Ah, ah. We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow. Hammer of the gods, will drive our ships to new land. To fight the hordes, and sing and cry. Valhalla I am coming. Always sweep with, with threshing oar, our only goal will be the western shore. Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song was written in Iceland during the band’s 1970 tour, and was released in November of that year. The words describe the thoughts of Vikings leaving Scandinavia in search of new lands. However, Vikings were not necessarily immigrants, and neither are many of the people that certain activists and media outlets are labeling as immigrants today.
Words matter since ideas are made from words and policies spring from ideas, so calling anyone who has flow to America to visit and overstayed their visa, or anyone who happened to be carried across the Rio Grande by a Coyotaje an immigrant is torturing the word. Depending on what branch of the Federal government one goes to for a definition, an immigrant may be anyone who is in the country (except for a few specifically designed categories like ambassadors and for some reason fashion models), or someone who is in the country and has been granted the right to reside permanently and to work without restrictions in the United States (these are also known as a Lawful Permanent Residents). In fact, the government describes foreign nationals as aliens more often than they do immigrants. This inconsistency in definitions is likely why people are often termed to be immigrants or illegal-immigrants.
Since words matter, generally speaking, those who advocate for open borders call nearly everyone who enters the country an immigrant, while those who believe that access to the country should be restricted use terms like illegals, aliens or rapists and murderers to describe non-lawful permanent residents who have either no visa or have overstayed their visa requirements. By calling everyone immigrants, advocates try to evoke the emotion of Ellis Island or the Mayflower and talk about how we all came from immigrants to the new world (yes even Native Americans) at some point in our family history.
The problem is that while many forms of immigration to the United States are positive, beneficial and completely legal, many others are not. Notwithstanding the fact that many of these people are breaking the law (and are by definition criminals), the illegal form of immigration has a number of negative consequences on America.
First a few statistics. While statistics on any criminal activity are generally sketchy, the Pew Research Foundation has put out some general numbers on illegal immigration in America. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/03/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/) According to Pew, there were 11.1 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2014, accounting for 3.5 percent of the nation’s population. This was down from the peak of 12.2 million in 2007. Of these aliens, about 8 million are in the workforce accounting for 5 percent of the overall number of employed people in the country. Again, this is down slightly from the 2007 peak. Just over half of the undocumented aliens are Mexican; however, the numbers of people from Asia, Central America, and sub-Saharan Africa has been growing while the number from Mexico has been falling.
So what does this mean for the country? Let’s start with the economy. While it is well documented that immigration is generally good for the economy, there is much debate over the value of illegal immigration. Most of this debate focuses on whether or not these people are a burden on taxpayers, or if they pay more in taxes than they use in services. This is a spurious and I would argue dangerous argument. The same argument has been used to discriminate against many minority groups including Native Americans, legal Chinese and Irish immigrants, handicapped people, Jews and most recently smokers.
The Third Reich legitimately (in their mind) gassed the blind, the handicapped and the Jewish, because they were deemed to be costs on the taxpayer. Using a balance sheet approach to determine who should be allowed into the country is biased in that both tax policy and the provision of government services are decided independently of whether a person works, or contributes in some other way.
Illegal immigration does; however, surely harm the economy in one other way. When two firms compete and one hires undocumented workers and does not have to pay legally obligated wages or abide by other labor laws than a competitor who hires legitimate labor, the firm breaking the law will often operate at an advantage. As with any other policy or condition that reduced fair competition, this harms markets in the long run. In a city with say 100 restaurants, the 3 that use illegal labor will either generate more profits to their owners, or be able to serve customers at a lower cost. Over time, this will reduce the overall number of restaurants in operation, and lead to higher costs and less total employment.
In addition to harming markets, illegal immigration does lead to increases in violence and crime. This is not necessarily because the Guatemalan family living next door are not good, solid and kind people, but because the infrastructure that moves illegals across the border, or exploits the once they are here, is not generally made up of America’s best. Those who import illegal aliens into America also import other things, like firearms, drugs, prostitutes, or terrorists. It is these sidelines that cause the real crime problems. Those who exploit illegal workers in sweatshops, brothels, or other illegal or semi-legitimate ventures may also be committing more problematic crimes from tax evasion to rape or murder. Then there are the illegal aliens who have entered the country to flee justice in their homeland, or to do harm to America. While this may be a very small proportion of the 11.1 million undocumented people, if it is just one-one thousandth of a percent (.00001) it would still be over 100 people, and it took just 19 people to pull off the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
It is nearly undeniable that while legal immigration is beneficial to both the country and to those deciding to immigrate either for family, economic or humanitarian reasons, the illegal form of immigration is undoubtedly problematic. And while there can be legitimate policy disputes over whether building a wall, deporting people, blocking flights from certain countries or providing a general amnesty is the best way to reduce those problems, simply defining all immigrants as the same is not a proper manner to address and communicate about the issue.
People have always come to America to fight the hordes, and sing and cry. And while it may not be Valhalla¸ both the country and those who decide to call it home both are worth protecting.