Regardless of one's individual political position, a study of immigration in modern America reveals that the current immigration system is not working. Preferential treatment of immigrants from some countries over immigrants from other countries and preferential treatment of high-wage immigrants combined with policies of active deportation reflect a reality that no longer exists in America. The reality is that there are huge numbers of undocumented workers in America, and that these workers form an integral part of the American economy. "Almost everyone would agree that America's immigration system is broken. Approximately 11 million people live in the U.S. without the rights citizenship affords" (Foster, p.1). While they may not contribute to the federal income tax base, they certainly contribute to state and local taxes through buying power and through rent. In addition, both by providing services and by purchasing good and services, they provide stimulation to the economy.
One of the main problems with undocumented immigrants is that, while they may not take jobs that most documented American workers would take, they do form a huge part of the workforce. However, the very nature of their illegal status in the country means that they form a workforce without any representation or recourse in the event that they are mistreated. The system "too often allows unscrupulous employers to violate minimum wage and overtime laws, and to force undocumented immigrants to work in dangerous working conditions. Every year, thousands of undocumented immigrants are injured or killed on the job due to unsafe working conditions. In contrast, those with citizenship and union members whose working conditions are protected are less likely to suffer injury on the job" (Foster, p.1). The reality is that these currently undocumented workers are already part of the American workforce; their efforts contribute to the American economy. Because of that, there should be immigration reform aimed at granting them some type of legal recognition, in order to protect them from what many would consider blatant human rights violations.
Furthermore, it is important to consider that immigration reform aimed at recognizing the undocumented workers who are currently working in the United States is expected to have a positive impact on overall wages and working conditions. "If it happens, millions of workers would be added to the tax base almost immediately. Wages would likely go up in sectors where employers rely on undocumented workers" (Fawn, p.1). Not only would these changes have a positive impact on undocumented immigrants, but also on the low-skill American laborers who are currently forced to compete with undocumented workers for jobs, when undocumented workers are not only willing to work for less, but do not have to pay federal income tax from their wages. It would also have a stimulating impact on business. "Crooked employers that take advantage of illegal labor might find it more difficult to do so, creating a more competitive environment for the honest corporate brokers" (Fawn, p.1). For those reasons, American labor unions are supporting legislation that makes the pathway to documentation easier for current undocumented workers.
Labor organizations are not the only ones to see the benefits of immigration reform; economists also believe that immigration reform would have an overall positive impact on the economy. Immigration reform is projected to raise the pace of economic growth by almost a percentage point in the near-term ("Conservative Economists," p.1). This would increase gross domestic product by over $1,500 per capita, which would provide significant help in reducing the deficit ("Conservative Economists," p. 1). Moreover, this immigration reform would help in skilled labor areas, not simply unskilled labor areas. Currently, the United States is educating a number of foreign students, but those students are required to leave after graduation unless their employer can obtain a certain type of work visa for them. This has had the impact of a "brain drain" in the U.S. labor force. According to Arlene Holen, "if no green card or H-1B visa constraints had existed in the period 2003-07, an additional 182,000 foreign graduates in science and technology fields would have remained in the U.S. Their contribution to GDP would have been $14 billion in 2008, including $2.7 to $3.6 billion in tax payments" ("Conservative Economists," p.1). Clearly, even if these economic experts are projecting best-case scenarios, immigration reform would have a positive impact on society.
Discussions about immigration reform very rarely mention the environment, which seems to be a glaring oversight when one considers that changes to one country's environment can make the land inhospitable, thus leading to emigration to other countries. The United States has seen an increase in immigrants due to environmental changes in various countries. "In the case of the U.S., droughts in sub-Saharan Africa and the resulting conflicts over land and water brought thousands of Somalis to Maine and Minnesota. In the 1990s, monocrop agriculture pushed by U.S. agribusiness drove Mexican and Central American farmers off their land, leading to a northward exodus to the U.S." (Foster, p.1). What is the reasonable response to requests for immigration when a person's homeland can no longer provide sustenance for its residents? Moreover, does the United States have a heightened obligation to these displaced people when U.S. policies have helped create the adverse environmental conditions that have deprived people of their homes? Clearly, the United States does not bear sole responsibility, but the fact that it has contributed to these issues should play a factor in consideration of immigration policy. "While the causes are always complex and multifaceted, climate change is an amplifying factor. For the environmental movement to turn a blind eye to those whose lives have been uprooted by climate change would be both tragic and a missed opportunity to change the politics of climate change" (Foster, p.1).
One of the groups most harmed by the nation's current approach to immigration is children who illegally immigrated with their families to the United States. In many cases, these children consider themselves Americans, and some are not even aware of the fact that their family is undocumented. The DREAM Act is aimed at remedying the harm to these children. Its overarching goal would provide "undocumented students with a five-year path to permanent legal residency. To qualify, individuals must have entered the U.S. before age 16, graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) and completed at least two years of college" (Dervarics, p.1). In other words, the DREAM Act would accomplish two goals: the first goal would be to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. As children; the second goal would be to open up a pathway to citizenship for those children (Dervarics, p.1).
In order to understand the full impact that failure to pass DREAM Act legislation would have on these unwilling illegal immigrants, it is important to look at individual stories. Carlos Saavedra is one of the more vocal proponents of the DREAM Act. Not surprisingly, Saavedra is the child of undocumented immigrants. "His family arrived from Peru when he was a child and overstayed their tourist visas. He was able to go to school thanks to a 1987 legal ruling. But as he reached16 he realised that a life in the shadows awaited him -- unable to drive, vote, travel or work" (Wynne-Jones, p.1). Furthermore, he began to realize that the path to a better quality life that is most frequently touted in the United State- pursuing a higher degree and attaining a professional career, was out of reach. As an undocumented student, he was not entitled to in-state university tuition (Wynne-Jones, p.1). Moreover, even if he had been able to pay tuition and fees, upon graduation he would still be undocumented and unable to be employed in a professional capacity.