LOS INDOCUMENTADOS: PRACTICES, RECOMMENDATIONS, AND PROPOSALS
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LOS INDOCUMENTADOS: PRACTICES, RECOMMENDATIONS,AND PROPOSALS
Elizabeth Hull, Rutgers University^Wemark
The 197O's has been described as the "decade of theimmigrant," and indeed the influx of newcomers during thisperiod was at record levels: the United States absorbed fourmillipn immigrants and refugees, and in 1980 alone, withthe inclusion of 160,000 Cuban and Haitian "boat people,"more than 800,000 new arrivals were admitted.rmore than inany other decade in the nation's history, and perhapstwice the number taken in by all other countries combined.
During the 197O's an unprecedented number of undocument-ed, or illegal, migrants walked, swam, sailed, drove, or flewin as^wellprobably as many as were admitted on a legalbasis. While clandestine entries have occurred ever sincethe United States first enacted restrictive immigration laws,public outrage against these illegal migrantsi.e., thosewho enter the country "without inspection," or, once here,violate the terms of their visaserupts in cyclical fashionwhenever economic or political tensions are high. This pastdecade, predictably, when unemployment and inflation havebeen at rates unequalled since the Great Depression, thecitizenry again became more aware of, and alarmed by, thepresence of undocumented aliens.
In response to public alarm, a succession of officialbodies have convened throughout the past decade to study, andissue recommendations for dealing with, illegal migration.
Last summer, shortly after the latest Commission culminatedits two-year study with a series of such recommendations,amid much publicity the Reagan Administration announced itsown "immigration package." A number of proposals contained inthis package disregard or contravene altogether the counselof these presumably expert commissions, thereby raising twoquestions that will be addressed in this paper: one, for whatpolitical or prudential reasons did the Administration electto disregard this counsel? Two, notwithstanding thisdisregard are the Administration's proposals likely to bereasonably effective?
POLICY AS A "WINK". Large-scale migration, both legal andillegal, generates problems that cannot be ignored. To date,however, debate on the issue has been characterized less by areasoned assessment of the facts than by exaggeration andconjectureperhaps in part because there is a dearth of ver-ifiable data whith which to determine the social and economicimpact, geographic dispersion, long-term consequences ofundocumented migration, or .ven the most fundamental fact:the number of such migrants.
What is known, however, is that illegal migration is aworld-wide, inexorable phenomenon, likely to persist and infact grow in intensity given the multitude of problemsafflicting developing nations. What is similarly known isthat factors both beyond its control, and conscious policyvery much within its control, have rendered the United Statesparticularly attractive to prospective migrants.
The United States is the only rich, industrializedcountry that shares a long border with a comparatively poor,less developed nation, and the only such country accessibleby water from impoverished neighboring islands. It is theonly wealthy country that has touted itself "the land ofimmigrants," and historically welcomed large numbers.Finally, the United States, with its tradition of pluralism,offers supportive communities for members of differentnationaIities.
This country has encouraged a rate of clandestine immi-gration, however, beyond that for which either its geographiclocation or pluralist tradition would account. Its active,world-wide promotion of the "American way of life," coupledwith the fact that whenever it has fought a war, or developedstronq bonds in its quest for non-communist allies, it hasproduced an unanticipated result: denizens of poor, third-world nations have been exposed to a "land of opportunity,"where reputedly freedom and affluence abound.
Through interaction, as well, the country has encouraged
illegal entries. According to a recent New York Timeseditorial, "the United States does want (illegal aliens), orat least many of them, and it is not, in, any case, willing todo what's necessary to keep them out." The United Statesis unable "to articulate its policy concerning them," theeditorial continued, "but that's not to say the nationdoesn't have such a policy. It surely does. It is a wink."Perhaps it is more accurate to characterize the country'simmigration policy as one that is both self-serving, at leastin a short-term sense, and irresponsible, from a long-termperspective: immigration policy has never been a priority forthe nation's lawmakers, and hence never a factor to be con-sidered in economic, social, and demographic planninq. More-over, despite a world still characterized by nation-statecentrism, America's immigration policies are inevitably andintimately aligned with international conditions; it isconsequently unfortunate that little effort has been made toestablish linkages between immigration, both legal andillegal, and the country's foreign policy.
