Resolved: Immigration reform should include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.
This is part 5 of a multi-part series of essays on the above PF Debate resolution.
For part one of this series, click here
The Con Position
The Con side of the 'path to citizenship' debate will take one or more of the following positions: 1.) there are no harms in the status quo that will be solved by a 'path to citizenship' 2.) the path to citizenship will make things worse 3.) the path to citizenship is the wrong solution. The reality is, for the majority of Americans, and this will vary by region, the fact there are people living in the U.S. who are not authorized to be here is a concern, but has zero, known impact on their personal lives. It is very disconcerting and annoying when drivers are randomly stopped on highways by the Department of Homeland Security in a "border check point" hundreds of miles from the border so, some are experiencing inconveniences over this "hub-bub" about immigration. But, it is viewed more as a humanitarian issue when people see images of families being split apart by armed federal agents, with lines of deportees being escorted to the border. Most people are sympathetic to the plight of immigrants and believe, the majority are simply seeking a better life and as long as they are willing to work and assimilate, there is no real harm. Recognizing the fact that the security of the border is very important, it is understandable why a majority of Americans favor a path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized residents currently making a living in the U.S.
This is a general idea of the perception many Con debaters will face.
On the other hand, when the unauthorized are portrayed as criminals, narcotics traffickers or potential terrorists then perception is altered and inconveniences like inland border checkpoints are a little more tolerable. When people believe unauthorized people are taking jobs from unemployed citizens or they are benefiting from government assistance, receiving free medical care and education without paying taxes or contributing back to society, citizens rise up and call for their expulsion.
Perception is everything.
This is debate. It is logical and evidence based, but it employs rhetoric which shapes perception and perception may make a difference between winning and losing to the 'citizen' judge. Enough said.
Undocumented Workers Pay Taxes
Despite a perception to the contrary, the evidence will show most undocumented workers are paying taxes. There is almost no way to avoid paying taxes in the U.S. because even if one is paid in cash, under the table, as it were, consumers can not avoid paying taxes and even undocumented workers are consumers. Of course this may sound like it favors the Pro and it kind of does but keep in mind, if taxes are important to local communities to pay for things like schools or services, the more taxes collected, the better. Now, let's keep in mind there is nothing in the Con position that demands undocumented workers must be removed from the country.
Undocumented immigrants currently contribute significantly to state and local taxes, collectively paying an estimated $10.6 billion in 2010 with contributions ranging from less than $2 million in Montana to more than $2.2 billion in California. This means these families are likely paying about 6.4 percent on average of their income in state and local taxes. Allowing undocumented immigrants to work in the United States legally would increase their state and local tax contributions by an estimated $2 billion a year. Their effective state and local tax rate would also increase to 7 percent on average, which would put their tax contributions more in line with documented taxpayers with similar incomes.
We could make the point that nothing in the ITEP evidence speaks of a 'path to citizenship'. It simply says undocumented workers pay taxes and if the undocumented workers were allowed to work legally, they would pay even more and indeed, there are many foreign workers in the U.S. working legally, paying taxes and they are not U.S. citizens.
Dovetailing with the idea that undocumented workers pay taxes and contribute to the economic vitally of communities, consider that the ability of communities to attract workers is often vital to regional, fiscal well-being. For example, migrant workers need to able to go where the work is and their contribution is not only important for the local economy, it could be argued it is good for the national economy. Even in communities which do not typically employ migrant workers, the economy benefits from a responsive labor force that is able to increase quickly when needed. It is generally understood that workers enter the U.S. when the U.S. economy is doing well and economy of the worker's home land is not doing well and the influx of labor supports the growing economy. The legal path is not necessarily the best way to respond to economic expansion.
The responsiveness of illegal immigration to economic conditions is to be expected. These individuals come to the United States seeking work and their incentive to do so is strongest when the difference in job prospects on the two sides of the border is greatest. The illegal immigrant population is also quite mobile geographically within the United States. During the 1990s, U.S. job growth was strongest in mountain states and the southeast. These states also registered the largest percentage increases in the number of illegal immigrants. Legal immigration, in contrast, responds to economic conditions more slowly. Annual quotas for green cards are fixed and clearing the queue for a green card requires several years or more, making legal permanent immigration insensitive to the U.S. business cycle. Quotas for temporary legal immigration do change over time but do not track the U.S. economy with much precision. Relative to illegal immigrants, temporary legal immigrants are far less mobile, as most work visas are tied to a particular employer. Visa holders cannot change jobs without employer approval.
