Let us start the discussion about solving the immigration problem by accepting one very important reality. The reality is that immigrants perform important labor functions that the United States depends on to make it economically strong. There are those readers that will insist this is not true. However, the fact is that Donald Trump has used immigrant labor and even today uses immigrant labor in his resorts. As anti-immigrant that Donald Trump is, his use of immigrant workers poignantly proves that immigrant labor is necessary to America’s success. However, there is also another issue that drives the immigration debacle. It is that undocumented immigrants are big money for Americans. We will look at these two realities in today’s issue.
Let us start by looking at how immigrants make the American economy stronger for Americans.
The United States has depended heavily on guest workers for agriculture and for providing services. Computer-related services also benefit from immigrant labor. However, for the purposes of today’s discussion we will focus on the agricultural and services sectors because they are predominantly filled by economic immigrants – those looking for jobs who have no plans to remain in the United States indefinitely.
Mexican labor has been an important part of the American labor force. It has been a love-hate relationship between those who depended on the labor and those who feel Mexican labor is/was diminishing their job opportunities. In the 1920’s, the Mexican labor presence was felt in many parts of the country. In Los Angeles alone, about thirteen percent of the population was Mexican. As the Great Depression worsened, the United States government started mass deportations of Mexicans.
Mexican labor started being ostracized as “alien” as unemployment rose, leading the effort to stigmatize Mexicans. When labor shortages worsened as the United States entered World War II and wartime efforts increased production while the country mobilized, the need to legalize Mexican labor was once again required.
During World War II, the United States relied heavily on Mexican labor to shore up its wartime labor shortages. The U.S. government encouraged and issued work permits to Mexicans to come work in the United States. The labor program became known as the Bracero Program. It remained in place until 1964, when the United States ended it.
Several subsequent attempts to regulate immigrants into the country have been attempted but most ignore the labor needs of the country. Currently, the United States’ law on guest workers is governed by the 1952 INA. The INA makes provisions for a “guest worker” for agricultural work through a visa known as the H2 category. The H2 is a nonimmigrant visa issued to temporary workers wanting to work in the United States but not wanting to migrate permanently.
The process for H2 visas requires an American employer to receive approval from the Department of Labor to import workers. Once approved, the company submits a petition to the Department of Homeland Security asking them to process H2 visas at U.S. embassies and consulates. Immigrants apply within their country of origin, and once approved travel to the worksite in the United States. The H2A visa is for agricultural workers.
Issuance of H2A (agricultural visas) have increased significantly since 1992. From 1992 through 1997, less than 20,000 visas were issued annually. By 2008, the number of agricultural visas that were issued annually jumped to over 60,000. In FY2016, almost 140,000 visas were issued.
Clearly, there is a need for foreign agricultural workers. However, it is important to note that agriculture is only one economic sector that depends on foreign labor. The housing industry, as well as service industries, like hotels and restaurants depend heavily on foreign labor.
But the guest worker visa is fraught with bureaucratic problems that makes it difficult for employers to use. A Pew Research Center report estimated that in 2014, 26% of farm jobs were held by foreign laborers. This statistic shows that foreign laborers and employers find it much easier to use undocumented processes rather than the guest worker visa that is too cumbersome. Congress has tried but failed numerous times to streamline the process. Farmers annually complain about losing their harvests because of a lack of farm labor.
As the reader can appreciate, the facts demonstrate that immigrants provide a valuable labor force for America. But, it is more than that. The immigration problem, itself is a money-making machine for non-profits, all wrapped around altruistic philanthropy lining many of their pockets along the way.
Non-profits make millions from undocumented immigrants. County governments also benefit from the plight of the immigrants.
Take for example, Southwest Key, a non-profit in Texas with facilities in several communities. The agency stands to make $458 million just this year from the federal government housing undocumented immigrant children. Its CEO, Juan Sánchez, receives a salary of $1.5 million annually for his work at the agency.
When the recent child controversy started, Southwest took great pains to distance itself from the issue, although for years it had been warehousing undocumented children for the federal government. The non-profit, based in Austin, received $26,874,115 from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2007. Under FY2018 appropriations, it has been appropriated $458,658,830 this year. Much of the appropriations are for “Unaccompanied Alien Children’s Shelters.”
