My previous two posts have explored a bipartisan solution to the ongoing immigration problem offered by the Evangelical Immigration Table. Their Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform contains six principles believed to be necessary for meaningful immigration reform. So far, we have explored:
- Respecting the God-given Dignity of Every Person
- Protecting the Unity of the Immediate Family
- Respecting the Rule of Law
- Guaranteeing Secure National Borders
Principle #5: Ensuring Fairness to Taxpayers
Of the many concerns over immigration, the negative economic impact on U.S. citizens is one of the foremost. Meaningful immigration reform must be fair to U.S. taxpayers. Scripture teaches us to care for and provide for the most vulnerable of our society: orphans, widows, children, the disabled, the elderly, etc. Beyond this, everyone is expected to pull their own weight and provide for themselves. We would be correct in expecting immigrants and refugees to work and not depend exclusively on government programs.
About immigrants, it is common today to hear such things as “They’re only here to steal our jobs.”, “They’re only takers.”, “Why should we have to pay for them?”, “We should take care of our own citizens first.” Statements such as these assume the motive of the immigrant- both documented and undocumented. Comments such as these come from the place of anger, hatred, and ignorance and are inflammatory, misleading, and partially biased. In short, many believe immigrants of all statuses are a drain on the U.S. economy at the local, state, and federal levels. Simply not true.
Overall, immigrants have a higher labor participation rate than native-born U.S. citizens. 1 Matthew Soerens wrote, “Most immigrants are paying taxes- taken out of their payroll checks for Social Security, Medicare, and income tax, as well as sales tax and property taxes- thus their presence involves an input of funds into the governmental coffers. It is estimated that half of the undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes, but because undocumented immigrants are not eligible for most federal benefits, undocumented immigrants have heavily subsidized Social Security without being able to benefit from it.” 2 Undocumented immigrants paid $12 billion more in payroll taxes into Social Security Trust Funds than what they were qualified to receive in benefits in 2010. 3 A Florida study found that the average immigrant paid about $1,500 more in taxes than they received in benefits. 4 Much of the attention is on the immigrant taking advantage of the system. It is the high point of hypocrisy to criticize the working immigrant who may utilize the few government services available to them and not criticize the able-bodied U.S. citizen who does not want to work and is dependent on government services.
The fact still exists that some undocumented immigrants have not fully paid their taxes, which is, admittedly, not fair to the U.S. taxpayer. Meaningful immigration reform should address this issue on several fronts. First, a path to legal citizenship should ensure taxpayers are treated fairly through a process of restitution on behalf of the undocumented immigrant. I will share more about this in the next section. Second, employers who knowingly employ undocumented immigrants to gain an unfair labor advantage should face fines and penalties proportionate to their violation. These unscrupulous employers are the real disservice to the U.S. taxpayer.
Principle #6: Establishing a Path Toward Legal Status and/or Citizenship for Those Who Qualify and Who Wish to Become Permanent Residents
If it were possible today to stop all illegal entry into the U.S. through border crossings and overstaying visas, the issue remains – the fate of those already in the U.S. There are only two viable options for remedy. First, mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants. This draconian nuclear option would be the ultimate logistical nightmare, as well as an economic impossibility. Newsweek published an article in 2015 detailing the cost of deportation. The numbers are staggering:
Based on previous analysis from the Center for American Progress, a mass deportation strategy would cost an average of $10,070 per person, for a total of $114 billion to remove 11.3 million people. This figure includes the high costs that would be required to find each and every unauthorized individual. Finding every single person without legal status would be a logistical nightmare that would cause significant social and emotional damage to entire communities. CAP’s $114 billion estimate also includes the cost to detain these individuals while they wait for removal, to process them through the immigration courts and to transport them abroad. While $114 billion represents a startling sum of money, it is only the direct cost of physically deporting unauthorized immigrants. The cost to the overall economy would likely be far more. The conservative American Action Forum, or AAF, has argued that it would take 20 years to accomplish a mass deportation program, with a full cost between $420 billion and $620 billion. Beyond being prohibitively costly and morally unsustainable, removing so many individuals from the country—and from the labor force—would devastate the nation: The Bipartisan Policy Center calculates that deporting all unauthorized immigrants would shrink the labor force by 6.4 percent over two decades, which AAF estimates would decrease U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, by a full $ 1.6 trillion. 5
The second option is a pathway to citizenship for those who are already here. I am not referring to amnesty. Amnesty is the forgetting of an offense. To grant amnesty to the millions of undocumented immigrants who are in the U.S. would be pretending they had not broken the law. To do so would violate the principle of the rule of law. Meaningful immigration reform must include an earned legalization process that honors the law, is fair to taxpayers, and seeks to keep families together.
This earned legalization process should include some form of restitution. Immigrants who are in the U.S. without documentation should be allowed to come forward, acknowledge breaking the law, and pay a fine proportionate to the time in the U.S. Having come forward declaring their desire to come out of the shadows and become a citizen, the next step would be a criminal background check. Those found having committed violent crimes would be deported. Immigrants successfully passing background checks should then be allowed temporary legal status for a period time while fines are paid and self-support is secured. If all requirements are met after a specified time, they would be able to apply for permanent citizenship.
For “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, the restitution should not apply since they did not make the decision to come to the U.S. illegally. According to a recent Lifeway Research poll, more than two-thirds of American Evangelical Christians support an earned legalization process coupled with improved border security. 6 In “Thinking Biblically About Immigrants and Immigration Reform”, the Evangelical Immigration Table wrote:
Were elected officials to pursue a restitution-based legalization process for qualifying immigrants, it would give these immigrants the chance to earn their way back into right standing with the U.S. government, which would be a tremendous relief to them and a reaffirmation of the importance of the rule of law. An earned pathway to legal status would legitimize the long-term presence of these immigrants in their communities. This process would invite the formerly undocumented to participate fully and completely in American society, finally being able to add their strands of colorful fabric to the great and beautiful tapestry that is the United States of America. 7
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, “Foreign-Born Workers: Labor Force Characteristics – 2017,” May 17, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/forbrn.pdf
2 Soerens and Yang. Welcoming the Stranger. p.129
3 Stephen Gross, et al, “Effects of Unauthorized Immigration on the Actuarial Status of the Social Security Trust Funds,” Social Security Administration Office of the Chief Actuary, actuarial n.151, April 2013, www.ssa.gov/oact/notes/pdf_notes/note151.pdf,
4 Emily Eisenhauer, et al. “Immigrants in Florida: Characteristics and Contributions” (Florida International University, May 2007), 7,34
6 LifeWay Research, “Evangelical Views on Immigration,” February 2015, http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Evangelical-Views-on-Immigration-Report.pdf.
7 “Thinking Biblically About Immigrants and Immigration Reform” (Evangelical Immigration Table) ebook.pdf 27.