By Ali Zaidi – Legal Assistant Shah Peerally Law Group PC
Immigration, legal or illegal has always been a contentious topic within the American political discourse. Given the United States historic dependence on immigration for economic reasons, it’s only natural that this issue has captivated the attention of every section of the American public. The DREAM Act currently being debated, once again, seeks to provide some form of relief in the greater fight to alleviate the situation of over 12 million people residing in the United States without any form of legal status. While the effort will undoubtedly be a step in the right direction, it ultimately fails to address a greater and far more pervasive problem.
Illegal immigration as an issue in the United States skyrocketed with the passage of NAFTA in the mid 90′s (The North American Free Trade Agreement) which allowed the United States to dump any and all of its goods on the Mexican border without paying much in the way of tariffs. The natural result was the destruction of several Mexican industries followed by millions of illegal immigrants crossing the border into the United States in search of work. NAFTA and other similar treaties were based around the economic principles of “Free Market Economics.” Basically, the idea that if left to its own devices the “free market” would always correct itself and ensure the greatest level of prosperity for all. Many free market ideologues further believed that borders were antiquated and that any country which attempted to protect its own economy were the “enemies of the free world.”
Fast forward several decades later and the ideals of the free market capitalist are in full effect. Virtually the entire American manufacturing sector has been outsourced overseas, while mega corporations that are protected by the U.S. Government make it impossible for small businesses to compete. Another effect of free market economics has been illegal immigration into the United States on a massive scale. With the passage of NAFTA the illegal immigrant population in the United States virtually doubled within a decade. Free market economics destroyed huge industries in Mexico, while also making the Mexican economy dependent on American industries. With millions of Mexicans out of work or under employed it was only natural that they moved north to the very country whose unequal economic policies forced them into their dire situation.
Without legal status, illegal immigrants could never hope to obtain high paying jobs even if they were qualified for them. This essentially forced them into all manners of menial labor, which include harvesting food, cleaning houses, working in restaurant kitchens, and offering services as day laborers amongst many other low paying jobs. The added effect of this situation means illegal immigrants are not entitled to the same rights as American workers. Simple rights like minimum wage are denied those without legal status in this country, it also meant that employers could abuse their illegal workers without fear of any legal repercussions. To the believers of free market capitalism this illegal work force was a gold mine as it allowed them to cut costs without incurring any legal liability.
Unlike several other countries that utilize foreign labor, the United States does not offer anything that can meaningfully be called a guest worker program. Thus, despite the fact that the economy of the United States depends on illegal immigration to keep its economy moving, it does very little to alleviate or legalize the situation of millions of its working population that contribute to the economy.
What the DREAM act currently under debate proposes is giving amnesty to those illegal immigrants who serve in the United States military for 8 years (2-6 years of active duty) or attend a university of higher education for at least two years. The DREAM act particularly targets those children of illegal immigrants who have only known the United States as their home, many of whom have never seen the countries their parents come from. The DREAM Act allows those without legal status who came into the United States before the age of 15, and who are not over the age of 29 to petition for permanent residency. In no way does it solve the problem of illegal immigrants in this country by addressing the root economic causes of the issue. Nonetheless, it does give some reprieve to millions of illegal immigrants who would be forced to continuing living an unequal existence.
Only when the United States gets serious about the real issues causing illegal immigration will this country ever be able to deal with the issue in a just and humane way. Until then our political discourse will continue to incorrectly treat the issue as a race issue while completely ignoring the economic roots behind illegal immigration into the United States.
Ali Zaidi, Legal Assistant for Shah Peerally Law Group PC