A Fair Chance to Share the American Dream

A couple of points to make about immigration, following the revelation in the New York Times by my former colleague at the Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas, that he is an undocumented immigrant.

There are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States who find themselves in Vargas’ situation – having innocently been sent or brought to the country by their parents and relatives. By no means do immigrants, documented or undocumented, take away jobs or drain money from the U.S. economy. Quite the opposite.

I worked with Senator Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, in 2008 and 2009 on a book, Growing American Roots, focusing on Latinos, but a story that deals with all immigrants.

Among other things, dispassionate reporting showed:

–“In 2005, immigrant households and businesses paid more than $300 billion in direct taxes to federal, state, and local governments,” according to the Immigration Policy Center, “Projecting into the future, the statistics look like this: Immigrants will have contributed half a trillion dollars to the Social Security system between now and twenty-five years from now and nearly two trillion dollars through 2072.” (this according to the National Immigration Forum)

–You probably didn’t know that undocumented immigrants not only pay federal taxes, but also contribute to the Social Security System, earnings that they will never receive as benefits.

From the book:

“Undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes and many pay property tax as well. They also pay their share of state and federal income taxes, and Medicare and Social Security payments, some through taxpayer ID cards, and many of them under false Social Security numbers from which they are unable ever to collect any benefits. The result is startling. The Social Security Administration has an account that is growing by billions of dollars every year, in which funds are deposited for irregular—often fake—Social Security numbers. Should we accept illegality in our country? Absolutely not. But the reality is what it is. People are paying into the system and receiving no benefits.”

“The picture in individual states is much the same. According to the Immigration Policy Center in Washington, D.C., undocumented immigrants in three states—Iowa, Oregon, and Texas—“pay more in taxes than they use in benefits.” Surveys by the center in those states found hundreds of millions of dollars in state taxes paid by people who will never receive the benefits. And the center cites information from the Texas state comptroller’s office that undocumented people in Texas contribute $17.7 billion to the gross state product.”

As for jobs, no rational researcher defends the false idea that immigrants take away jobs. Based on research, and quoting the book: “It was once said that immigration is taking jobs away from America,” said Jeffrey Passel, the chief statistician and an authoritative source at the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based organization. “This has disappeared from discussion, because it is clearly not true.”

After one attempt to pass the Dream Act failed in Congress—blocked by Republicans—Menendez said this: “The DREAM Act would provide a path to legal residency for high-achieving young adults who were brought to this country as children without proper documentation. These young adults would have had to arrive in the United States before the age of 16, lived here five years, be younger than 35, agree to join the U.S. military or go to college for 2 years, follow the law, and show good character. This legislation would help an estimated 2.1 million people obtain a shot at the American Dream. Without the DREAM Act, these young men and women have no legal way to remain in the United States to finish their education or join the military.”

Perhaps Vargas’ story will highlight the inequity that blocks passage of the Dream Act, not to mention the misinformation and prejudice that blocks a larger solution to the country’s broken immigration laws.

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Filed under 1, Journalism, Politics

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