Letter to the Editor

Deportation of undocumented immigrants -- a good idea -- or bad?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

In 1776, the 13 Colonies of England in North America declared independence and formed the United States of America. Following the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, it was determined that a system of laws was needed to support these documents and provide guidance for life in this newly formed independent nation.

One of the most important needs was immediately recognizable. People -- people to settle the cities, farm the land, sail the ships, harvest the timber, build the economy and the nation. The first immigration law was the Naturalization Act of 1790. It placed no restrictions on immigration, but citizenship could only be granted to white persons.

Since then, dozens of immigration laws have been passed, many invalidating previously passed laws, Starting with the Page Act of 1875, many laws were enacted to prevent Asian -- mainly Chinese -- from entering, primarily, to halt the influx of "Coolie Labor." The Immigration Act of 1917 restricted the entry of disabled or diseased people. The Johnson-Reed Immigration Law of 1924 imposed the first numerical limit on immigrant entry. The Magnuson Act of 1943 repealed the Chinese exclusion and allowed Chinese people already in the country to become citizens.

The Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act of 1966 allowed Cuban nationals who entered or were already here legal status. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 stated sanctions for knowingly hiring undocumented aliens. The Enhanced Border Security Act of 2002 required schools to report foreign students attending class, and all foreign nationals were required to carry ID with biometric technology (identifying features).

These were just a few of the laws enacted. As times changed, situations and attitudes changed prompting new laws and disillusion of old laws.

Three Federal Agencies are charged with administering and enforcing immigration laws: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigates those who break the law and prosecutes offenders, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) handles applications for legal immigration, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for keeping the borders secure.

The question of how to address unauthorized immigration has been among the most prominent issues in the 2016 presidential race. Donald Trump has advocated that the government fully enforce current laws and remove all 11.3 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country. Removing 11.3 million in two years, as Trump has proposed, would require monumental expansions in the U.S. enforcement operations.

A study by Ben Gitis and Jacqueline Varis of The American Action Forum dated May 5, shows the following. In order to remove all undocumented immigrants in two years, we would need to increase federal immigration apprehension workers from the current 4,840 to 90,582, increase immigration detention personnel from 5,200 to 53,380, immigration attorneys from 1,430 to 32,440, and immigration courts from 58 to 1,310. In addition immigration detention beds would need to increase from 34,000 to 348,831.

To physically transport the immigrants out of the country would require a minimum of 17,300 charter flights and 30,700 bus trips each year. Adding the cost of deportation, the loss of production and loss of consumption of goods and services by 11.3 million people will amount to total decline in our economy of more than a trillion dollars.

In recent years, several states passed strict anti-immigrant laws in an attempt to keep undocumented workers out of their states. The results were disastrous. Worker shortages caused by Georgia's HB 87 law caused an estimated $140 million in agricultural losses, as crops rotted in the fields. The hotel and restaurant industries as well as construction also suffered. Georgia's law, similar to those in Alabama, Arizona and other states gave police the authority to demand immigration documentation from suspects when detained for other violations. As a result, immigrant population in these states decreased dramatically causing costly labor shortages.

The Department of Labor's National Workers Survey shows that in the past 15 years, more than half of the hired agriculture workers (non owners) were undocumented migrant workers. Kristi Boswell of the American Farm Bureau Federation stated. "If nothing changes we're going to see more shortages and more instability in the markets. We can't sustain in that environment, and we will get to the point where instead of importing our labor, we're importing our food."

Setting aside the deportation issues, what is the current immigration picture today? Some argue that we are experiencing the largest wave of immigration in history, it has lowered wages and most Americans oppose this flux. Actually, a report by the Niskanen Center shows that currently, immigration is much lower than its historic peaks, competition from new workers is the lowest in recent decades and the majority of Americans oppose restricting immigration.

So, what's the next move? Congress will have to decide. We can predict the results of the "deportation now" plan. I'm hopeful Congress will devise a plan that will help, not harm the economy as well as exercise compassion for the lives of recent immigrants that came to our country in search of a better life for themselves and their children, just as immigrants have for the past 240 years.

Robert Sneitzer

Spirit Lake