social Security cards, and similar identification, which can be forged. Further, the U.S. does not track visas to know whether people have left the country when their visas expire; although Congress mandated this some years ago, tracking visas is expensive and difficult.
Immigrants: There are two groups of immigrants:
Non-immigrants are admitted for business, pleasure, temporary work, or education. 30 million non-immigrants entered the U.S. last year. Many of them must receive visas to enter the country. Guest-worker programs, such as the bracero program for agricultural workers during World War II failed to protect the workers as the law required, and many of the workers did not return home as the law also required. Current guest-worker law invites violation because the law limits agricultural workers to 14,000 per year, far fewer than the jobs available, and the cost and red tape for employers is not worth the effort when undocumented workers are available.
Immigrants who are not “non-immigrants” are permanent residents (such as “green-card” holders) and are eligible to become citizens. There are several categories for admittance as an immigrant: Family-based (with 480,000 slots available each year), employment-based for unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled, and highly skilled workers (with 140,000 slots per year), refugees (who are technically admitted only so long as the threat of persecution in their home counties lasts, but most refugees stay in the U.S.), and diversity immigrants admitted to correct imbalances as a result of earlier quotas.
There are huge backlogs due to more demand by potential immigrants than there are annual slots available, so some people could potentially wait for 20-25 years for admittance.
It is estimated that there are 10-12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. This is the same number that was estimated thirty years ago.
About half of the undocumented immigrants came to the U.S. legally and overstayed their visas. As crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has become more difficult, more undocumented immigrants who came here to work stay here rather than going back to Mexico for part of the year.
Undocumented immigrants are spread throughout the nation more than used to be the case. For example, since American citizens dislike unpleasant jobs, such as killing and processing chickens, immigrants have moved to the Midwest to do those jobs.
Attempts at enforcement have not worked well. Raids on employers don’t work for a variety of reasons. Border controls such as walls, for example, don’t work since tunnels can be built under them. National Guard patrols are more effective.
Prof. Nafziger said that immigrants don’t take jobs from citizens as long as work-force protections are enforced. Instead, immigrant workers usually complement rather than compete with citizen workers by doing the unpleasant or unskilled work, which frees citizen workers to do higher skill work. An example often given is the child-care work provided by immigrants frees mothers for paid employment. There is no correlation between undocumented workers and terrorism in spite of the fear stirred up by some broadcast personalities.
Brena Lopez, staff attorney for Marion/Polk Legal Aid Services of Oregon, said that she is not an immigrant but is married to one. Many immigrants live in extended families with mixed status; her family is an example.
All immigrants regardless of legal status are eligible for free education. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children of undocumented immigrants have little control over their parents’ decision to come to the U.S. and that to deny the children an education could create sub-classes of young people who could become criminals.
The webside http://www.NILC.org lists public benefits and specifics of which immigrants are eligible for each benefit. As a general rule, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal benefits except in medical emergencies including childbirth. Legal Aid cannot help undocumented immigrants except for domestic violence cases.
Oregon’s governor recently issued an order that applicants for an Oregon driver’s license (including a renewal) must supply a valid Social Security number (which will be checked). New applicants must supply a valid U.S. birth certificate or U.S. passport.
Recommentations: (1) Immigrants recognize the value of learning English, but there is a shortage of classes available, so there are opportunities for volunteers to teach English as a Second Language through Oregon Community Projects or Chemeketa Community College. (2) Get acquainted with people who are immigrants and hear their stories. You’ll discover that they have the same hopes and dreams as do the rest of us.
Dick Hughes, Statesman Journal Editorial Page Editor, said that journalists, especially non-print journalists, have failed to give context to the issues surrounding immigration; some of them have deliberately stirred up controversy so that they will have listeners/viewers. In addition, interest groups depend on controversy to raise money.
Information intended to stir up controversy is often incomplete or even untrue, and it’s important to get facts before forming an opinion. His suggestions for how to break the cycle of misinformation:
·Be skeptical (not cynical) in looking at news coverage.
·Don’t take anything for granted; work to disprove your own theory.
·Be cautious of statistics, especially if you agree with them.
·Go to original sources (government reports and academic articles that include documentation). The Arizona Republic newspaper covers immigration from all angles and is an excellent source of information. Be aware that “common knowledge” can be wrong, however. The website http://www.SNOPES.com debunks urban myths.
·Be wary of pitchmen, people who stir up controversy as infotainment.
·Be way of labels. Immigration is a complex issue, so pro-immigration and con-immigration statements are oversimplifications.
·Look for common understanding. Listen to various points of view, learn from each other, and find the areas of agreement.
Mr. Hughes invited the audience to check out the discussion of immigration on the newspaper’s web log (which he supervises) at http://www.statesmanjournal.com/immigrationblog.
Americans should learn from other countries. For example, the point system for potential immigrants works well in Canada since it takes a variety of factors into consideration. A point system was included as part of the comprehensive immigration bill before Congress last year, but it wasn’t explained to citizens. Public education on immigration issues is needed.