In an administration notorious for its incompetence and overreach, the president’s order will be among his few worthy actions.
To say that in the current political environment, of course, is heresy. The very idea of relaxed immigration policies, and a blanket promise of amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, is enough to enrage pundits, citizen leaders, and the millions of reasonable US Americans who voted for a Republican-majority House openly hostile to illegal immigration.
But the rage is a result of a debate that has so far been crafted through the narrow lens of the media and policy elite of New York and Washington, DC. The argument is crudely stripped down to legalese instead of a realistic examination of what such an action would actually mean.
The main framework of the supposed memorandum-to-come, granted only to the New York Times by way of an anonymous administration official, is to allow “many parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents to obtain legal work documents and no longer worry about being discovered, separated from their families and sent away,” according to the paper of record.
What this means, in effect, is foreign-born immigrants who have had children on US soil will be allowed to stay in the country and seek work without the risk of deportation.
That’s along the lines of the discretionary memo issued by the US Department of Homeland Security in 2012, which stated that minors who were brought to the United States illegally would not be forced through deportation proceedings and would be allowed a chance to obtain legal documents. At the time I recognized the memo as vital for the millions of children in legal limbo throughout their entire lives.
I saw what it was like for my classmates who were illegal immigrants and couldn’t go to university. I saw what it was like for them when they tried to enter the workforce and had to make their way as dishwashers in restaurants with bogus papers.
That’s the human side ignored by the anti-immigration crowd.
These directives and changes in executive discretion in the Obama immigration plan mean a young person will be allowed to get an education legally, and to work and pay taxes like the rest of us.
He’ll be allowed to live without the fear of being deported by authorities, and will be allowed to seek a better life much like the millions of immigrants who poured into Ellis Island through the 1800s and early 1900s.
Yet, this very idea seems repulsive to those who aim to restrict immigration. People like David Frum, a privileged fellow Canadian who became naturalized after years of studying at Harvard and Yale, and an impressive stint writing speeches in the Bush administration — those who want to call attention to decreased levels of deportations as some indication of an age of an evaporating rule of law.
The fact some illegal immigrants become criminals is relished as some kind of proof immigration should be halted and the process made even more difficult. That, despite the fact that criminalizing the act of moving to a new country to better one’s life — what so many ancestors of US citizens today did — damns individuals to a life of legal subjugation.
I know what it’s like, because I lived in this country for 15 years as an alien — a nonresident alien, then a resident alien — and only became a citizen in 2009, after already having left the country to pursue university studies in my native Canada. The fact the process took 15 years and thousands of dollars is not some virtue. It’s exceedingly punishing to those who move to this country to make a better life for themselves and their families.
If it’s about hoards of immigrants immediately obtaining welfare, they’d be wrong. Immigrants are allowed access to welfare benefits only after having lived in the country lawfully for five years. Even if 3 million green cards are handed out to illegal aliens tomorrow, that will mean there won’t be a single welfare payment until at least 2019. Until then, those protected from deportation will be putting money into the system — more money than they’re legally able to take out.
One exception to this rule is the access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which allows immigrant children access to food stamps, if the family doesn’t have the means to provide adequate food. But the percentage of such immigrant recipients is much lower than the percentage of native-born citizens at the same income level.
The fact remains that low-income immigrants use welfare programs at a much lower rate than low-income native-born citizens. That’s been proved in study after study, and even more so after the welfare reforms of the Clinton years. It’s confirmed by studies on the left and right. A study conducted by the Congressional Research Service in September of this year confirms that. It’s fact.
By examining the amount of overall federal benefits handed out to noncitizens in the past 25 years, the trend indicates it’s on a huge decline since 1995. That’s 20 years of solid decline in the amount of benefits handed out when compared to legal permanent residents.
Even looking at a breakdown of federal benefits according to programs and citizenship status, the amount of welfare distributed to noncitizens has decreased consistently.
There is no crisis of immigrants receiving welfare benefits, and there is no proof that granting residency and work status to millions of illegal aliens will cause any change in those figures.
The United States of America is world renowned as a nation of immigrants, a place where dreams can become reality.
If we really care about the freedom of our brethren, about making this the best country possible, then we should allow those who live here, whether as native-born citizens or under the dark cloud of illegal status, to live and work like the rest of us. To work, save, contribute to the system and to be granted the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This article first appeared on Watchdog.org.