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An Open Letter to Marsha Blackburn

Dear Marsha Blackburn,

With over 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally, the issues revolving around immigration are dividing our nation. However, there are multiple factors to be considered on the benefits and the consequences of illegal immigration and how to reduce the problems involved. There is a web of issues to detangle while addressing immigration in general such as the specific status of legal versus illegal immigration, causes of immigration, economic impact, immigrants’ rights as well as their access to services, the labor market, deportation debate and costs, borders, law enforcement, and finally, crime. You have addressed the heated topic of illegal immigration through supporting heavier legislation impacting immigration, wanting the construction of a fence along our southern border, and voicing opinions of how to interact with situations such as sanctuary cities. Yet there is little sympathy for the individuals that have resided in this nation for potentially decades, settling homes here, building lives here, and beginning futures here. The AJC (formerly American Jewish Committee) in a policy statement accessed on Feb. 9, 2016, stated: “This track to citizenship should be realistic, rather than being so burdensome that it prevents integration. Allowing these immigrants to regularize their status will not only strengthen our national security, but will also stimulate the economy and enhance America’s rich, vibrant, and diverse culture” (“Path to Legalization for Undocumented Immigrants”). Therefore, while I believe in addressing the ever growing problem of illegal immigration, it is not through a means of deportations or wall building, rather, there should be a reform in the process of gaining American citizenship.

One of the biggest concerns with illegal immigration is the fear of those “who break the law by crossing the US border without proper documentation or by overstaying their visas…. are criminals and social and economic burdens to law-abiding, tax-paying Americans….[thus] should be deported and not rewarded with a path to citizenship and access to social services” (Allsides). However, the benefits to US economy should not go unnoticed: “through additional tax revenue, expansion of the low-cost labor pool, and increased money circulation” (Allsides), illegal immigrants also bring some profit to the United States as well. Similarly, “immigrants bring good values, have motivations consistent with the American dream, [and] perform jobs Americans won’t take” (Allsides). Opposition to immigration in most situations stems from undeniable racism in this country involving a magnitude of races and populations, all of which have the fundamental right to settle in the renowned land of the free.

You have noted that “secure countries have secure borders. Today, every state is a border state and every town is a border town” (“Border Security | U.S. Congressman Marsha Blackburn”) and wish to ensure that our immigrations policies in up with this reality. Similarly, you have supported the idea of a border fence along the southern border of our nation and sponsored the CLEAR Act to deport criminal aliens and withholds funding for sanctuary cities. Likewise, you supported the Real ID Act, authoring the Photo Identification Security Act denying illegal immigrants access to the financial sector. Bringing 287(g) grant program to Davidson County, this program facilitates deportations and is responsible for aiding in the deportation of 3,000 illegal immigrants since 2006. Finally, you condemned President Obama’s amnesty, finding it “disturbing” and found his “failure to enforce deportation laws has given children false hope that they can cross the border and remain in America permanently” (“Border Security | U.S. Congressman Marsha Blackburn”), leading you to pass measures through the House of Representatives to freeze the President’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program

However, “What [is] wrong with granting amnesty to hard-working, tax-paying individuals whose only crime is their immigration status? Indeed, amnesty is not only the best solution to our immigration problem, it is the only feasible solution” (Krayweski). Robert Lynch, PhD, Professor of Economics at Washington College, and Patrick Oakford, MSc Research Assistant at the Center for American Progress, conducted research on the economic effects of granting legal status and citizenship to undocumented immigrants and concluded that

Legal status and a roadmap to citizenship for the unauthorized will bring about significant economic gains in terms of growth, earnings, tax revenues, and jobs—all of which will not occur in the absence of immigration reform or with reform that creates a permanent sub-citizen class of residents. We also show that the timing of reform matters: The sooner we provide legal status and citizenship, the greater the economic benefits are for the nation (Oakford).

In the figure below, you can analyze Lynch and Oakford’s research in a graphic they provided with their study. While there are several categories that would need be evaluated in granting citizenship, providing immigrants citizenship allows for legal protections, investments in education and training, access to better jobs, labor mobility, increasing returns, and fostering entrepreneurship.

