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Common Cents

Citizens or Guests?

Ralph Murphy

(6/2013) An 844 page bill introduced by a Senate bi-partisan committee this April was considered the most comprehensive effort in 26 years to address the issue of illegal immigrants residing or working in the United States. The bill had three primary components: increased border security, extradition of illegals and the possibility of citizenship for those who had resided in the U.S. for over ten years.

It was hardly a panacea.

Who are these illegals? How have they flouted American law by their very presence? What do they want? And what can be done about them? Our answers to these questions, say much about our society and its relationship with the outside world.

There appears to be consensus on the sheer magnitude of the challenge. Some estimates put the number of illegals in the U.S. at about 20 million. In 2012, this number was reduced to about 11.5 million according to the Pew Hispanic Center and other media sources.

It is important to distinguish between legal workers who have obtained permission and the authorization to work via a "green card" and illegals who, by whatever means, entered the country and now reside here beyond their legal guest-period. The latter live and work here or are benefactors of those who do. But, they are legally subject to arrest and deportation if they break any Federal laws. The problem is the laws, until last year, were lightly enforced. Democrats seemed to want the aliens in a future, citizenship status as a power base. And Republicans seemed to want them because they helped keep wages down and profits up. The illegals have friends, and the U.S. populace according to recent, CBS news reports, has largely begun to accept them.

Most legal and illegal, non-citizen workers come from Mexico. 276,550 legal workers or 14.8% of the foreign workforce and idle residents are here with permission. Another 6,650,000 Mexicans or 61.9% of the total - is an undocumented, workforce that is here without permission. Legal foreigners, by nation- include India at 5.9%, China at 5.4% and a smattering of others. The illegal visitors- following the deluge from Mexico, are predominantly Central Americans to include citizens from El Salvador (530,000), Guatemala (480,000), and Honduras (320,000).

Mexicans have suffered greatly from drug-related, violence and have brought much of it with them into the U.S. With the demise of Columbia's Cali and Medellin cartels in the 1990's- Mexican drug gangs now account for 90% of the cocaine traffic in the U.S. Earnings estimates for these gangs are hard to pin down, but could be as high as 49.4 billion dollars per year. The price of this bad habit has been high though. A December 2012, BBC report found that since 2006 there have been 60,000 killed in cartel-related drug trafficking.

Here in suburban Maryland where I live, one need not travel far to find long lines of despondent young men with work boots and gloves, and women holding symbolic mops in front of them at fast food outlets, or convenience stores. They are looking for work, and probably not finding it in the legal, market place. Recent killings in Prince George's County have become almost common place.

Mexican authorities claim "9 out of 10 victims" are gang or cartel members, but it's that innocent 10% that is causing concern both in Mexico and the U.S. "Non combatants" are caught in the middle and caught up in the drug violence.

Also, it is not just the drug violence that concerns many of us. Legal workers - those touted as role models with the green cards are eligible for Federal government, Social Services including Social Security, Medicare, and subsidized housing after just 5 years on the pay role. This represents an enormous tax burden for your average, working American. They are essentially helping pay a generous, retirement benefit to non-citizens who have contributed little for what they are getting. Also, these non citizens can qualify for additional services at the State and county levels. What they get depends on local politics and laws. This again, is for the "legals". Incredibly, even the illegals are backed by the ACLU, which seeks to insure they are paid the minimum wage, enjoy the rights of all, other workers, and are comfortable during their employment.

The United States is, of course, a nation of immigrants - except for the American Indian. The foreigners now crossing our borders could help build a stronger nation if the time and circumstances were right. Unemployment is, however, at around 8%, and everyone working feels the transfer payments. My current, paycheck shows a Social Security and Medicare contribution that is almost 400% greater than my Federal income tax payment! Much of that is a "free ride" for green card holders.

While Congress and the executive branch debate and procrastinate, every dependent born of illegal or legally-residing, parents in a United States territory is a legal, American citizen with associated rights and privileges. The debate as to who will stay and who will be deported will rage on, but ultimately comes down to uniformly applying existing laws across the nation. And- in modifying them - if a real need exists for this new, lower-wage, manpower.

Then again, considering the cost of supporting, low-wage, legal and illegal foreign workers to federal, state and local governments- would it not be easier to simply pay legal American workers a higher wage? Something to consider?

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

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