COMMENTARY

Random thoughts about immigration reform

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The battle in Washington, D.C. rages over what to do with our immigration crisis.  Regardless of where you stand on the issue, one thing certain is that we can no longer put off confronting this difficult issue by “kicking the immigration can down the road.”


To quote President Ronald Reagan, “I believe that it is not enough, as I said, to tinker at the margins of U.S. immigration law... the United States must institute comprehensive reforms ” 

 

Those words were true then, and they are true today.  So why is it that year after year Congress is unable to reach a bipartisan agreement on immigration reform which will benefit everyone?

             

Logically, as a nation, we should all be able to at least agree that we can no longer kick the immigration can down the road.  We should be able to agree that the time has come for our elected lawmakers to “consider comprehensive reforms.” Unfortunately, because of the toxic environment which is driven by partisan politics in the halls of Congress, it appears that all that we can expect from our lawmakers are daily headlines where each side slanders the other with caustic comments which will never contribute to a solution.  Instead of bringing the parties together, the parties just grow further apart.

             

So, the question we must ask ourselves as a nation is where do we go from here?  First, and foremost, the truth is that we must begin with the idea that we must reform border security. Of course, this doesn’t simply mean the border between the United States and Mexico.


When we finally decide to consider comprehensive reform of the immigration system and border security, those reforms necessarily should also include the thousands of individuals who initially enter the United States each year and then overstay the purpose of their legal entry.  It is impossible to know the exact number of those who have illegally remained after the expiration of the terms of their visa, however, some estimate the number in the millions.

 

Next, when it comes to the argument over a border wall, we must at least consider the costs associated with the drug crisis, especially the overdose deaths associated with illegal opioids, cocaine and heroin which not only flow across the Southern border, but flow through custom checkpoints at international points of entry every day.


What value should we place on the lives of the more than 64,000 drug overdose victims in 2016?  While it is impossible to place a monetary value on the life of a loved one, it is certain that the families of the victims of the drug crisis would agree that whatever the cost of border security it would be a small price to pay to be able to have their loved one back.

             

Many also argue that the real solution for the illegal immigration problem is for us to arrest, prosecute, incarcerate, and deport those who have illegally entered our country.  If that is what we want as a nation, let’s consider the costs associated with enforcing this policy against the 12.5 million individuals who are considered illegal immigrants. 


The costs associated with prosecuting one illegal immigrant for either a misdemeanor or felony charge for illegally entering the United States, that is, the costs of the federal law enforcement officer, federal prosecutor, appointed criminal defense attorney and court personnel is roughly $10,000.  Additionally, the cost of incarceration for even a six-month federal sentence is $18,000. 


Therefore, even if the number of immigrants who have illegally entered the United States is a conservative estimate of 1 million individuals, the costs associated with prosecuting our way out of the immigration crisis would cost some staggering $28 billion dollars.

 

It is unreasonable to think that even if we deported the nearly 12.5 million individuals who are here illegally that deportation alone would be the silver bullet solution to a problem which has been ignored for decades by our lawmakers?  More importantly, without comprehensive immigration reform it would not take long before we would once again face the same problem.

 

So, what should we do with the immigration problem which we face as a nation? At the risk of oversimplifying our immigration crisis, why not invest in border security, even if that cost is $20 billion dollars as suggested by some.  Why not give those here illegally six-months to come out of the shadows and begin a process of filing an application which could be used to eventually provide them with some legal status as determined in any immigration reform legislation.


Also, as part of the immigration application process, why not require each of these individuals to obtain an individual tax identification number which would ensure that those individuals who are here illegally, and employed, and their employers, will pay their fair share of federal, state, local and school taxes which are an ever-increasing burden on all of us.

 

Finally, another significant benefit of immigration reform would be that as a nation we might just be able to begin the process of identifying those who we label as, and truly are, criminal immigrants.  These are the illegal immigrants who truly need to be arrested, prosecuted, incarcerated, and deported for the harm they cause in our communities.  Hopefully, these are the illegal immigrants that even those who support some form of sanctuary would agree do not belong in a civilized society.

 

As always, I would invite each of you to join me on my imaginary mountaintop and this time help me shout to our lawmakers in Washington, D.C., that it is time to end this childish bickering and get serious about immigration reform; that it is time to secure our borders; and, that it is time to find solutions to our immigration crisis, solutions that in the words of Ronald Reagan “conform to the realities of the era in which we live.”

 

Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington, Kentucky.

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