Editorial: We need immigration law grounded in reality
We — the Post Independent, Garfield County, Colorado and the nation — are not done talking and even arguing about immigration.
It’s a healthy and necessary conversation.
Last week’s editorial, “We stand in support of immigrants,” generated vigorous, mostly civil discussion among our readers, who shared the English and Spanish versions more than 1,500 times on Facebook.
This is good, because Congress, which has become accomplished at not addressing critical issues such as the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, mass killings and even the budget and successful small programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, has put immigration reform on the shelf in favor of strident political polarization.
This is despite the fact that a majority of Americans want to fix an immigration system widely seen as broken. According to Gallup and Pew polls this summer, more than two-thirds of Americans believe that people in the country improperly now should be allowed to stay for work and/or to become citizens.
Following Barack Obama’s re-election, the Republican National Committee did deep naval-gazing to determine what went wrong. Among its conclusions: “We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”
And yet conservative zealots blocked efforts to bring reform forward, and today Donald Trump has polluted our political discourse with preposterous calls to deport the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. He even said last week that, in the nightmarish world in which he imagines being president, he would deport Syrian refugees the United States might take in.
We believe that instead of being cowed by extremists on immigration (and other issues) the United States should pursue policy grounded in reality that would live up to its purported values as a beacon of human hope and decency.
But the extremists have given currency to the frightening idea of rounding up and deporting 11 million human beings from children to the elderly, many of whom have only scant ties to their native lands and some of whom would face persecution and death if they returned.
This would be an epic humanitarian disaster.
Right now, about half a million refugees from Syria, Kosovo, Afghanistan and other countries have created a crisis for European countries that have strong infrastructure. Imagine millions of people being sent mostly to Latin American countries that struggle with criminal gangs and poverty.
Forbes notes that Trump’s “18-month to two-year time frame would mean between 458,000 and 611,000 deportations per month. In all of 2013, the Obama administration deported a record of 438,000 immigrants.”
Much is uncertain about this mean-spirited plan, but we can be sure that it would lead to thousands of deaths, impoverishment, hunger and anger that foments deep resentment and perhaps new terrorist enemies.
This simply is not a way for a civilized nation to conduct itself in the world.
The idea also is fiscally irresponsible. Even if you can look in your heart and conscience and be so cruel, casting out immigrants who are here illegally would plunge the United States, and with it the world, into recession.
A 2015 study by the American Action Forum, a conservative pro-immigration group, found that “the federal government would have to spend roughly $400 billion to $600 billion to address the 11.2 million undocumented immigrants and prevent future unlawful entry into the United States.”
The report estimated the mass deportation would cause real gross domestic product to drop 5.7 percent — compared with 4.3 percent during the Great Recession.
We can’t afford that by any measure.
Letting an extremist minority block responsible reform emboldens the fringe.
Their fiction-based rhetoric perpetuates myths that people here illegally routinely get free benefits. The reality is that they contribute far more to the government in payroll taxes and Social Security than they will ever get back.
The anti-immigration zealots’ irresponsible position, in turn, fuels supposition among the hateful and fearful that anyone who doesn’t look like them might be here illegally.
That is a false assumption — about three-fourths of the U.S. population not born here is in the country legally, and many more people who might look like “foreigners” are native-born citizens or have permanent resident status.
In Garfield County, many of our neighbors are Latino, including roughly half of the children in our schools.
These families, as a group, have values no different than those of white residents, as a group. They work hard, they are people of faith, they start businesses, they hope for better lives for their children.
We deprive ourselves of their perspective and community engagement if we continue our failure to reach out. We don’t need Congress to act in order to do this to enrich our communities.
We’ll say this again: We stand with immigrants. Proudly.
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