To the same token, Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, Immigration Reporter for ThinkProgress, commented on why citizenship is better for American than legal status, stating

Legal status would boost the economy, but the resulting productivity and wage gains would be much higher if the vast majority of the undocumented population are granted citizenship. Researchers found that immigrants who are only eligible for legal status, but not citizenship, would contribute about $832 billion to the economy in a ten year period, add 121,000 more jobs per year, and pay $109 billion in taxes over a ten-year period. Compare that to a scenario where undocumented immigrants are granted legal status and citizenship at the same time, the U.S. GDP would grow by $1.4 trillion over a ten year period, immigrants would help to create an additional 203,0000 jobs per year, and add $184 billion in tax revenue. In another scenario where undocumented immigrants are granted legal status and citizenship after five years, the GDP would grow by $1.1 trillion, there would be an additional 159,000 jobs per year, and add $144 billion in tax revenue (“Why Citizenship Is Better For American Than Legal Status”).

Nonetheless, former President George W. Bush shares similar views as your stance of amnesty. Regardless, having the concern that it would encourage more illegal immigrants to come, he stated “I know you cannot deport 10 million people who have been here working. It's unrealistic… It's not going to work. The best plan is to say to somebody who has been here illegally, if you've been paying your taxes, and you've got a good criminal record, that you can pay a fine for being here illegally, … you can get in a citizenship line to apply for citizenship” (National Archives and Records Administration). Likewise, US Republican Senator of South Carolina, Lindsey Graham expressed a responsibility on our nation to secure our future; that “We should require illegal immigrants to register with the government to ensure they are paying taxes, learning English, undergoing background checks, and paying restitution for entering our nation illegally. Then, after living under our laws and our rules, we should require they wait for citizenship behind legal immigrants already in line… an illegal immigrant could become a citizen, rather than remaining in the shadows and outside the arm of the law” (“United States Senator Lindsey Graham”). While partisan bias is evident in statements of both Republicans and Democrats, the overarching opinion of granting citizenship to illegal immigrants as the primary benefit for those individuals as well as the US economy and stability, the details of specifics follows behind the grand scheme of things.

Yet there is still question of whether or not illegal immigration disadvantages American workers. With notions that illegal immigrants are taking the jobs of American citizens, there is a misconstrued fear that the American people are losing their jobs to people illegally crossing our borders. However, Maria E. Enchautegui, PhD and Senior Fellow in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute, commented on this fear in 2015 stating:

The number of U.S.-born workers with no college education has declined by almost 5 million since 2007, according to my analysis of Census data. That means fewer U.S. born workers are competing for jobs requiring less education, the kind immigrants generally get. So immigrants are replacing, not displacing U.S. born workers… Of the top 10 occupations with the most projected employment growth, eight do not require a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Enchautegui).

Another concern is the wage impact of undocumented workers in relation to American citizens. PhD researchers Julie L. Hotchkiss, Myriam Quispe-Agnoli, and Fernando Rios-Avila, evaluated this concern in a article for the Southern Economic Journal, “[R]ising shares of undocumented workers results in higher earnings for documented workers, but by a small amount. A one percentage point increase in the share of undocumented workers in a documented worker's county/industry results in an average wage boost of 0.44%. Within the firm, a one percentage point increase in the percent of undocumented workers employed by the firm boosts wages by 0.09% (0.11, 0.12, and 0.04 in low, medium, and high skill firms, respectively)” (Hotchkiss). Finally, John G. Morgan, our own State of Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury organized a study prepared by the Offices of Research and Education Accountability titled “Immigration Issues in Tennessee” offering the following information:

[U]nauthorized aliens are not taking jobs or significantly affecting native workers’ wages. Immigrants, including unauthorized aliens, are filling a demand for labor, especially in low skilled jobs, which lowers prices and modestly raises natives’ per capita income... Many businesses indicate a labor shortage in areas of Tennessee and the U.S. Additional immigrants are needed to fill the demand, especially in lower skilled occupations. Based on interviews by the Comptroller’s Office of Research with several trade associations in the hospitality and construction industries in Tennessee, sufficient eligible workers are not available to meet their labor demands. They contend that the number of projected jobs is greater than the eligible workers moving into the workforce (“Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury”).

