Criminals or Victims: Illegal Immigration in the United States

Illegal immigration into the United States has presented problems to the government and American people for many years. However, most people do not pay attention to what the government is attempting to do about the undocumented individuals within the country and how the different policies that are being created can affect both citizens and non-citizens. Most would assume that these illegal aliens are destroying the country, making it almost impossible for legal American citizens to obtain employment due to non-citizens acquiring the available work. However, those who are advocates for illegal immigrants espouse a different perspective in which they claim that these immigrants are not the criminals, the Americans that take advantage of them are. With no paperwork and no authorization to be in the United States, undocumented immigrants are left vulnerable, only capable of obtaining work that is not only illegal, but in many cases unconstitutional. Due to the fact that these illegal immigrants are not citizens, they are not entitled to the same rights as other Americans. Others argue that these people should not be punished—seeing how their primary goal may be to work and make for themselves a better life—but instead should be given an opportunity to legally acquire citizenship. The current controversy of illegal immigration is a very difficult subject, however President Barack Obama, the Obama administration and Congressional lawmakers are trying to create new policies and pass bills in order to mitigate the issues associated with illegal immigration.

The unauthorized residents of the United States are defined as “…all foreign-born non-citizens who are not legal residents. Most unauthorized residents either entered the United States without inspection or were admitted temporarily and stayed past the date they were required to leave” (Hoefer 1). A common misconception is that illegally being within the country is not equivalnet with entering undetected. As of January 2010, statistics have shown that there are about eleven million illegal immigrants currently within the United States, with a majority of them being from Mexico: approximately 6.6 million; followed by El Salvador which has 620,000 immigrants entering, and Guatemala which stands at 520,000. Of the eleven million illegal immigrants within the country, the top three states that they reside in are: California, with 2.6 million; Texas, with 1.8 million; and Florida. with 760,000. The illegal immigrants are on average between the ages of 25 to 44 years old, with approximately 62 percent of this age group being males. So far, the government has been able to collect adequate information regarding how many illegal immigrants are within the country. However, there still remains the issue of what is to be done with them.

Currently, new proposals focusing on illegal immigration have been criticized. The first issue with the new proposals often brought up is that these new policies would be targeting the eleven million illegal immigrants that are already living within the United States, opening them up to prosecution if the bill were to become law. Immigration Policy attorney Kamal Essaheb, who is a part of the National Immigration Law Center, stated, “Snap your fingers and they would all be criminals”. (Gomez 1). The reason why the left finds these new policies to be troublesome is due to their perception that unauthorized immigrants only enter the country illegally because they are not given easy access to other options.

Though the left has argued that unauthorized immigrants would instantly become criminals if these policies were passed, the government argues otherwise. Republican chairman of the House of the Judiciary Committee of Virginia, Bob Goodlatte, and Republican chair of the chambers immigration subcommittee of South Carolina, Trey Gowdy, both aim to create a measure that makes being “unlawfully present in the United States” (Gomez 2), a federal crime—a misdemeanor. Currently, US federal law requires that all aliens 14 years or older who enter the United States and remain within the country for a period exceeding 30 days, register with the US government and are required to have these registration documents in their possession at all times. Those who fail to do so are guilty of a federal misdemeanor. It is already a federal misdemeanor under current law to enter the United States illegally. One of the primary purposes of the proposal would be to place stricter regulations on the existing law, i.e. that it would not be a crime not only to illegally enter the country, but in addition, to stay beyond one’s visa. Also, the proposal would include the elimination of a five-year statute of limitations on the prosecutions of these crimes.

However, the goal is not to ultimately incriminate the eleven million unauthorized immigrants that are currently within the country, rather supporters are anticipating another bill that would legalize them, though this bill has yet to be filed in the House of Representatives. The goal is actually to deter future immigrants from entering the United States illegally. When discussing the new potential bill, Bob Goodlatte stated:

“’It contemplates that there’s going to be a legal status for them…This is to deal with future enforcement of the law. My understanding from the outset of this whole effort … was that nothing was going to happen unless everything happened. Our intention is to deal with all areas of immigration reform’” (Gomez 2).

A potential new bill would allow these eleven million illegal immigrants a chance to apply for US citizenship, along with adding $6.5 billion to securing the nation’s southwest border with Mexico, making it a requirement for businesses of the United States to check the immigration status of new hires and revamp the legal immigration system.

