Vail Daily column: Our bargain with immigrants
February 22, 2017
The news pages are full of stories about the proposed hiring of ten thousand Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to enforce U.S. immigration laws, mainly targeting unauthorized immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Setting aside the difficulty and cost ($777 million per year using the average ICE agent's pay as a guide) of this effort, one question is, "Is this the right thing to do?"
Let's first look at the immigration statistics from Mexico, which represent the largest group of unauthorized immigrants entering the U.S. For 50 years, "Mexican immigrants have been at the center of one of the largest mass migrations in modern history. Between 1965 and 2015 more than 16 million Mexican immigrants migrated to the U.S." (Pew Research Center, 2015). There has been migration back to Mexico, as well, and the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. peaked in 2007 at 6.9 million, and stood at 5.6 million in 2014 (Pew Research Center estimate). There are a number of reasons for this decline, primarily stricter border control, and economic weakness in the U.S. economy, coupled with improving economic opportunity in Mexico. But it is interesting to note that there has been net negative migration from Mexico to the U.S. during the past seven years. Does this mark the end of the mass migration? Some experts think so, especially as the Mexican economy grows (though our administration's unhappiness with the NAFTA treaty could play a role in this).
As the statistics show, the great majority of unauthorized immigrants have now been living here in the U.S. for a decade or two, or three. Many of them have American children, as they have established families here. And most of them are employed, pay taxes, obey the law, and call America their home. But they can be viewed as "breaking the law by just being here," and, as such, subject to deportation. This is, more or less, the position of the current U.S. administration. But do they deserve to be viewed this way? Have we not formed an implicit bargain with them throughout the decades, as they have worked diligently at jobs many Americans did not want to perform? And they performed these jobs, formed families here, obeyed our laws, paid taxes, all the while becoming critical to our economy and valuable members of our communities.
In our valley, our immigrant population is significant — about half of the children in our public schools are English language learners. Many of these students are American citizens by birth. But many of their parents are unauthorized and now face increasing anxiety over whether they will be identified and deported over a minor traffic violation, as proposed by recent Office of Homeland Security rules (thankfully, our county's and towns' law enforcement departments have declined to become more involved in ICE activities, recognizing that this would make traditional law enforcement and maintaining public safety significantly more difficult).
If you live in the valley, then it is impossible to go through a day without contact with many immigrants. If you are building your dream house, then the majority of workers constructing your house are immigrants. If they have already built your dream house, then your landscapers are immigrants. If you play golf, then the majority of workers maintaining your golf course are immigrants. If you eat at a restaurant, then much of the kitchen help — and all of the bus staff, usually — are immigrants. And the fresh produce you eat at the restaurant was most likely harvested by immigrants. If you have friends visit and stay at a hotel, then their rooms are cleaned by immigrants. You get the point — life, as we know it here in the Vail Valley, would not be possible without the bargain we made with our immigrant community throughout the past few decades.
So what is it that they deserve from this decades-old bargain they made with us? To be targeted for deportation, and separated from their families? Or granted legal status in recognition of their economic contributions? And given the respect they've earned that comes from being law-abiding members of our community? I think the answer is clear, and it is high time we uphold our side of the bargain, and let them live freely as Americans in the country they have grown to love — they have earned that.
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Steve Coyer lives in Avon.
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