So what is the impact of immigration reform and the path to citizenship on worker responsiveness? Clearly there is some benefit to providing legal status for workers. If nothing else, more taxes will be paid. But the path to citizenship takes well over a decade and in the end, from an economical point of view, does not provide any additional economic benefits that legalization does not provide. In addition, in the future, as labor demands increase the Hanson evidence shows that border control measures tend to be resilient and slow to react to changing market conditions.
Legalization is Better But...
While tolerating (perhaps even closing a blind eye to) illegal workers in the U.S. ensures a somewhat flexible and responsive pool of laborers, the terminology, 'illegal' clouds one's perception and gives the impression of lawlessness. Legalization is an alternative to a path to citizenship which provides economic benefits in the short-term and if the 'legalization' is managed in the proper way, the workers may still maintain ability to follow the regional labor demands. Nevertheless, some would argue there are serious flaws with the legalization path and both legalization and the path to citizenship are the wrong answer.
Some in Congress have suggested removing the path to citizenship as found in the Senate’s flawed bill and replacing it with a path to legal permanent residency (LPR). While this might sounds like a serious and legitimate compromise, there is in fact very little difference between LPR status and citizenship. The main difference between LPRs and citizens is that only citizens can vote, but in almost all other respects, LPRs are equal with citizens. They have access to almost every welfare and entitlement program, meaning that the long-term costs of such a proposal would still total in the trillions of dollars.
Indeed, it is the long-term costs which are the bone of contention for many. Many of these immigrant laborers tend to be under-educated and low-skill laborers who work for very low-wages and the argument is made, they cost the government, more than they pay. Even, legal residents making minimum wage are struggling to make ends meet and often rely on government assistance to raise families. If the family is large, the cost to the government can be substantial with respect to taxes paid.
Gift Wrapping an Old Solution
I could subtitle this section, a skunk by any other name would still stink because, as I suggested in the introduction to this article, rhetoric alters perception and perception can win debates. Back in the 1980's the U.S. Government developed an advanced nuclear missile system and called it the "Peace Maker". A classic oxymoron dubbing an advanced weapon of war and destruction, the peace maker. It may not be an oxymoron but some argue that the terminology "path to citizenship" is essentially a form of amnesty which thumbs its nose at the rule of law. After all, let's not lose sight of the fact, the so-called "illegal immigrants" are, well, residing here illegally. They are here in violation of U.S. immigration law and if laws are to have any value they must be enforced. Amnesty is a pardon. It basically says, you broke the law, you deserve punishment but we are not going to prosecute. The online legal dictionary says amnesty means:
"The action of a government by which all persons or certain groups of persons who have committed a criminal offense—usually of a political nature that threatens the sovereignty of the government (such as Sedition or treason)—are granted Immunity from prosecution."
Thus, we identify one of the key contentions for the Con, today's path to citizenship is yesterday's amnesty in a nice new wrapper and past amnesty programs failed miserably.
The existence of a large shadow population in America is injurious to the rule of law, an excessive burden on many local communities, and harmful to civil society. Addressing this issue is an important component of reform. But it is wrong to make it the linchpin of immigration and border security. As a first principle, reform efforts to address this issue should make the problem better not worse. For that reason, amnesty as a core requirement of immigration is a disastrous policy. Amnesty would undermine all other efforts to fix the system and could well leave future generations in the same predicament as millions find themselves in today. In addition, amnesty would incur trillions of dollars of federal outlays in the form of long-term benefits to low-skilled workers.
I am not endorsing the views of the Heritage foundation as a source of great Con evidence. I am using the evidence to frame the issue since they are quite good at stating the positions for me and they have done some very comprehensive studies of the issue which are cited in other, more scholarly sources. The argument is made that the current fiscal burdens of supporting the population of unauthorized residents will not change significantly once they are given legal status.
Indeed, amnesty exacerbates the fiscal costs of illegal immigration. Making illegal aliens legal does not make them fiscally positive. On the contrary, it makes them eligible for more government benefits, especially at the federal level—where the newly-legalized aliens become eligible for a wide range of entitlements. One of the biggest is Social Security benefits. For example, the amnesty proposal that was debated and rejected in the United States Senate in 200740 would have cost approximately $2.6 trillion,41 resulting in the largest expansion of the welfare state in thirty years.42 It would also have hastened the bankruptcy of the Social Security system.43 Meanwhile, amnesty would have done nothing to reduce the fiscal burdens borne by American cities and states. In short, amnesty is expensive at every level of government.
Expressing the view of some in the Senate, the issue of law as a core value is a defining issue.
We live in a nation built on the rule of law. Granting amnesty defies one of the core principles of our country and, in turn, only serves to encourage more illegality. Amnesty is a short-term solution that rewards those who have broken immigration laws at the expense of those attempting to enter the United States through legal channels. The American people deserve a government that enforces its laws and leadership that doesn’t attempt to go around the representative process of the legislative branch of government to advance a political agenda.
