Thanks to the recently released 2010 U.S. census data, it is now possible to say without equivocation that the combined populations of Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North and South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming and the District of Columbia do not even come close to the estimated population of the country’s undocumented immigrants. Not by a long shot.
The combined population of the seven aforementioned states and Washington D.C. is slightly more than five million. According to the U.S. census that number is about seven million short of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants spread across the 48 contiguous states. And therein lays the rub, for both ardent anti-immigration forces and those favoring comprehensive immigration reform.
When he spoke at the border last week in El Paso, Texas, President Obama told a friendly audience that he has done everything that Republicans have asked for to beef up southern border security, with the possible exception, he said, of constructing an alligator-filled moat. While the line elicited laughter, it echoed truth.
Billions of dollars have been spent to bolster security along the U.S.-Mexico border, including the construction of a huge portion of the fence anti-immigration forces have called for. Border Patrol hiring has soared. Expensive military drones, like the ones used in Afghanistan and Iraq have been dispatched along the border. Homeland Security budgets have swelled. But, to the loudest on the anti-immigrant side of the argument, the investment has not stemmed the flow of undocumented from entering the U.S.
As he rallied the mostly Latino Texas crowd, one that he will need in his bid for re-election, the president said the return on the Homeland Security investment has been impressive. Drug interdictions have gone up. Human trafficking has gone down. Deportations, from states across the country, have exceeded those of President Obama’s predecessor.
But on deportations, the president has caught flak from even his most ardent supporters who claim that his policies have been, in many cases, too aggressive and caused families to be unneccessarily broken up. "People are getting arrested," Kunevicius said, for minor offenses, including traffice offenses "and they're being placed in immigration proceedings." That often leads to mothers or fathers being sent back to Mexico. Reuniting with their families only exacerbates the matter. Critics argue that there has to be a way of dealing with these types of issues.
All good things, say immigration reform advocates. But the president’s promise of comprehensive immigration reform has not been kept. Yet, as the president woos Latinos, severe anti-immigration legislation, like Arizona’s controversial Senate Bill 1070 and others modeled after it, have become law. Even the Dream Act, legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for young people brought here as young children or infants, died in late 2010 for lack of a super-majority vote in the Senate.
“He has sold out to Republicans,” is the blunt assessment of Denver immigration reform advocate Fidel “Butch” Montoya. Well, if Republicans, he said, don’t want to do anything significant to address immigration, “the president just has to stand behind the bully pulpit” and do things himself. He could, Montoya said, address the immigration issue with executive orders. Using this route, the former news executive believes, President Obama could make life easier for immigrant children who know no other country and, for all intents and purposes, are American.
By enacting a degree of immigration reform via executive order, the President “could tell them ‘we’re not going to deport 12 million people — get over it!’”
But ‘getting over it’ isn’t that easy if you’re the face of the anti-illegal immigrant movement. “Illegal aliens are often paid under the table (so they don’t pay any taxes), and, second, they cost the American taxpayer through social services such as hospital costs for the uninsured, education for their children, etc.,” former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo once told The Washington Post.
While stopping short of advocating mass deportation as former House Speaker and current Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich once suggested, Tancredo believes a solution lies in targeting employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. He also thinks that one sure fire way of stanching the flow of southern immigrants would be in amending the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to any child born in the U.S. He believes it encourages women to cross into the country to give birth. There is no proof of Tancredo’s theory.
There are already laws aimed at penalizing employers who hire illegal non-citizens. But the pool for jobs in agriculture, fast food and hospitality is deep and the supply of workers — especially immigrant workers — willing to take these jobs is vast.
Solving the complexity of the immigration puzzle may take more than the president’s first term. “For some people, there is no hope,” said Denver immigration attorney Jessica Kunevicius. They have come here “to cut the grass, paint the house, take care of the children.” Visas, for many if not most in this group, are nearly unattainable.
“Visas are like alphabet soup,” said the Denver attorney. “Every one has a different requirement. But people have to fit into a very specific category.” With no family ties in America and lacking an essential skill set, there are few options for this group but keeping a low profile, blending in or going back to Mexico.
For others, though, those who came here at a young age with their parents, Kunevicius points to the Dream Act. “They feel American in every way; they’re educated; they often don’t even know the language of their home country,” she said.
While acknowledging the difficulty in meeting the immigration challenge, Kunevicius said she was inspired by what the president said in El Paso when he made reference to the value immigrants have brought to America.
“Look at Intel, look at Google, look at Yahoo, look at eBay,” the president said. “All those great American companies, all the jobs they’ve created, everything that has helped us take leadership in the high-tech industry, every one of those was founded by, guess who, an immigrant.”