During assembly on Friday, April 24, Nancy Lisker, director of the American Jewish Council in St. Louis, spoke about undocumented immigration. She was invited by the Spanish Club and Senora Cohen.
Lisker shared basic terms and facts, discussed major reform efforts and debunked common myths. She suggested that the best solution is a gradual path to legalization, which would benefit the U.S. economy, revitalize and diversify our population, and be in accordance with U.S. values. Highlights from her remarks follow:
- Undocumented immigrants tend to be low-skill, low-wage workers. A flip of the same coin are Visa abusers — those who enter the U.S. with limited Visas to study, for instance, and stay after the Visas have expired; they tend to be highly skilled workers but may also be low-wage earners because they remain in the U.S. illegally.
- Prior to 2009, there was rapid growth in undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. to escape economic hardship, war, political persecution, etc. The number of these immigrants is now relatively stable at about 11.2 million (or 3.5 percent of the total U.S. population). The numbers leveled off because of higher prosperity in some home countries and increased border controls.
- Undocumented immigrants make up about 5.1 percent of the U.S. labor force, and, as such, are major contributors to the economy. They are concentrated in six states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.
- Immigration reform is not easy and requires bipartisan support. Proposals run the gamut: from deporting all undocumented immigrants to maintaining the status quo (which has become more problematic since 9/11 because we won't know "who's in and who's out") to establishing a path to legalization for those without criminal records. In 1986, President Reagan and Congress approved legislation that gave green cards to 2.7 million — essentially granting amnesty. In 2012, President Obama issued an executive order, allowing young immigrants, under 30 years old, who arrived as children to apply for a deportation deferral. In 2014, he issued a legal reprieve to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who've resided in the country for at least five years.
- [Refuting common myths] Illegal immigrants do not drain public services; to the contrary, they often pay taxes for service they will not receive. They do not take jobs away from Americans but rather fill unwanted positions as well as begin and create enterprise. Given the age of Baby Boomers, they will not lead to an overpopulated country. They very much want to assimilate.