What Ronald Reagan Knew About Immigration Reform

Once again immigration reform in the United States gets lost in the political posturing of party politics. It is unfortunate that the speechifying about economic and political consequences dominates the discussion and therefore immigration reform in the US will once again be nothing more but another layer of a perpetuating bureaucratic mess that will keep immigration politics in play for another generation. It now seems clear to me that not finding a solution is the ultimate goal of the Democrats and the Republicans. This allows them to keep immigration as the scapegoat to all that ails the nation.

Unfortunately the rhetoric masks the reality of immigration. The pain and the anxiety of families and the criminalization of the pursuit for economic prosperity is ignored and replaced with demonizing people in order to further a political agenda. In the ongoing political pontificating by both parties and supporting talking heads the truth is outright buried to keep the populace ignorant and afraid of those different from themselves.

The fact is that the United States needs immigrants, especially from Mexico.

As a Mexican immigrant to the United States I have seen and experienced the constant attacks on my brethren and the continuous assault on dignity. In some places the animosity for Mexican immigrants is unbridled aversion for all that is Mexican. From mannerisms to the foods we eat those that detest us will find fault with anything we touch. I actually respect, although I do not agree with, people who clearly will have nothing to do with me because their dislike for me is clear and unvarnished. Clearly they do not want me here nor do they want anything to do with my country. They are clear and to the point.

My problem is with those that speak about equality, fairness and economic prosperity for all and yet use immigration politics to further their personal agendas. Democrats and Republican do this equally well. The ongoing debate about immigration reform is fueled not by human dignity or the search for resolving an ongoing problem but rather the talking points to be leveraged in tomorrow’s elections.

It’s the Republicans that are the problem seems to be the mantra and in many ways they are because they allow people like Ann Coulter to position their agenda. But it was also a Republican, President Ronald Reagan, who signed the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act into law. It was also George W. Bush that originally opened the doors to the current immigration debate only to firmly shut it down when Mexico refused to support his demand to invade Iraq at the United Nations.

Much of the reason for today’s immigration reform activity can be traced directly to the GOP’s fear of the rising Hispanic vote in US politics. Unfortunately for them they allow their public persona to be managed by xenophobic relics with no clear understanding of the global dynamics being played around them. Ronald Reagan once stated; “Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet.” The fact is that many Mexican immigrants are conservative by nature and would tend to support Republican values if not for the GOP talking heads such as Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh.

Rush Limbaugh, for his part, has somewhat softened his stance on immigration reform as soon as it became clear to him that the party he advocates for needs the Hispanic vote to remain relevant. But as with any talking head zealot, Limbaugh just can’t openly advocate support for the current iteration of the immigration reform legislation making the rounds through Congress so he has to wrap his opposition around the notion that border security must come before the legalization of people.

For her part, Ann Coulter clearly ignores Reagan’s clear understanding of the Latino vote reality by proclaiming that the only way for the GOP to win Hispanic votes is to keep the “foreign ones out”. Clearly Coulter lives in a fantasy world where everyone knows their place and don’t aspire to be treated equally.

In November 1979, Ronald Reagan announced the North American Accord where he advocated the free-movement of commerce and people between Canada, Mexico and the United States. Yes, Ronald Reagan advocated open borders between the three nations for both commerce and people. By the time NAFTA became law the free movement of commerce came to be but through the rhetoric of party politics the “people” were conveniently forgotten.

The GOP’s demise is squarely in their hands and it has nothing to do on whether Hispanics would embrace Republican values but everything to do with the fact that Republicans continue to allow the Coulter’s, Limbaugh’s and others to speak for them.

And this is where the disconnect is. Reagan clearly understood that the prosperity of the nation lies in the inclusiveness of all of its components, including the undocumented immigrants.

The Democrats, for their part, aren’t really championing immigration reform because it is the right thing to do; rather they position their rhetoric squarely behind the GOP’s stupidity to cement their public persona.

The fact is that immigration reform is good for the United States. The facts clearly show this. A July 3, 2013 Congressional Budget Office Report to The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary shows this. The report states that the latest Senate incarnation of immigration reform would reduce federal deficits by $158 billion over the next ten years. Likewise, a July 2013 Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy Report titled; “Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions” not only confirms that legalizing immigrants will contribute to the United States but that they “are already paying a significant share of their income in state and local taxes”.

According to that report, undocumented immigrants paid an estimated $10.6 billion in local and state taxes in 2010. Yes, you read that correctly, it is billions with a “b”. The report reaffirms what I have always argued that undocumented immigrants pay property taxes either directly through homes they own or indirectly through rental payments. Many purchases by undocumented immigrants as well as telecommunications services incur taxes that the undocumented pay while living in the shadows. Therefore the notion that immigrants are a drain to the public services is demonstrated to be nothing more than rhetoric. But that won’t stop the xenophobes from demanding that the borders be sealed.

In fact the report goes on to state that passage of the Senate’s immigration reform would only increase their contributions to the country. Texas would see an increase of about $91 million while all of the states combined would see an increase of about $2 billion. Florida, likewise, would see a $41 million increase in revenues from immigrants, just by the simple fact of welcoming them into society.

Now imagine taking this one step further and doing away with the party politics. Immediately the notion of “securing the border” would vanish taking with it the expense of enforcing border security. That expense would further lower the nation’s deficit. Border security is nothing more than a red-herring for those advocating keeping immigrants out. The fact is that no terrorist has ever entered the United States through Mexico. This means that the southern border is as secure as a society based on democracy would allow.

But more importantly, the dignity and acceptance of a marginalized population would not only increase prosperity for the nation’s economy but the inclusion of people would further enrich the United States.

Because I am a citizen of Mexico I tend to focus on the Mexican immigrant but I fully understand that immigration reform is about many nationalities and not exclusive to those from Mexico. At the same time, the fact is that there are many more Mexicans who are affected by the current immigration reform debacle than any other nationality that the final iteration of this cycle’s immigration reform squarely affects Mexicans more than any other nationality.

Unfortunately the reform, if it even comes, will be nothing more than another layer of bureaucracy that further diminishes a silent populace that contributes to the greatness of the nation. It is a shame that the solution is within our grasp but the dignity of a community and their suffering will continue because party politics is center stage in the debate.

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