Thousands of High School students in every state have no idea they are illegal immigrants. Typically they find out when they want to get a job or a driver’s license. They find out that they do not have a social security number. They cannot work or drive 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 way, no how to become “legal”.
Forty seven percent of undocumented or “illegal” immigrants entered the country legally but overstayed their Visas. In this area of the country the percentage is a lot higher. Nationwide 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 those in the United States will remain here undocumented rather than return home with no chance to ever come back legally.
There is no small irony in the fact that we all seem to just accept these people are “illegal” while many have broken no laws. In fact it is not illegal to be undocumented. Overstaying a visa means you are deportable, but there is no law against it. One cannot be illegal for “being” in America. The law against crossing a border “unexamined” is punishable by a fine of $50 to $250, like a speeding ticket. But there is no one to take your money, and even if you did pay it you would not be “legal” and you would still be deportable.
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 in-state tuition in the states they may 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 work, drive, go to college or enter our military.
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. All the immigrants I know agree that immigration should be difficult, but US immigration under present laws is just impossible.
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 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 taxes. The vast majority in that situation never receive any refund of taxes paid because they never file for a tax refund, which would be illegal. And none of them are eligible for any benefits from the Social Security or Medicare they pay. It is generally accepted that the undocumented segment of the population pays more than its fair share of taxes.
Most estimates say undocumented aliens make up as much 6% of the people in the United States, but being undocumented means we just don’t know. The check cashing stores that sprang up around the country a decade or so ago evidence the fact that the undocumented usually work for cash. They work cheaper than most Americans, live cheaper, save money, and contribute a great deal to the economy with their labors.
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. The only ways to add people to our economy is through immigration, to increase our birth rate, or to expand into other countries or populations.
Conservative estimates report 20 million people are 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 better behaved than the rest of the population so as not to draw attention to themselves.
According to US immigration law the only reasonable path to citizenship is to marry an American. To marry “for papers” 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? It certainly cheapens the institution of marriage and undermines the foundation of involved families. And in any case, the immigration services take it very seriously when an undocumented marries an American and often checks out the situation thoroughly.
According to our immigration policy those who marry 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 thousand 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.
The only life options available to “DREAMer” undocumented youths puts them 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.