Needless to say, it has been repeated by you that illegal immigrants pose a threat to our national security and increase crime incidents across the country. Some individuals have even gone as far as pushing that illegal immigrants committing crimes in the United States should be seen as terrorists. However, an article on the American Immigration Council website, written by PhD researchers Walter A. Ewing, Daniel E. Martinez, and Ruben G. Rumbaut, noted that “between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder” (“The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States”). Yet comments made by President Donald Trump has also aided and consequently increased a fear of immigrants, regardless of legal status, within the United States particularly in connection to crime. David FitzGerald, Co-Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, claimed Trump was blatantly lying about the status of immigrants and committing crimes. In fact,

the 2000 census shows that in all racial categories, immigrants are much less likely to be incarcerated than their U.S.-born counterparts. Men born in Mexico had an incarceration rate five times lower than the U.S.-born population as a whole… If immigrants were disproportionately likely to commit crimes, we would expect to see higher crime rates when and where immigrants arrive. Yet the opposite holds true. From 1994 to 2007, the number of immigrants per capita living in the United States rose from about 9 to 13 percent of the population. At the same time, FBI reports show that the rate of violent crime declined 34.2 percent. The property crime rate fell 26.4 percent. Cities with large immigrant populations such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York also experienced declining crime rates during this period. The 2008 California study found that cities with relatively larger inflows of immigrants between 2000 and 2005 tended to see lower rates of violent crime. Contrary to the image of crime spilling across the border, FBI records show that rates of murder and other violent crimes are lower in U.S. cities within 100 miles of the border. The lowest murder rate of any U.S. city over 500,000 is El Paso, Texas (FitzGerald).

Evidence time and time again has proved that illegal immigration and crime are not codependent on one another, in fact, the research says otherwise. For example, Alex Nowrasteh, Immigration Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, stated that “both the Census-data driven studies and macro-level studies find that immigrants are less crime-prone than natives with some small potential exceptions… One explanation is that immigrants who commit crimes can be deported and thus are punished more for criminal behavior, making them less likely to break the law” (Nowrasteh). The incarceration rate for foreign born adults, both legal and undocumented, “is 297 per 100,000 in the population, compared to 813 per 100,000 for U.S. born adults… Among men ages 18-40, the foreign born have an institutionalization rate of 420 per 100,000 in the population, compared to 4,200 per 100,000 for the native born” (The Public Policy Institute of California). Furthermore, during the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing entitled “Examining the Need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Part II”, William F. McDonald, PhD Professor of Sociology and Anthropology and Co-Director of the Institute of Criminal Law and Procedure at Georgetown University Law Center, stated “the criminality of the first generation of immigrants (those who migrated as opposed to their children) is less than that of the native-born. There have been many studies in the United States and abroad that have addressed the question of the criminality of immigrants... [and] public fears about immigrant criminality have usually not been born out by research”.

Therefore, the negative stigma and stereotypes surrounding immigrants in general has lead the American population to fear those who do not look or sound like them. In fact, previously mentioned Ruben G. Rumbaut and Walter A. Ewing also had some words to say revolving around the myth of immigrant criminality:

Because many immigrants to the United States, especially Mexicans and Central Americans, are young men who arrive with very low levels of formal education, popular stereotypes tend to associate them with higher rates of crime and incarceration…This association has flourished in a post-9/11 climate of fear and ignorance where terrorism and undocumented immigration often are mentioned in the same breath. However, data from the census and other sources show that for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated… The problem of crime in the United States is not 'caused' or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. But the misperception that the opposite is true persists among policymakers, the media, and the general public, thereby undermining the development of reasoned public responses to both crime and immigration (Rumbaut).

This reaffirms that linking immigration and crime is a misperception of government reports of growing numbers of primarily Hispanic immigrants in U.S. prisons (Hagan). Even the American Immigration Law Foundation persists that immigrants