While I think the issue of law needs to be argued on the Con side, one does well not to explode the issue into something more than it really is. It is not like an "illegal" immigrate should be equated with the worse kind of felony offenders but it is worse than say, illegal parking and the national security concerns associated with individuals violating immigration laws need to be addressed. It is, nevertheless, a fair question. Should individuals who began their lives in the country, illegally, be given a free pass and put on the train to citizenship? Well, for sure the train trip might be long and arduous and if the debate judge is thinking, the requirements of the journey are recompense enough, perhaps we should consider better solutions that gain the benefits without freely handing over the ultimate prize to those who violated the law, namely citizenship. After all, what signals does that transmit to those waiting to gain legal entry?
What Do the Immigrants Want?
So once again, I find myself circling around the idea of alternative actions. Is the path to citizenship really the right solution? It is the grand prize; one that millions are willing to struggle for using the already established path and there is a certain overwhelming sense that providing am alternative for those who did not wait, is somehow extremely unfair. And what of the individuals in question, the unauthorized residents - what do they want?
If an immigration overhaul includes a path to citizenship, "it will almost certainly fail" because of Republican opposition, said Dan Garza, executive director of the LIBRE Initiative, a Hispanic conservative advocacy group. "Getting citizenship — that may not be politically viable, and I think we need to be politically astute about this," Garza said. And Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) made it clear that he opposed a path to citizenship on principle. "It would be a travesty in my opinion to treat those who violated our laws to get here much better than those who have patiently waited their turn to come to the United States," he concluded. Instead, panelists converged around a path to "earned legal status" for illegal immigrants that would legalize their standing without giving them the full rights of U.S. citizens. What illegal immigrants really want above all is "permanencia — the certainty that you won't be deported tomorrow," said Graza. "At least let's get legality, get the authority to work and to provide for our children. I think that's where the compromise is going to be." Others on the panel agreed: "The Hispanic community [is] pretty open to earned legal status," added Jenny Korn, executive director of the American Action Network, arguing that many didn't want the negotiations to "break apart" over the issue.
Conclusions For Now
I want to wrap this up for the time being. The key arguments I see at this time for Con center around the fact the path to citizenship for "illegal immigrants" will do little to substantially change their economic status. In fact, it enhances their ability to be more of a burden on government by enabling them draw upon more social welfare programs than they are currently eligible for. Even more importantly for the Con, it can be claimed that virtually all of the benefits of the path to citizenship can be achieved by other means, particularly by granting some form of legal status which permits them to remain in the country without fear of deportation, to seek better jobs, and to emerge from the shadow economy. The advantage of this approach is the recognition that while rights and dignity for these individuals should not be restricted, the path to citizenship is unfair to those who are legally entering and rewards the illegal behavior which enabled them to be living in the U.S. in the first place.
A Closing Remark on "Otherization"
Even as I write this Con position, I am troubled by my own language as I speak of "them" as if the unauthorized people are some how - another group, apart as human beings. Indeed, it is the language of otherization and in Lincoln-Douglas debate and Policy Debate Kritiks, otherization is the language of dehumanization. It may seem unnecessary for me to mention this. After all, this is Public Forum debate and such issues are rarely debated. Besides we need some kind of language in order to differentiate classes of people without necessarily relegating one or the other to secondary importance, or as being less deserving. So be aware that words have meaning and diverse perceptions are attached to the language. Good luck debaters. I expect some lively debates. Perhaps I will have more commentary on this topic in the near future.
The Bernard and Irene Schwartz Series on American Competitiveness
The Economic Logic of Illegal Immigration
Gordon H. Hanson, CSR NO. 26, APRIL 2007, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions
Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), July 2013
Amnesty: A Path to Permanent Residency Is as Bad as a Path to Citizenship, Heritage Foundation
David Inserra, June 21, 2013
Advancing the Immigration Nation: Heritage’s Positive Path to Immigration and Border Security Reform
By The Heritage Foundation Immigration and Border Security Reform Task Force, June 2013
The Economic Consequences of Amnesty for Unauthorized Immigrants
Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny, 2012
Administrative Law: Immigration, Amnesty, and the Rule of Law, 2007 National Lawyers
Convention of the Federalist Society
Kris W. Kobach, 2008
Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants is a Non-starter
Senator Chuck Grassley, Iowa, 2010
CPAC panel: No, illegal immigrants don’t need a path to citizenship, The Washington Post
By Suzy Khimm, Published: March 14, 2013