Aside from an ailing economy and foreign policy concerns, immigration reform has become one of the primary issues concerning American voters due to its so-called direct relation with the unemployment plight and welfare abuse in America. All four GOP candidates are very aware of this and have proposed solutions to fix the country's broken immigration system.
Since 9/11, American nationalism has been on the rise, where the rhetoric of fear and exclusion overwhelmed the very essence of American values that make America a beacon of hope and opportunity. From Al Qaeda terrorists to China and Iran, America has placed a face on an invisible enemy, used to justify unfair and unjust tactics to fight them.
The immigration issue has been no different and the GOP candidates have capitalized on this fear of immigrants. Aside from Newt Gingrich’s 10-step plan, the proposed solutions by Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul play into this fear and criminalization of immigrants theme.
Mitt Romney’s stance on immigration centers around his “self-deportation” provision where the 11+ million people living in the United States illegally would be advised to return to their home country to apply for residency, and get in line with those waiting for visas to immigrate here illegally. In addition, his plan would put in place a verification system that allows employers to know whether or not a job applicant is authorized to work.
I find Romney’s proposal thoughtful, but extremely difficult to implement. Central to his stance on immigration is the notion of incentive. He has mentioned in debates and interviews the need to be cautious when discussing the immigration issue in order to avoid saying anything that will encourage another wave of illegal immigration. However, the self-deportation remedy is faulty in that it does not provide illegal immigrants with the incentive to comply. Immigrants already naïve and fearful of the law will simply not turn themselves in and deport themselves.
Newt Gingrich proposes a 10-step, non-comprehensive plan to address illegal immigration. I find Gingrich’s solutions would be best applicable because he calls for a total reformation of the immigration bureaucracy. In his 10-step plan, he recommends a gradual process where legislation is passed in a series of steps, with each one understood on its own merits.
He also calls for a well-regulated robust guest-worker program where a verification system for employers to ensure that a worker is legal to work in the United States before he/she can be hired. Employers who fail to comply with the guest worker program will have to face sanctions. A system such as this, if properly implemented and not abused, can possibly put an end to illegal immigration as we know it. We must not forget that there is a demand for cheap labor and those who cross our borders illegally are only supplying it.
Rick Santorum takes a stronger stance on immigration. During the Iowa debates, he stated, “You can’t be here for 20 years and commit only one illegal act because everything you’re doing while you’re here is against the law." When asked about children born to illegal immigrant families, he replied that families should be broken up when the law is broken, which includes illegal immigration. Although he has no clear plan on what should be done about illegal immigration, he stands firmly on the grounds that a secure border is a top priority before any other reforms can be considered.
While I understand Santorum’s concerns about illegal immigrants enjoying social services paid for by American citizen tax dollars, I find Santorum’s approach to be inconsiderate and inhumane. It is established fact that immigrants play a very important role in the economy and are the labor backbone of several sectors. If they cannot attain legal status, they at least deserve access to some basic social services.
Finally, Ron Paul’s position on immigration is summarized in his six-point plan. Paul’s plan proposes the following solutions: a secure border, enforcing visa rules, no to amnesty, no welfare for illegal aliens, end birthright citizenship, and passing true immigration reform.
For the most part, I agree with Paul’s plan except for terminating birthright citizenship. According to Paul, birthright citizenship provides the incentive for people to immigrate illegally. While this is partially true, it is not the primary reason behind illegal immigration. Destitution and desperation in home countries as well as demand for cheap labor in America are the main driving factors. Thus, as long as these conditions exist, it will be difficult to substantially curb illegal immigration.
Altogether, the GOP candidates are playing off the idea that illegal immigrants are criminals, freeloaders, and “job stealers,” rhetoric that is popular within the GOP base. These accusations are one-sided, given that employers who employ illegal immigrants do not face as much criticism. Understanding the underdog position they hold in the upcoming elections, the GOP candidates are taking on positions that appeal to the average frustrated American and fueling an unwarranted fear of non-Americans.
Photo Credit: Omar Omar