The CNN Republican National Security debate held on 11/22/2011, highlighted a divide within the Republican party regarding the issue of undocumented (illegal) immigration. It can be expected that the 2012 presidential race will show an even wider division between the Republican and Democratic positions on this issue. Unfortunately the discussion seems to have been reduced to a politically expedient broad brush view, labels, and sound bites.
The broad brush view and label associated with this division is amnesty. There are a number of amnesty proposals granting legal residence to undocumented immigrants. A simple definition of undocumented immigrant is someone who comes to the U.S. from another country, through non-legal channels, with the intent to stay permanently. In the current political climate amnesty has become a bad, dirty, and/or undesirable word.
The Dream Act, an amnesty program designed to allow former and future undocumented high school graduates a pathway to U.S. citizenship through college or the military, seems to have some bi-partisan support, but not enough to get passed and become law.
The constitution of the United States provides the federal government with preeminent authority to regulate immigration issues. A state cannot establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws that interfere with federal immigration laws. As such, the federal government has legally challenged actions from South Carolina, Alabama, and Arizona, to name a few, regarding implementation of state specific immigration laws.
It is estimated over $1.2 billion is spent annually educating the children of undocumented immigrants on a national level. The Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation has indicated undocumented immigrant workers contribute $4.5 billion in taxes each year. As expressed by the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, the impact on Florida agriculture could be devastating if undocumented immigrants, a large portion of their work force, were not available. A study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimates the cost to Florida for undocumented immigration is $5.5 billion per year. This includes an analysis of the impact on education, health care, law enforcement, and public assistance.
Florida Governor, Rick Scott, wants to adopt the controversial Arizona style immigration law, and there are many in South Florida who share his position. Those who oppose his position argue that such a law could hurt tourism, agriculture and businesses that rely on international trade.
Florida has a unique twist on undocumented immigrants with the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 (revised 1995), commonly known as the Wet Foot – Dry Foot policy. Essentially, this policy allows undocumented immigrants from Cuba who reach U.S. soil to remain in the U.S. and pursue permanent residence. Those who are stopped before they reach U.S. soil are sent back to Cuba. This policy only applies to Cubans, and that has been an area of contention from other Latin American communities and the Haitian community in South Florida.
There are millions of law abiding, tax-paying, undocumented immigrants who are contributing members of society and have been in the U.S. for over 20 years. There are millions of undocumented students who are in the U.S., through no fault of their own, with no recollection of their native country. Is it reasonable to provide a level of compassion and humane amnesty for such individuals?
No matter what side of the fence one is on, the undocumented immigration issue seems to be an issue of security, business, and economics. Sound bites and political grandstanding is not the solution. Deporting every undocumented immigrant regardless of their situation should not be the solution. The U.S. needs politicians with the political will to lead on this subject regardless of party affiliation or perceived political correctness.
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