By Donusia Lipinski
Polls show most Americans believe we need a major overhaul of our immigration laws. Yet we do nothing.
In 1986, we overhauled our immigration laws but failed to create legal channels to meet the labor demands of the U.S. market. The cost of doing nothing is the billions of tax payer dollars we’ve thrown at the border since 1986, and yet today we have 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. In 1990, there were 3.5 million.
Between 1998 and 2012, 5,570 migrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border; the parents of 108,434 immigrants with U.S. citizen children were deported, mostly for civil immigration violations; and in 2011, approximately 5100 children whose parents were deported or detained were in the public child welfare system. The loss of life and separation of families is the cost of doing nothing.
Since 1986, we spent $186.8 billion at immigration enforcement; the Customs and Border patrol budget doubled from $5.9 billion to $11.9 billion since 1993; and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement budget grew 73 percent to $5.9 billion. The cost of doing nothing drains taxpayer dollars with little to show.
Employment is a strong magnet that draws people to the U.S. To curb this flow, Congress created an employer sanctions law in 1986 that requires employers to complete Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification on their workforce to make sure they are only hiring U.S. citizens, permanent residents, non-citizen nationals, and others with work authorization.
The failure to not complete this form or to improperly complete this deceptively simple form has resulted in fines and criminal penalties to meatpacking plants, construction companies, restaurants, resorts, roofing companies, farms, and the retail industry. Fines range from several hundred dollars to thousands. Businesses are raided, workers deported, families separated, communities divided, some businesses are close their doors … this is the cost of doing nothing.
And in Virginia the cost of doing nothing is staggering. Through immigration reform, the wages of unauthorized workers in Virginia will increase by $1.2 billion, generating an additional $371 million in tax revenue, creating 27,000 new jobs.
Undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to residence will generate more than 10,800 jobs and more than $950 million in Virginia by 2020. Creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add a total of more than $815 million to our gross state product in 2014.
Legalizing the 38,000 undocumented children who entered the U.S. with their parents under the Federal DREAM Act would have an estimated $5.2 billion induced economic impact and create almost 20,300 new jobs by 2030 making incentives for them to earn a higher education and allowing them to work legally.
Outdated policy restrictions prevent international students with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees from transitioning into our workforce. Consequently, Virginia is short some of the professional workers it needs in critical STEM fields that help the state’s economy remain innovative and competitive.
Virginia is expected to be short almost 2,700 of the full-time physicians it needs by 2030 and by 2020, it is expected to be short more than 25,000 nurses, with almost two out of five RN positions left vacant due to a lack of qualified workers. Our immigration policies are keeping these workers out. This is the cost of doing nothing.
Virginia’s workforce is ranked a powerhouse. We have the ninth largest immigrant population in the nation. Immigrants play a key role in our success. Its diverse, well-educated, foreign-born immigrants are more likely to have their own businesses, accounting for over 40 percent of growth in entrepreneurship and over the past decade, their median income has grown 6.1 percent. We must provide legal channels for these immigrants to prosper, to integrate and to prosper us. The cost of doing nothing is too great a price to pay.