There are fee topics that divide Americans more than the topic of immigration. Granting amnesty to those immigrants who are in the United States illegally also provides fodder for debate. While many proposals have been made to this effect, the country remains divided, with a majority finding amnesty to be an unfair practice.
However, despite public opinion, granting amnesty to those already living and working in the United States illegally would provide benefits to the country.
The Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) estimates that about 275,000 individuals immigrate illegally to the United States each year. In the 1990s, the number of illegal immigrants rose markedly, reaching 8.7 million people according to the Census Bureau (Immigration: Overview). These immigrants are willing to risk the dangers and illegal border crossing and to live just under the law in order to live a better life. With borders being so wide and open and with transportation being so readily available, the question is how these citizens can be made prosperous and effective citizens of this country. In the mid 1990s, it seemed that the United States was unwilling to entertain such illegal immigrants, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996 made lives tougher on immigrants and those that sponsored them (Immigration: Overview). While some of these restrictions have been lifter, the US is still far from achieving amnesty for those living here illegally.
Many would question why this amnesty should be granted. The answer is quite complex, spanning economic, political and philosophical realms. It is important to understand that amnesty for illegal immigrants is not just an issue that affects the United States. Other countries have been wrestling with this dilemma as well, but few have settled on simply deporting all of the illegal individuals back to their home countries. For example, Australian officials have noted that these immigrants are “good men and women who are the backbone of our economy” who “need to emerge from the twilight of fear, anxiety and exploitation” (Hayter). The author goes on to say that these individuals cannot possible all be deported. If this is the case in a small country like Australia, imagine the impact that locating and deporting all of these individuals would have on a country the size of the United States!
Economically, the country is divided on whether or not illegal immigrants hurt the US economy. Many people recognize that these workers will take the jobs that most native Americans are unwilling to do. Because of their willingness to work for lower wages and not be taxed, people have argued that American jobs are lost, assuming, of course, that Americans would want those jobs. But even this image has changed, according to American Labor Union officials: “In past decades, labor unions often saw immigrant workers as the enemy, accusing them of depressing wages and breaking strikes. But the executive council of the AFL-CIO adopted a more sympathetic approach, contending that too often, U.S. immigration rules have enabled employers to exploit illegal immigrants” (Greenhouse, B1). This exploitation, not the immigrants themselves, is what hurts the United States economy and takes jobs from American citizens.
It is obvious that illegal immigrants make up a huge part of the work force, especially in industries such as farming, hotel operations, construction, meat-packing and other labor-intensive careers. These individuals are not unionized, for the most part, because they are afraid that if they do so, they will be deported. Many, including John Wilhelm of the Committee on Immigration Policy, see this as an exploitative weapon used against these workers who need to be able to stand up for their rights. According to Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, the AFL-CIO and employer groups are actually agreeing on this issue. He notes “You have a variety of employer groups saying, ‘We need more immigrant workers and we want our workers to be legal,’ and you have the AFL-CIO saying, ‘We want more immigrant workers to be legal and we’re willing to talk to employers about their legitimate needs.’ You have the makings of a business-labor compact that could draw new immigration policies for the next decade” (Greenhouse B1).
Finally, allowing amnesty for illegal immigrants to attain amnesty in the United States is reflective of the policies on which the country was founded. Even in the face of terrorist plots, such as those in New York on September 11, the vast majority of immigrants are simply seeking a better, safer and healthier life for themselves and their families. “On the face of it, the call for an amnesty for ‘illegal’ immigrants must surely be a good thing. It demonstrates some recognition of their value and needs (Hayter). Valuing humanity and respecting freedoms and rights are the bases of the US Constitution.
Amnesty for the six to eight million illegal immigrants in the United States may seem a daunting overture, with many opposing it. However, for economic, political and philosophical reasons, this policy should be immediately instated.
Greenhouse, Steven. “Unions Urge Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants.” San Francisco Chronicle.
17 February 2000, B1
Hayter, Theresa. “Amnesty for ‘Illegal Immigrants’?” IndyMedia.org 3 July 2006. Retrieved
31 March 2008 from http://melbourne.indymedia.org/news/2006/07/116064.php
“Immigration: Overview.” The Issue at a Glance. Public Agenda.Org. Retrieved 31 March
2008 from http://www.publicagenda.org/issues/overview.cfm?issue_type=immigration