The vexing issue of illegal immigration

Last updated 10:35 12/11/2012

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Voyages in America

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As a legal immigrant to the USA, on a gut level I struggle with the issue of illegal immigration in America. 

If you travel across the world enough, you can't long ignore the rules that govern how you can enter a country and for how long you can stay. If you then choose to live anywhere apart from Australia the rules get more laborious and the fees more expensive. Travel is great and all, but it's underpinned by a deeply serious bureaucratic code.  

I imagine readers of this blog to be entirely law-abiding migrants. (I might be wrong?)

borderFollowing run-ins with the realities of the American immigration system, I have entirely rerouted travel and life plans. I have recently shelled out thousands of dollars to become a legal resident of the United States (as it stands I am a resident alien). This is my fifth turn at bat with the United States Customs and Immigration Service. It has taken a lot of money from me in my life (as well as a little of my sanity and just a touch of my pride).

I may get pilloried for admitting this, but a petulant part of me bristles when I consider "illegal" immigration. I've jumped through so many hoops to maintain good standing with the American Government but 10 million people who decided to just come here and stay want an amnesty?

I can take this response to a pettier level: because surely these American immigration hoops I have to clear might be less painstaking if so many people weren't violating immigration laws.  

This is a reactionary and me-focused stance to hold. The serious problems around illegal immigration are much more complicated than this. But though it is not my personal view, these are things that have crossed my mind.

Illegal immigrants come to the United States in the most part from Mexico (56 per cent), but there are large blocs coming in from Latin America (22 per cent), Asia (13 per cent) and Europe (6 per cent). 

whitehouseWhat I need to contend with, when I'm falling victim to some of the ridiculous ways of thinking I have confessed to above, is that my own migration has little in common with that of people who choose to be in America undocumented.

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For a start, I'm not escaping anything by coming to America. There's no war in New Zealand (that I know of). I'm a high(er) skilled, middle-class immigrant; if I were to live back home the opportunities available to me would be pretty good. The average salary in New Zealand is a lot more than the few thousand dollars each year it is in Mexico. We have no vast drug trade creating civil disorder and gangs that can rival governments in power and influence.

Through a friend of a friend, I spent an evening recently with someone who was living in America illegally. She came to America after she was 16, so does not qualify for Obama's recent offer of deportation "deferrals" to those who came to America as kids. She's almost through a university degree, but for the immediate future the best job she can get is serving burgers. San Francisco is a good place to be. It is considered a safe-haven city and police won't stop you if they suspect you are undocumented. But elsewhere in the US, she said, friends of hers share information on Facebook about checkpoints to help each other out. Family members of hers in Los Angeles work in factories that are often raided by customs officers.  

Undocumented immigrants are afforded little protection by the law if they are wronged. To cut costs in San Francisco, whole families often pile into single rooms within houses. These immigrants have little access to medical care. They struggle to get drivers licences.

But they will come to America regardless, resolving to live outside the protections of the system in order to have access at a better life, if not for them then for their children and grandchildren.

whitehouseThis isn't working. But what will?  

America can't just do away with its immigration system. That would be bedlam. And as long as there is a system in place and people are still streaming toward America, there will be those both inside and outside the law. America is owed the right to decide who comes and lives within its borders. Considerations for compassion and hardship aside, not everyone can just up and move to a certain country because it works best for them.

But, these immigrants still come with intent to stay regardless. Would amnesty work? I actually agreed with Mitt Romney when he said that amnesty is its own magnet that will amplify the flow of undocumented immigrants into America. But that is not a failsafe argument against an amnesty, either.

Could all of the currently 10 million undocumented immigrants be absorbed into the American system seamlessly? No. And then an amnesty for those already here would solve nothing in addressing the millions more that will come to America in the future. So then if we're talking about amnesty for some rather than all - a sturdy, lasting solution going forward - where is that line drawn?  

This is a problem that is changing America. Eleven per cent of voters were Hispanic in the recently completed election, breaking three-to-one for Obama. There were almost two million more Hispanic voters in this election than the last. The American electorate is changing.

That the cruel policy and ugly ideology emanating from the Republican Party resonated so poorly with Hispanic voters will only hasten a push for meaningful reform.

Change is needed, and for those in the shadows, change is probably deserved. The rise of the Californian economy was predicated on a wealth of migrant labour. Undocumented immigrants benefit this America. But it's an issue that seems to have no magic answer and brings with it solutions that only then beget other problems.

How can this problem be fixed?

Or maybe, can this problem be fixed?

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