Chasin’ The Dream: The Political Standoff on Immigration

In lieu of GenFKD’s Oppression to Opportunity (#Op2Op) campaign, and the wall-construction plans of some presidential hopefuls, we are exploring the issue of immigration in a three-part blog series. The first segment provided a brief history of American immigration. The second part, below, discusses the political standoff behind this issue. Finally, we’ll conclude the series with some economics, which could help round out your thoughts on immigration and its effect on our wallet.

“I will build a great wall—and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me— and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” —Donald Trump

Throughout history, immigration has been a key factor in the standoff within party politics, and it doesn’t look like it will ease up anytime soon. What’s more, the significant voter  support enjoyed by people like Trump shows just how divided Americans are when it comes to the politics of immigration.

Criminals and Job Takers, What’s Not to Hate?

The United States, though only accounting for 5 percent of the world’s population, attracts over 20 percent of the world’s migrants. Regardless, as stated in the previous piece, the love has generally been a one-way street. For years, crime and jobs have been the two main issues that form the foundations of the anti-immigrant political rhetoric that continues to sway the public.

In the first half of the 20th century, popular opinion expressed the view that migrants were responsible for a large fraction of the crime rate, in particular, violent crime. It’s safe to say, this sentiment is still alive today.

In its latest report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) claims that as of 2009, approximately 8.25 percent of the United States’ population consists of non-citizens and 3.52 percent are illegal immigrants. However, they take up around a quarter of the inmate population in the country, with 68 percent being from Mexico.

Then you have reports, like one from the Center for Immigration Studies that proclaims, “In December 2014 there were 18 million immigrants (legal and illegal) living in the country who had arrived since January 2000. But job growth over this period was just 9.3 million — half of new immigration.” Therefore, for every two immigrants, only one job is created, thus making the job hunt much more difficult for natives.

When public opinion is combined with these (rather inflammatory) statistics, it is no surprise that people are on board with the building of a great, great, wall.

Digging Deeper into the Stats

Nevertheless, this isn’t the whole story. Violent crime in the United States has decreased by approximately 36 percent since 1990, while immigration has nearly doubled. Additionally, immigrant felons are largely incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. Immigration, drugs, and traffic violations, account for 50 percent of the offenses by illegal immigrants, making it hard to describe these folks as vicious public enemies.  

In regards to jobs, the popular economic indicator used to support the “immigrants are takin’ our jobs” claim is the participation rate. The rate in 2000, for both natives and immigrants was at 67 percent. Today it has dipped to 66 and 62 percent for immigrants and natives, respectively.

However, just taking this rate and not taking any other factors into consideration, does the argument an injustice. In addition to having roughly the same unemployment rate, immigrants just do not have the same broad range of employment options as natives do. Digging deeper we see that migrants often take up jobs that require low skill, while natives enroll in higher education, have substantially larger savings accounts and make more money.

The Obama Legacy: The Right Actions Gone Wrong

In 2012, President Obama, attempted to leave a legacy in the realm of immigration reform by passing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Program (DACA), which would suspend deportation of illegal migrants that entered the United States as kids.

In 2014, frustrated by the bipartisan gridlock, he once again exercised his executive power to tackle illegal immigration head on by deporting more migrant felons, tightening up the border, and expanding the DACA program to parents with the Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents program. Undocumented parents could sleep easy, knowing they wouldn’t be deported, in addition to allowing them to apply for work permits so that they too could reach for the American dream. The sad news was that it was shot down by a federal court order in early 2015.

President Obama received heat from both sides of the aisle in regards to immigration. In 2014, the number of deportations under his presidency surpassed two million, causing members of his own party to dub him the “deporter-in-chief.” On the other hand, Republicans accused him being too soft on immigration for not deporting enough migrants and for providing temporary amnesty to unlawful migrants.

My Take

Due to both political parties’ dissatisfaction with President Obama’s methods of implementing much-needed immigration reform, the ball is now in the new squad’s court.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sec. Hillary Clinton are two Democrats, though, that support President Obama’s executive actions tackling immigration.Meanwhile, the Republican hopefuls are well-versed on immigration, but significantly divided in how they will address the problem.

All we know is that whomever we choose to be the next commander-in-chief, this issue will continue to make politics look like a total shitshow due to how easily cherry-picked statistics and faulty economic theory can sway popular opinion.

In the final piece, we’ll provide a third angle on this issue by considering years of economic research on the topic. Understanding the economics of immigration, may give us a perspective that that goes against modern-day conventional wisdom.

 

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