The Immigration Game
Immigration is one of the most pressing topics in modern US politics. The problem of illegal immigration has become more relevant with the election of President Trump, who promised to address the issue with, in addition to other solutions, a wall along the Mexican border. While this may not be the most effective way to fix the problem, something certainly has to be done. According to the most recent consensus, out of approximately 43.7 million immigrants in the US, 11.4 million of them are residing here illegally. Since the adoption of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, the number of immigrants in the US has rapidly increased. Immigrants made up 4.7% of the American population in 1970, compared to the most recent data from 2016, which estimated that immigrants now make up approximately 13.5% of the population. If the percentage of unauthorized immigrants residing in the US remains constant and the percentage of immigrants in the US continues to rise, then illegal immigration will continue to be a major national concern. Public opinion of illegal immigration has been mixed to say the least. While most Americans would agree that breaking the law should not be tolerated, it is a lot harder to find common ground on how to treat those that break immigration laws. Some Americans believe unauthorized immigrants should be deported; some believe they should all be granted amnesty and be allowed to continue living in the country; some believe in finding some form of middle ground between the two extremes. While there are strong cases for all sides, some of the arguments in favor of allowing unauthorized immigrants to stay in the country are illogical. Many Americans who advocate for these immigrants’ right to remain in the US argue that unauthorized immigrants are hard workers and contributors to the national economy who should not be forced to leave. While it is true that around 60% of unauthorized immigrants have lived in America for over ten years, the argument cannot possibly be grounds for a free pass to violate national law. Many criminals prosecuted in the US have contributed to society in some way, but that has never been perceived as a valid reason to forgive someone for breaking the law. Making an exception when dealing with illegal immigration would not make sense logically.
Unfortunately, simply refuting one argument that favors allowing unauthorized immigrants to remain in the US does not provide the country with an optimal solution to the problem of illegal immigration. One of President Trump’s most controversial campaign promises has been the infamous border wall along the Mexican border, and it is estimated that the construction and maintenance of the wall over a ten year period will cost the US Government around 20 billion dollars, which many argue is an inefficient use of time and resources. However, the border wall would only prevent one form of illegal immigration. While physically entering the US illegally accounts for the majority of illegal immigration (around 55%), entering the US legally with a temporary visa or a Border Crossing Card and then violating the terms of the immigration document by remaining in the US after the document has expired accounts for the other 45%, which is still a sizeable amount. The construction of a border wall would address illegal immigration in its most literal sense; however, it would do absolutely nothing to prevent people from arriving in America legally and simply outstaying their legal allotment of time.
Another solution the Trump administration has shown support for is deportation. Deportation would address all forms of illegal immigration, and while it would also be a costly solution, the cost of not deporting illegal immigrants would be higher. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent non-partisan research organization, the average cost to the US government of deporting someone is around ten thousand dollars whereas the cost to the US government of allowing an unauthorized immigrant to remain in the country (this cost is calculated by taking the average amount paid in tax and subtracting the average cost of services used) is around sixty-five thousand dollars. Despite the efficiency cost, deportation is still an expensive solution that should be used sparingly. Trump has stated that he wants to deport between two and three million criminal illegal immigrants, which could cost between 20 and 30 billion dollars according to estimates. In short, Trump’s construction and maintenance of the wall, along with his planned deportation program, could cost the US Government an eye-watering 50 billion dollars. While such programs could reduce illegal immigration in the future, they may not be worth the financial cost.
Unfortunately, the path to US citizenship for any immigrant is a time-consuming bureaucratic nightmare. The first step to becoming a US citizen is obtaining a green card, which grants permanent legal residence. However, the process for obtaining a green card is expensive and lengthy; as a recent immigrant from the UK, I have experienced this process firsthand and can confirm this. Thankfully, my experience was a relatively smooth process compared to other less fortunate people in my situation. Even after obtaining a green card, the US Government requires that a candidate for citizenship must be present for 30 months out of the five years of lawful permanent residence required before applying for US citizenship. Candidates must also pass an interview and successfully take an exam testing for knowledge of the English language and US government and history. Such requirements demand a certain level of education that is not available to everyone, especially to those emigrating from impoverished, wartorn, or non-English speaking countries. If the US Government spent a portion of its budget on reforming and streamlining the US citizenship application process, then perhaps the immediate need for a border wall and deportation of illegal immigrants would decrease. Ultimately, this solution would allow America to invest money now and avoid the spending of a lot more money in the future. That sounds like an optimal solution to me.
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