Hypocrisy and the Impasse over Immigration Reform

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      Donald Trump wants America to build a permanent wall at the U.S.-Mexican border. "We'll have a great wall. We'll call it the Great Wall of Trump," he told Fox Business recently. Chris Christie has stated that if he is elected president, he will track undocumented immigrants like FedEx packages - perhaps with electronic transponder implants? - although he has yet to explain why it would not be easier and less expensive for the federal government to find less  intrusive methods to exclude illegal immigrants than to "brand" them.     
    The Pew Research Center reports that as of 2014 there were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. and that the number of undocumented has remained relatively stable for five years. Undocumented aliens now comprise about 3.5% of the nation's population. The number of unauthorized immigrants apparently peaked in 2007 at 12.2 million - or 4% of the U.S. population - before the financial meltdown that began in 2008.

    Currently, undocumented Mexicans make up approximately half of all unauthorized immigrants, but their numbers have declined in the last five years. In 2012, according to Pew Center reports,  there were 5.9 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. in 2012, down from 6.4 million in 2009. During the same time period, the number of unauthorized immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, the Middle East, Africa and some other areas increased slightly.

     Pro Publica reports that the U.S.spent nearly $18 billion dollars on immigration enforcement in Fiscal Year 2012, and that the Department of Homeland Security employed 21,790 officers to patrol U.S. Borders and enforce immigration laws, while the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates that illegal immigrants receive $ 9.2 billion dollars annually in direct and indirect benefits paid for by U.S. taxpayers.  

       Irrespective of whose statistics one chooses to accept, there is little doubt that the presence of undocumented aliens and the inability of the Untied States to control its own borders pose serious problems. These problems are compounded by a strange alliance among competing political, economic and legal interests that together have stymied the adoption of two very simple mechanisms to ascertain citizenship status and to control immigration - a national identification card, which virtually all policy analysts concede would be effective  and the mandatory use of the U.S. Department Labor's existing E-Verify system for all employers.

    To date,  these two very simple, comprehensive and cost-effective proposals have been resisted because of concerns about alleged government intrusion and threats to privacy and individual liberty. Ironically, by contrast, the enormous and intrusive amount of personal financial information and data that Equifax, Transamerica and Espiron - three unelected, private, for-profit credit reporting agencies currently compile and maintain on almost every American citizen - barely elicits a critical comment.

    Undocumented immigrants have violated American immigration law, but their crimes are compounded by the thousands upon thousands of American employers who illegally employed and exploited them while feigning ignorance of their status as ineligible employees, despite the fact that current federal laws require that prospective employees present proof of citizenship or show that they are lawful alien residents. 

    Western European democracies - with the notable exception of the United Kingdom - have embraced the use of national ID cards with little difficulty or divisive political debate.  One explanation for the difference in addressing immigration issues may be found in the differing political traditions. European democracies, in contrast to the individualism of American liberal democracy, are communitarian cultures that have retained residual cultural values which emphasize the importance of community and support the notion that there exists something called the public interest, or, to use Rousseau's phrase, "the general will." 

    In the United States, however, the persistence of the traditional consensus - what Gunnar Myrdal defined as the American Creed - constrains the ability of citizens and policymakers alike to imagine, or to advocate, policies which promote a social or public good, as opposed to the policies that are calculated to benefit only individuals or special interests.

    Until the American electorate can see beyond those self-serving parties whose interests would be adversely affected by the adoption of a national ID system, hysteria, demagoguery and hypocrisy will continue to dominate the public debate over immigration reform.    

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