Saturday, February 16, 2008

10 Facts on Immigration

My mom wrote this wonderful essay, and I received her permission to publish it on my blog.


Lately, I’ve been reading the papers and feeling very confused listening to the debate on the illegal immigration issue. I heard a lot of rhetoric and anger and not a lot of facts. So I decided to do my own research. What I found in one evening on my computer surprised me. I thought I would share what I learned with others.

Fact Number 1

Any person who is not born in the United States and comes in to the country from outside is called an alien. There are two kinds of aliens immigrant and non-immigrant. It is not hard to get a visa to enter the US as a temporary visitor or non-immigrant. Such holders are considered nonimmigrant aliens. There are business, employment, tourist, and student visas. Almost six million total non-immigrant visas were issued in 2006. What is much harder to get is immigrant status; the coveted permanent resident alien designation and its accompanying “green card” which grants permission to work legally in the US. Incidentally the card is not “green” but used to be many years ago. This green card status can be the first step to becoming a naturalized US citizen.

Fact Number 2

For most of its history the US allowed unrestricted immigration. Beginning in 1924 the Johnson-Reed Act began a quota system that allowed people into the US in the same proportion to the percentage of that nationality in the 1890 US population. It was an obvious attempt to limit immigration of certain ethnic groups. Because of this law many people trying to get away from the Nazis could not immigrate before they were forced to death camps. Even the Von Trapp Family, of Sound of Music fame, had to live with their large family in cheap rooms around Europe after escaping from the Nazis for several years waiting for a chance to immigrate to the US. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 added a preference system to the quota system.

Fact Number 3

The Hart-Cellar Act in 1965 got rid of the immigrant country quota system and changed it entirely into a preference system. If a person was a refugee, had special skills or was related to a US citizen they had a better chance to get in. The current system continues this preference system but also allows for a Visa lottery for persons who do not fit into the preference system. 50,000 people a year are allowed in using the lottery. Five million applications have been received for 2008. In 2006, 44,349 people “got lucky” and won a permanent resident status with the lottery.

About 100,000 immigrants are granted refugee status or asylum each year. Up to 625,000 visas are granted for spouses and families of US citizens or permanent residents but only 225,000 were issued last year. Marriages are carefully examined for evidence of fraud in case people
have entered into a sham marriage to obtain legal immigrant status. Applicants also undergo FBI criminal background checks and are screened for health problems and deviant behaviors. The wait might be anywhere from one year to twelve years or more.

Fact Number 4

Just under one million persons get their coveted permanent residence status or “green card” each year and are considered legal immigrants. About 600,000 of that one million are already in the US and changed their status to permanent residents. The other 40% apply from outside the country. Demographers tell us the US does not face the crisis of aging population and low birthrate that currently is threatening the economic health of European countries because of the influx of young immigrants. In other words, hard working immigrants are not a drain on society because their taxes help fund education and Social Security.

Fact Number 5

Not surprisingly many more people want to immigrate than this system allows. The number of people who immigrate to the US is greater than immigration to all other countries in the world combined. Undocumented immigrants (this is the correct term) were allowed to apply to the US amnesty program through the Simpson-Rodino Bill of 1986. President Ronald Reagan signed this bill. About one million undocumented immigrants came forward and became legal. The respected Pew Hispanic Center states that 57% of illegal aliens are of Mexican origin and 24% are of non-Mexican Latin American origin ( 81% Latinos ). They also report that while the number of legal immigrants arriving has not varied substantially since the 1980s, the number of illegal aliens has increased dramatically and, since the mid 1990s, has surpassed the number of legal immigrants. Clearly, we need a more robust system to handle the large number of those desiring legal immigration.

Fact Number 6

Few people understand the immigration laws in this country and even experts struggle to understand all the details, regulations, etc. The INS is woefully backlogged with applications, change of status requests, etc. Many lawyers are kept busy trying to navigate this tangle for people who want to live and work in this country. The simple system that existed before 1924 no longer exists. A person used to be able to come to the US, clear the Immigration service health and criminal check and then stop by the post office every January to update their information and work toward naturalization and citizenship.

Fact Number 7

Many come to the US on a temporary visa which is valid for six months because it is easier to get a tourist, business or student visa than a permanent resident (immigrant) visa. Overstay on a temporary visa is common as it takes a lot longer than six months to get a change of status. One source said that 6 out of 10 undocumented aliens become such because they overstay a temporary visa. A strange Catch 22 exists for those who might come to the US on a temporary visa and later apply for permanent resident status. When they apply for temporary visas they have to swear that they intend to return to their native country.

Fact Number 8

The US deports nearly 600,000 undocumented aliens every year . In 2006 ICE spent $70 million dollars to fly 221, 600 aliens to the border. This does not count the cost of those shipped by bus or other transportation. It is impossible to find out how many of them were deported for serious crimes. Immigration can be criminal because of a visa overstay or because of false statements about immigration status to obtain employment.

Fact Number 9

The Internal Revenue service taxes anyone, regardless of visa status who resides in the US more than 180 days a year. Yes, immigrants pay taxes and yes, it would be good if the undocumented were allowed to work here and pay taxes along with everyone else. I looked but could not find the answer to this question, “What happens to all the money paid into the Social Security System by employers and employees to fake SS numbers?” Maybe someone else can find out.

Fact Number 10

All the 9-11 conspirators were here legally on visas. They were not undocumented immigrants. It has been estimated that undocumented immigrants constitute only 1% of the US population.

After learning all this I am grateful that my grandfathers immigrated to the US before 1924 so I am not illiterate in a poor country. Instead, my grandfathers’ descendants are tax paying US citizens who are dedicated educators, lawyers, architects, builders, college professors, business owners, VP of a international chemical corporation, and web designers. And I find myself wondering “Is there no way our lawmakers could come up with sensible solutions to the immigration law tangle in this country?” What is more American than giving other families the chance mine enjoys? I have confidence that if we all put our heads together, we could come up with sensible solutions to the immigration tangle in this country!

UPDATE: My mom writes:

I did find the answer to my question about SSA and IRS $. Here it is
According to the IRS the majority of undocumented pay income tax using
Individual Taxpayer ID Numbers.while most employers withhold federal,
state and local taxes from undocumented. SSA estimates that about half
of all undocumented pay SS taxes, with SSA holding $420 billion from
these immigrants who are not in a position to claim them. This amount
keeps accumulating generating approximately $6 to $7 million in FICA and
$1.5 billion in Medicare taxes. Undocumented are NOT eligible for SS or
welfare programs except emergency services and public health and safety
(for obvious reasons)
from Paul Morrell Morrell family charities Coalition for Tolerance and
Respect. printed in the Deseret Morning News, Salt Lake City, Utah
February 18, 2008