Somewhere between establishing a melting pot of cultures and the current elevated terrorism fear in the American society after 9/11, the United States immigration issue has generated several contradictions.
At Wednesday’s Conference on World Affairs discussion, “Immigration: Get off the Fence,” three knowledgeable panelists, each with an immigrating family history, agreed that the U.S. needs to create more functioning policies to balance the enforcement regulations of Homeland Security and the goals of assisting developing countries.
“Immigration is a very controversial issue, that shouldn’t be,” Magdeleno Rose-Avila, a panelist and executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said.
Charles Jess a panelist who worked in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration issued visas to applicants under guidelines that haven’t changed since 1952. However, he couldn’t guarantee the applicant’s admittance into the U.S. borders past the Department of Homeland Security, which has doubled enforcement since 2001, he said.
Jess suggested the idea of a temporary working visa or a partner visa program where immigrants can come to the United States, work for an authorized period of time and then return back to their home countries.
“Most people don’t come here to go to Disney World,” Rose-Avila said. “They come to work and send back remittances.”
Panelist Judith Morrison, who works for the Inter-American Foundation in Washington D.C., touched on the contradictions behind remittances. In George Bush’s recent trip to Latin America he referred to the large amount of money being sent to families from undocumented workers in America as a foreign assistance package, in the context as a source of national aid. Yet, on the same token, most Americans don’t want the illegal immigrants working in America, Morrison said.
“There are rumors and myths that (undocumented workers) are hurting our education and health plans,” Rose-Avila said. “But they are paying taxes and social security and not receiving any tax refunds.”
Morrison said 85 percent of Mexicans in the United States are undocumented and occupy 12 to 15 million jobs.
“Are we willing to pay more without these immigrants?” Morrison asked the crowded audience. “It would be 15 percent more for our gross fee and 10 percent more for our home. Aren’t Americans are always looking for the cheapest way?”
Although businesses are knowingly hiring undocumented workers, the burden of illegal immigration is entirely felt by the individual, she said.
The panel discussed that the ideas of requiring national identification cards and learning English is not helping the fear element in society that has been manipulated since 9/11 and sheltering Americans from understanding their neighbors.
“The more we get to know our neighbors and communicate the more the fear will go away,” Morrison said. “The fear is the unknown.”
“Communication goes both ways and I think that Americans should get off their collective behinds and learn some foreign languages,” Jess said.