P.O.V.'s Borders visitors sent Frank Sharry
these questions in response to his work and his
answers to P.O.V.'s initial 6 Questions. Read on!
Question: I would welcome anyone who is looking for a better
life. Unfortunately, the majority of immigrants in my neighborhood
come here with one thing in mind: money to send back home. The money
being made in this country is being sent out of it to support families
in other countries. If we don't spend some of that income here,
all Americans will soon be out of work. I also object to the majority
being paid under minimum wage and without paying taxes. Please write
back. I would love to hear other opinions.
Frank: According to a new study by the Inter-American Development
Bank, immigrants sent $23 billion in transfers to the Caribbean
and Latin America alone last year. Should this trouble Americans?
I don't think so.
First of all, the money is earned through hard work, in all industries,
in ways that grow the economy. According to the National Academy
of Sciences, immigrants contribute $10 billion a year in net income,
so from an economic perspective it turns out that immigrants are
a good deal for Americans. In addition, immigrants are taxed exactly
like native-born Americans, and in some cases, as with undocumented
immigrants, little of that taxation returns to the immigrant in
the form of federal benefits, social security or welfare. In fact,
the National Academy of Sciences estimates that, on average, immigrants
pay $1,800 more in taxes than they uses in services, or $80,000
of the course of their lifetime. Finally, a great deal of the money
earned by immigrants is, of course, used to pay for necessities
such as food and housing right here, which further stimulates the
economy here in America.
With respect to money sent home, studies show that over time these
"remittances" decline as ties to the immigrants' original
country fade and financial responsibilities increase here. In the
meantime, remittances by hardworking immigrants in America to family
overseas ends up being one of the most effective forms of development
aid we send to developing nations. In fact, remittances far surpass
the amount the U.S. government provides. This person-to-person aid
is put to very efficient use in the countries receiving it, paying
for basic necessities, starting businesses, and building schools.
For Americans who consistently complain that we send too many tax
dollars overseas for foreign aid, this is an extremely efficient
and taxpayer-friendly form of international development. And in
the long run, remittance-fueled development will reduce migration
pressures in developing countries. If anyone is getting a bad deal,
it is the immigrants themselves, many of whom get ripped off by
money transfer companies that charge high fees and play games with
exchange rates. Thankfully, more competition is beginning to clean
up the business and cut down the costs of transferring money to
loved ones back home.
Question: How do you react to the new irredentists, such as MEChA,
and their call for "reclaiming" the seven western states
Frank: Honestly, I don't pay attention to the rantings of a small
group of radicals who say the southwestern United States should
be ceded back to Mexico, nor to the radical anti-immigration groups
who rant incessantly about them. Neither side should be taken seriously.
This is an unfortunate sideshow to genuine discussions about our
immigration laws and how to fix and enforce them. We have a sovereign
nation that has held together through thick and thin, civil war
and depression, and it will be ever thus.
Question: In your response, you mentioned that "Unfortunately,
some Bush Administration policies that have been designed since
September 11, 2001 fail to make effective use of our border controls."
Can you explain what some of these new policies are and why you
think they are ineffective?
Frank: To weed out terrorists from law-abiding immigrants and citizens,
our government must continue to improve its efforts to gain intelligence
on potential terrorists and to make sure that front line officials
have the information they need in real time to screen bad guys out.
These layers of security based on good intelligence are what I call
effective border controls. We find the needles in the haystack,
and if we cannot take the fight to them, at a minimum we ensure
they cannot gain admission into our nation.
Let me give an example of a post 9/11 enforcement initiative that
does not make sense and does nothing to make us safer. A few months
ago the Attorney General announced that the federal government would
begin enforcing an unenforced 50 year old provision that requires
immigrants to report changes of address within 10 days of moving.
Within weeks of his announcement, millions of change of address
cards flooded into the INS. So unprepared was INS to do anything
with them, that they had to rent warehouses to store the boxes of
cards. It's hard to imagine how this measure, which amounts to little
more than adding more hay to the stack, will allow us to identify
or track a needle.
Another example of a border control strategy that does not work
is our current approach to enforcing the US-Mexico border. We have
10,000 members of the border patrol, who operate with high-tech
sensors, cameras, helicopters, and all-terrain vehicles. Nevertheless,
approximately 500,000 migrants cross the border illegally each year.
The reason is that our laws don't match up with our economic reality.
Mexico and Central America have willing workers, and here in the
United States we have available jobs.
Instead of using a "smart borders" approach that regulates
the flow, ensures that it is legal, and makes sure that those who
cross our border are properly screened, we maintain restrictive
visa policies and seem reluctant to conclude a migration and border
control accord with the Mexican government led by a willing partner,
President Vicente Fox. As a result, the broken status quo continues
unabated, and we end up tolerating smuggling syndicates, ongoing
illegal immigration, migrants dying in the desert, a false document
industry, exploitation of immigrants fearful of speaking up in the
workplace, and decent employers getting undercut by unscrupulous
competitors. A better approach would combine joint border controls
with more work and family visas and better checking, along with
a process for immigrants already working and contributing here to
get work papers and an eventual path to legal status. Then we would
know and screen who's here, who's crossing our border, and get control
of our borders.