In 1996 Congress made its last effort to strengthen and streamline U.S. immigration laws, that is, Congress enacted The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). Since then, there has not been a significant effort to update immigration laws.
Let's talk numbers, in 1996 1.9% of the population was composed of undocumented immigrants. Fifteen years later, in 2011, the number grew to 3.7%, that is almost 11,500,000 people in the U.S. are undocumented immigrants. (Jan. 12, 2004 and Mar. 2012, US Department of Homeland Security).
Even if one was to swiftly and wrongly assume that the undocumented immigrant population growth was a cause of the 1996 effort, it is undeniable that our landscape now is very different than in 1996, whatever the reason may be.
Now, let's talk numbers about our nation's immigrant population. Since the 1900s until 2010, approximately 12% of our entire population was born outside of the U.S. (with only a period in the 1990s when the percentage dropped to 5%). So after all we are a nation built by immigrants.
Thus, while it is a priority and an extremely important reality that the U.S.government has a responsibility too keep out those who hurt the country's stability, it is also a reality that U.S. Immigration laws need to respond to what our reality has become after 18 years of keeping immigration laws stagnant. That reality is that there are more undocumented immigrants now than when Congress last looked at immigration laws, and those numbers beg for a solution for the sake of prosperity and security of the U.S.
Why do I think there are more undocumented immigrants, you may ask. My opinion is that when one is faced with no options to remain legal - even if only temporary-, pay taxes and contribute to society, one turns to illegality out of desperation. And that is what current immigration laws do to the foreign-born.
Case in point, U.S. immigration laws ignore that most immigrants have contributed to our economy, our growth, our power. It keeps born-abroad engineers, professionals, and young students out of the U.S. (after educating themselves in the U.S. and paying exorbitant fees in U.S. universities, which creates jobs as well) by placing them on a lottery visa system that ultimately kicks them out. Students and professionals are left with little to no legal options to work and give back to the U.S. It is undisputedly counter-productive for the U.S. economy not to allow them to give their talent and effort to the U.S. economy.
Too much talent is being wasted to other countries, resentment is building up, and reality is that job opportunities are not getting better for U.S. born candidates.
The problem is not immigrants, because we are a nation of immigrants. The problem is the outdated laws that force them into illegality. The undocumented immigrant numbers will keep rising if Congress does not make an effort to fix the problem. The illegality of immigrants is the real threat because their jobs and salaries are not monitored, leaving the U.S. economy hanging dry. The foreign-born properly documented immigrant and U.S. citizens are left without a shot at competing with low unregulated wages. The U.S. loses because of its own immigration laws.
So, why is immigration reform is important? Because the U.S. economy will fail if immigration laws are not reformed.
The current immigration law system has already failed a great number of law abiding, talented and professional individuals, leaving them in the shadows of illegality or forcing them out of the U.S.
Congress must update current laws to protect U.S. borders and create programs for individuals educated in the U.S. so that the foreign-born continue to build positive things for this great country, not harm it. Immigration reform works for the U.S., it just makes sense.
By: Carem Corvaia, Esq.