Though policy makers have displayed intentions of helping illegal immigrants, the enforcement of the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, also known as the SAFE Act, seems to evidence the contrary according to the left. This Act would create new crimes of unlawful presence, permit state and local governments to create immigration laws that would reflect current federal immigration law, and provide grants to state and local police to enforce those laws. While trying to help illegal immigrants, politicians must also keep in mind that unauthorized entry into the United States is still illegal and those who break the law must suffer the consequences of their actions.

With many focusing on the new laws and policies being put up to the vote, most have forgotten that the most controversial—and probably the biggest reason why so many people give so much attention to illegal immigration, is Arizona’s controversial SB 1070. Passed in 2010, this is a legislative Act in of the US state of Arizona that has been stated to be the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration initiative in recent American history. It has gained a great deal of national and international attention, and criticism. In addition to the federal crime of being an unauthorized immigrant, the Arizona Act made it a state misdemeanor for an alien to be within Arizona without carrying the required documents. This act is enforced by state police officers who determine an individual’s immigration status after being lawfully stopped, arrested, or during an instance when there is reasonable suspicion that an individual may be an unauthorized immigrant. Randall Archibold, of the New York Times, a critic of SB 1070, stated:

“The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status” (Archibold 1).

Some, especially on the left, are not pleased. Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, and President Barack Obama have criticized the new law, a fairly rare act considering how presidents usually do not comment on state legislation. There have been hundreds of demonstrators speaking up against the law and a handful of policy makers criticizing the decision Governor Brewer made when she signed the bill. Archibold writes that:

“Ms. Brewer acknowledged critics’ concerns, saying she would work to ensure that the police have proper training to carry out the law. But she sided with arguments by the law’s sponsors that it provides an indispensable tool for the police in a border state that is a leading magnet of illegal immigration. She said racial profiling would not be tolerated, adding, ‘We have to trust our law enforcement’” (Archibold 2).

Though viewed as harsh by some, the state of Arizona has exhibited control over the passing of this bill and continues to enforce is since its signing in 2010. However, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down important parts of this Arizona law, stating that though Arizona has issues caused by illegal immigration, the State may not pursue policies which undermine federal law. The Supreme Court ruled that though the federal government has the power to block parts of the law, the court let stand one of the most controversial parts, which is allowing police officers the right to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws if reasonable suspicion is present. The illegal immigration law of Arizona potentially opens the door for an increased use of racial profiling. Some leftwing critics have even ventured to calling the new act the “Show Me Your Papers” law. Attorney General Eric Holder stated: “Today’s ruling appropriately bars the state of Arizona from effectively criminalizing unlawful status in the state and confirms the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate in the area of immigration.” Though Governor Brewer has signed the act into law and the Supreme Court has acknowledged its main section as constitutional, the left continues to criticize it as unfair.

What the United States government is attempting to do is preserve justice and rights for those who are legally living within the United States and assuring all that crime will not go unpunished. At the same time, many would like to see the government stretch out its hand to illegal immigrants, giving them some opportunity to  become citizens. Considering the controversey associated with illegal immigration and immigration reform, it is hard to decide whether or not illegal immigrants within the country should be assisted or punished.

Works Cited

Skerry, Peter. “Splitting the Difference on Illegal Immigration Publications National Affairs.” Splitting the Difference on Illegal Immigration Publications National Affairs. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Aug. 2014.

Gomez, Alan. “Bill to Crack down on Illegal Immigration Criticized.” USA Today. N.p., 19 June 2013. Web. 3 Aug. 2014.

Archibold, Randal C. “ARIZONA ENACTS STRINGENT LAW ON IMMIGRATION.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Apr. 2010. Web. 03 Aug. 2014. Lee, Brianna. “The U.S. Immigration Debate.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 03 Aug. 2014.

Cohen, Tom, Tom Watkins, and Jessica Yellin. “Supreme Court Mostly Rejects Arizona Immigration Law; Gov Says ‘heart’ Remains.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 03 Aug. 2014.

Seminara, David. “No Coyote Needed.” Center for Immigration Studies. Center for Immigration Studies, Mar. 2008. Web. 03 Aug. 2014.

Hoefer, Michael, Nancy Rytina, and Bryan C. Baker. “Review: Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2005.” Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2010 33.2 (2007): 413-14.Homeland Security. Office of Immigration Statistics, 2010. Web. 3 Aug. 2014.