The United States will continue to invite illegal migra-tion, what is more, as long as it entrusts the enforcement ofits immigration laws to the Immigration and NaturalizationService (INS), as presently constituted. This agency is sowoefully understaffed and i I 1-equipped, so mismanaged anddemoralized by official inattention that, to the extent itfunctions at all, it does so in only the most capricious andhaphazard of fashion. According to a recently-issued Govern-ment Accounting Office report, any unauthorized person, oncehere, "has little chance of being located and deported."As a result, the United States has what the Select Commissionon Immigration calls a "half open-door policy:" while thecountry officially forbids i I legaJ entry, it effectivelycondones it through lax enforcement.
Leon Castillo, former commissioner of the INS, observedin reference to this country's immigration policies that"Congress likes what we have now. Clearly sosoe people derivegreat benefit from the present situation." Some peopledo in fact derive great benefitmiddle and upper class fami-lies who can hire cheap babysitters, maids, and gardeners;consumers who benefit to some indeterminate extent by the low-cost labor that aliens supply. The chief beneficiaries, ofcourse, are employerslike those in the garment industry,which is virtually dependent on illegal labor, or in agri-business, where undocumented workers are considered a primefactor in budgetary planning, or employers in the restaurantindustry, who insist that their business could not existwithout such labor.
Consequently it is no accident that time and again legis-
lative efforts to proscribe the employment of illegal alienshave failed. While in most countries it is unlawful foremployers to hire people lacking proper documentation, in theUnited States Section 1324 of the Immigration and NationalityActthe so-called "Texas Proviso"specifically exemptsemployers from the legal sanctions against harboring illegalaliens. Legislation to penalize such employment haspassed the House on two occasions, but business lobbyists(who found a sympathetic ally in James Eastland, formerchairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and himself aplantation owner) succeeded in blocking its passage in theSenate. The Texas Proviso continues intact, therefore,resulting in a peculiar anomaly: while a person withoutproper documentation is ineligible for employment in theUnited States, any employer is altogether free to hire him.
Finally, for well over a century the United States hasencouraged clandestine migration from its neighbor to thesouth by actively recruiting Mexican workers whenever it hassought a cheap and readily accessible supply of labor, andpolicy-makers have time and again relaxed or suspendedrestrictive immigration laws in order to facilitate thissupp ly.
POLICY AS PUBLIC OPINION. During the 196O's, for the firsttime in American history (excluding the pre-1868 blackslaves), the majority of its immigrants were not white, andten yeas J^ter seventy percent were from either Latin Americaor Asia. This phenomenon is not unprecedented, however;the nation has in the past experienced radical shifts in itsdemographic composition; moreover, at present there are fewerforeign-born in its population than a any other time since1860, when records were first kept. Finally, each succes-sion of new immigrants has engender^ed fears not unlike thosetriggered by the latest influx. Notwithstanding theseconsiderations, however, many members of the public fear thatrecent developments will erode what is perceived to be thecountry's historic national identity.
Contributing to public alarm is the fact that over thepast decade at lest fifty percent of the legal and illegalimmigrants to the.gUnited States spoke a single foreignlanguage: Spanish. This fact has prompted a mountingopposition to bi-lingualism and, indeed, to cultural plural-ism in general. Last year voters in Dade County, Florida,passed, by a three-to-one margin (and without noticeableprotest from most "liberal" politicians), an ordinance estab-lishing that "expenditures of county funds for the purpose ofutilizing any language other than English, or promoting anycultuce other than that of the United States, is prohibit-ed." Simi lar measures recently have been introduced or
passed elsewhere in the country, and the Secretary of Educa-tion, Terrell Bell, is one among many governmental leaderswho is outspoken.in his opposition to federally-funded bi-Ii ngual programs.