In 2017, Southwest was appropriated $285,517,842, up from $211 million in 2016. The latest appropriation not only continues the growing income trend from federal funds for the agency, but it significantly jumps from the previous year.
Southwest Key has distanced itself from its part of the federal government’s separation of the immigrant kids controversy, especially after it was revealed that the CEO, Juan Sánchez makes over $1 million at the agency. The agency shutdown its website, ostensibly because of the high traffic, recently to avoid the media’s scrutiny. The non-profit operates about 30 facilities in Arizona, California and Texas.
Juan Sánchez, along with his wife, operates the immigrant child facility. Sánchez has argued in the news media that his experience of growing up in the barrios of Brownsville got him interested in his non-profit. Sánchez previously served as a board member for the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), now known as UnidosUS. The organization advocates for immigrant-related public policy.
Although generating millions from the government in the past, Juan Sánchez, who founded it in 1987, has lamented the decline of immigration as the reason for “mass layoffs.” In a May 2017 press release issued about the layoffs, the agency stated that “due to a significant decline in the amount of children coming across our country’s borders in recent months, Southwest Key programs has been instructed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to reduce capacity at our unaccompanied children’s services program by 48 percent, which resulted in the need to reduce staffing.”
According to The Brownsville Herald, about 966 employees were terminated in May 2017. However, by December 2017, Southwest Key was again advertising to fill jobs. Southwest Agency is also involved in charter schools funded by taxpayer funds.
As you can see, there is much money to be made from the plight of the immigrants. It has been a multi-million-dollar business for years.
The non-profits are not the only ones getting into the business of immigrant housing and services providers for federal dollars. The County of El Paso had a recent controversy at the county jail when it admitted it needed federal dollars to house immigrant detainees to keep it operational.
The then County Judge, and now House Representative candidate, Veronica Escobar, argued that keeping the immigrants close to the community was better then sending them to faraway facilities. Escobar’s husband was also appointed as a federal immigration judge by the Trump administration.
Escobar, by her own admission, benefits her county through federal dollars warehousing immigrants at the local jail, while her household income is funded by keeping immigrants jailed.
But the non-profits and the municipalities aren’t the only ones making money from the immigrant debacle. There are several federal agencies that benefit from not resolving the immigration dilemma. The largest of them is the U.S. Border Patrol.
The Border Patrol’s staffing and budget has been increasing significantly over the years. The agency argues that an increase of undocumented immigrants at the Mexican border is stressing their agency’s capabilities and thus they need a larger budget and greater numbers of agents.
However, an analysis of the agency’s budget and staffing levels correlated with the number of apprehensions on the southern border shows that the budget has dramatically increased while the number apprehensions have decreased.
What is more telling about the trend is the cost per undocumented immigrant versus the annual budget and the number of agents. In 1992, it cost the United States taxpayer about $284 per undocumented immigrant apprehended. The cost increased to $304 in 2017. Much of that can be attributed to higher costs due to inflation. However, the most telling metric is the number of apprehensions per agent staffed.
In 1992, each staffed agent detained about 277 undocumented immigrants. By 2017, the number of undocumented immigrants detained per Border Patrol staffed agent is down dramatically to 16. From the 1992 through 2017, the increased number of agents staffed significantly apprehended less undocumented immigrants per agent each year.
Although the Border Patrol argues it needs more resources, the evidence suggests that rather than an increase apprehensions, the apprehensions per agent and per dollar dramatically drops each year.
Increased Border Patrol staffing and a larger budget clearly does not equal more apprehensions as would be expected. As the reader will note, border apprehensions have been trending down for years and yet the numbers of agents and the federal dollars have increased significantly.
There is money to be made in the immigration debacle, from the non-profits pretending to do good, to the communities leveraging federal dollars to keep government employees paid on through to the federal government that increases federal dollars at a problem that is diminishing rather growing.
Thus, money is driving the need to keep the immigration a problem, rather than employing simple solutions to fix it. In tomorrow’s edition we will look at a solution offered by a Republican president that considered an open border between Canada, México and the United States something that would make America great.