Undocumented Immigrants Keep Undocumented Immigrants Out

What real incentive do we have to fix the US immigration system?

We must recognize that there are benefits for Americans to this broken immigration system. To an extent, the system would appear to be broken by design.

My friend Carmen is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. She works Monday through Saturday as a housekeeper for two different families, three days at each home.

Both employers are US citizens and are fully aware of Carmen’s undocumented status. Depending on where you live in the United States, specific jobs are being done by undocumented workers and everyone knows it.

Where I live, a large proportion of cleaning people are undocumented. So are home helpers for the elderly and disabled, dishwashers in restaurants, and members of construction and landscaping crews.

Just as citizens do, Carmen and most undocumented individuals work to pay the bills and support their families. However, unlike us citizens, Carmen doesn’t see the family she works so hard to support at the end of her workday. In fact, she hasn’t seen her mother, four siblings and two sons for nearly two decades.

Carmen, who’s in her late 40s, is the only member of her direct family living in the US. It took her a year or so to get situated here because her dreadful border crossing involved being pushed over a high wall and breaking her forearm into multiple pieces.

Once recovered, though, she immediately began sending money back to Mexico to support her sons and mother and to solve family emergencies.

Why was Carmen the only member of her family to make the crossing into the US?

Because, for the most part, people don’t want to leave their home and family for who-knows-how-long and become undocumented workers in a country whose language they don’t speak and where they don’t know anyone. It’s a frightening prospect!

Those who leave do so for a combination of reasons. Carmen’s most obvious one was to provide for her sons, and, though she’s never said as much, I suspect she also sought distance from an incredibly traumatic past. One thing’s for certain: she didn’t come because she wanted an easy life in the US or to take advantage of public services here.

Immigration policy is a complex subject about which I have no expertise, other than my own experience as a documented immigrant who eventually became a US citizen. I do know one thing, however: We must recognize that there are benefits for Americans to this broken immigration system. To an extent, the system would appear to be broken by design.

So what do we all do? We look the other way. In the meantime, we talk nonsense about wanting to send undocumented immigrants back or about providing a path to citizenship without really trying hard enough to do either.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 5.8 million Americans were unemployed in September 2019, and the unemployment rate was 3.5%. That is a very low rate, so low in fact that the unemployed would mainly include individuals between jobs or who have decided not to work.

Given such a low unemployment rate, it is safe to assume the jobs being filled by undocumented workers are those least sought — or not sought at all — by American workers.

The Pew Research Center estimated there were about 7.6 million undocumented workers in the US in 2017. If we were to send all undocumented workers back to their home countries overnight, there wouldn’t even be enough American workers to fill their jobs, at least as things stood pre-pandemic.

Moreover, to attract American workers, employers would need to increase wages and benefits significantly. Such increases would be passed on to consumers, or would translate into decreased revenue and bankruptcy for businesses, at least in the short term. And we humans think short term. As my economics professor back in college used to say, “In the long run, we’re all dead.”

So what do we all do? We look the other way. In the meantime, we talk nonsense about wanting to send undocumented immigrants back or about providing a path to citizenship without really trying hard enough to do either.

Moreover, given that they also keep millions of people afloat in their home countries, preventing them from taking the scary step of becoming undocumented, it is the immigrants themselves who are doing the work of keeping the number of undocumented immigrants in check. Think about it.

Finally, undocumented immigrants also serve as easy scapegoats and natural targets of our tribal instincts. Some politicians are only too glad to exploit our human tendency to unite against a common enemy, no matter how real or made up the enemy may be.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical, but I’m having a hard time seeing why Americans would be interested in fixing an immigration system that’s not only mighty hard to fix but is also benefiting Americans in many ways — other than, perhaps, knowing that what we’re doing is immoral?

  • * The Honest Ponderer helps deep thinkers achieve personal growth by examining the human experience with unapologetic honesty. Monthly or so emails.*

Ponderer, teacher, runner, immigrant. I want to help you “Know thyself.” 🇻🇪 🇺🇸 Check out The Honest Ponderer: https://mailchi.mp/eea027e7565f/medium-subs

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