Because the Spanish-speaking groups appear to regardtheir language as a symbol of cultural pride, or as animpetus for ethnic unity, there is also fear that the UnitedStates will in time be ridden with the divisiveness thatcharacterizes Canada, with its French-speaking Quebecians, orthe Dutch, with their "unassimilable" Moluccans. SenatorAlan K. Simpson noted that the Spanish-speaking aliens seemto adopt the English language and other nationalcharacteristics less completely than other immigrants, and hewarned that "linguistic and cultural separatism j/ii ght erodethe unity and political stability of the nation."
In Texas, where the terms "illegal alien" and "Mexican"are vitually interchangeable, seve^al public school districtshave either refused to enroll chii Idren who lack proper docu-mentation, or have imposed tuition requirements that aseffectively bar these children from public education. If theSupreme Court upholds the constitutionality of these restric-tions, a number of other states, particularly in the South-west, are likely to ijfipose further civil disabilities uponundocumented residents.
Undocumented aliens, regardless of their national origin,arouse antipathy because they are frequently seen as threatsnot only to the country's cultural and demographic status,but also to its standard of living. James Farrell, in GiveUs Your Poor, argues that the United States has dwindlingphysical resources, insufficient for Americans, let alonemillions of "illegals." Columnist Garrett Hardin esti-mates that every illegal alien will use, "conservatively," aminimum of 1500 barrels of oil during his tenure in theUnited States. "Does he bring 1500 barrels of oil with him?"the coJumnist asks: "if not, the rest of us must share withhim." Similarly, Senator Strom Thurmond lambastes thepolicies of the CarterJidministration for their "give us yourpoor" sentimentality, and agrees with Senator Simpsonthat "the real issue...is what is best Jxir the existing humanbeings who are United States citizens."
Public sentiment is reflected in a recent Roper publicopinion poll, according to which 91 percent of those ques-tioned believed the United States should make an "all outeffort" to stop illegal immigration, and in the emergenceof grass roots organizations, such as the New York City-based"Citizens Against llligal Immigration." One new, well-financed organization. Federation for American Immigration
Reform (FAIR), merits particular note both because it is thefirst "nationaJ organization formed solely to abolish illegalimmigration," and because of the influence it has ^^readyamassed in official circles during its brief existence.
POLICY AS CONTINUED STUDY. United States policymakers,then, have tolerated if indeed not encouragedundocumentedmigration, and they bear considerable responsibility for theproblems it has occasioned, including, certainly, the resul-tant neo-nativism in the country. While policymakers areconsequently obliged to implement corrective measures thatare both humane and effective, whether or not they will do sois uncertain since immigration traditionally has been an un-popular issue. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative"think tank" whose members reputedly wield considerableinfluence in the Reagan Administration, noted in Mandate forLeadership that "(t)here are no clear 'conservative' posi-tions on immigration, and no clear 'conservative' solu-tions," and, in fact, offered this advice to the presentAdministration: "Clearly an approach which would be politi-cally safe in the.short-term would be one of continued studyand exami nation."
There has indeed been continued "study and examination."At least since the early 197O's one official body afteranother has convened on a near-annual basis to recommendmeasures. In March of 1981 the Select Commission on Immigra-tion and Refugee Policy concluded its two-year study with aseries of recommendations for dealing with illegal immigra-tion, and the Reagan Administration responded by impannelingan Inter-Agency Taskforce to study the Select Commission'sproposals, and in turn make suggestions of its own.
Notwithstanding this discouraging record, however, sub-stantial reform may in fact be undertaken by the 97th Con-gress. On July 30th of last year President Reagan announceda "package" of immigration reforms whose passage apparentlyranks high among his priorities. While these proposals wouldordinarily represent a welcome culmination to a decade-longseries of studies, they in fact distinguish themselves pri-marily in one respect: their total disregard for the adviceand admonitions issued by almost every one of these studies.
The Select Commission concluded that Northern Europe'spostwar guestworker program, as well as this country's sim^^lar bracero program that operated from 1942 until 1964,were from a long-term perspec...