Thousands of High School students in every state have no idea they are illegal immigrants. In a typical year 65000 of them find out when they want to get a job or a drivers license that they do not have a social security number. They cannot work even when they reach the age that all their friends and classmates begin working and driving. They cannot join the military, and they have no recourse to become “legal” other than marriage with an American.
About half of all undocumented or “illegal” immigrants entered the country legally but overstayed their Visas. 58% are Mexican nationals and the new border security has made it much more difficult for people to cross our Mexican border. Ironically that has increased the likelihood that a Mexican in the United States will remain here undocumented rather than return home.
Undocumented children, when they reach age 16 or so feel as American as I am, having gone through our school system. But when they are asked for a social security number they find out they will not be eligible for loans or grants for College as well as in-state tuition in the states they have resided most of their lives. All of them know a lot more about this country and the English language than the country and language of their citizenship. But here they can’t enter our US military, work, drive, or go to college.
Most are idealistic, many stand up and declare publicly they are “dreamers” because of their hope that an immigration bill that passed Congress (but not the Senate mainly due to efforts from Senator McCain) will one day allow them a path to citizenship. This is a courageous act, obviously, because their immigration status makes them “illegal” ostracizing them and putting their families in danger of deportation. But they probably have never broken any law, and certainly have broken no immigration law.
You probably think these people can now just “do it the right way” and apply for citizenship. Nope. According to US immigration law, the only way to become legal is to return to their country of citizenship, wait ten years, and apply for a return Visa. Or get married to a citizen.
Our immigration laws, or lack thereof, then forces 20 million people to work in a shadow economy. They can make up a social security number to use. Or there is a legal US Tax ID number they can use in place of a social security number, but an employer who knowingly hires undocumented workers is liable for severe penalties. If their employer takes a chance on them then the undocumented workers are allowed to pay US taxes. The vast majority in that situation never receive any refund of taxes paid because they never file for a tax refund. And almost none of them receive any personal benefits from social security or Medicare. It is generally accepted that the undocumented segment of the population pays more than its fair share of taxes.
Best estimates say they encompass 6% of the people in the United States. The check cashing stores that sprang up around the country a decade or so ago evidence that the undocumented usually work for cash, and if they have a bank account, it is for savings only, or to send money back to their family in another country. They work cheaper than most Americans, live cheaper, save money, and contribute a great deal to the economy.
There are two ways an economy can grow: One is to add productive people who work and spend within that economy. The other is to produce more for a cheaper rate. For our economy to grow we either need more people, or we need to be more productive ourselves. The only ways to add people to our economy is through immigration, to increase our birth rate, or to expand into other countries.
Conservative estimates report 20 million people are often thought to be undocumented or “illegals”. Considering the cost alone deportation is out of the question. No one is untouched by this huge segment of the population. These people work here, build lives here, raise children, and they are generally better behaved than the rest of the population so as not to draw attention to themselves.
According to US immigration law the only reasonable way to citizenship is to marry an American. To marry “for papers” and is very definitely and completely illegal punishable by fines, imprisonment and deportation. But is it really that different from marrying for health insurance benefits or to legitimize children? In any case, the immigrations services take it very seriously when an undocumented marries an American and often checks out the situation thoroughly.
In general those who marry according to our immigration policy must live together as husband and wife for three years. Immigration authorities may check pictures of weddings and celebrations, ask personal questions about living arrangements etc. Every such marriage I have heard about has been a real marriage and only a few I know of have ended in divorce. The only difference I see between marrying for papers and other marriages is that the non-American offers money to the American for the marriage. I have heard that figure from $5 to $15 thousand but obviously that is all negotiated in complete privacy between the only two people involved. If either marriage partner ever confesses the marriage is for immigration purposes the foreigner is deported and the American will pay fines and/or go to prison.
Which puts “dreamer” undocumented youths in the strange position of having to break a law in order to stay in their home country. Their parents may have broken some laws, but these people have not. So they must work under the table or marry illegally in order to stay in their home country. Or perhaps they will fall in love and marry, but regardless the pressure is on these people but none of the fault.
Copyright Kent Johnson 2011