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America's Illegal Immigration Debate Misses The Mark

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No Republican campaign speech ever goes on for long without mention of illegal immigration and the desire to quell it.   Though the debate itself invo kes a clear and present problem, the persistent use of it as a political jumping point without consideration or offering of reasoned solutions, continues to cloud the reality of its underreported dark side. From drugs to human trafficking, the lax state of our border security reflected in our inability to control illegal immigration, has taken a great toll on this nation.   Secure borders are more than just keeping desperate, freedom seeking people out of the country but one would be hard pressed to hear the reality of the problem on the stage of the ongoing political circus featuring so many aspiring performers.

As the debate of illegal immigration rages on, many States have enacted anti-immigration policy mandates focusing on preventing people from living in this nation without documentation. Some of these mandates suggest that all those who are here illegally, despite their former domestic situations they suffered for in their countries of origin or their current productivity levels in this one, should be deported; bar none. From Arizona to the Carolinas, many citizens are voicing concern for the by product of routing out those here illegally: Racial and cultural profiling. Even though some here illegally are in fact, blights on their communities, many are positive additions to this great nation much like their "legal" counterparts on both accounts.

This argument which seems to contradict The New Colossus poem etched upon our Nation's iconographic Statue of Liberty, stems from claims that illegal immigrants take up too much space on the rosters of social assistance and when considered in combination with the crime incurred by them, has resulted in both our economic and judicial systems becoming overburdened and unsustainable. Supporting this claim, many incarceration statistics point to a larger level of crime and gang membership among this immigrant class which has done nothing to discredit but rather, justify the argument against illegal immigration into this nation.  What these debates should produce though, instead of merely helping to demonize an entire people, is making clear that when jobs are few, children are hungry and pay rates are as low as they are for most of these immigrants; crime is a natural affectation. 

Many have used the preceding statistics to justify immigration reform but like Andy Warhol's question of "Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?"; do these individuals actually commit more crime per capita or does racial profiling and harsher judgment of them induce more arrests and convictions?  When the police hawk and harass these people, as in the always patrolled ghettos across this nation, arrests will innately become more numerous especially considering the ever growing laws in this nation making even common actions "illegal".  If the "forces that be" want to harass and arrest these people along their determined course to demonize them, they certainly have the judiciary on their side.

It may come as a shock to some to learn that our border gaps present a greater threat to this nation than people entering our nation illegally.  When looking at the bigger picture of border security or lack thereof, illegal immigration represents the least of our worries.  Off the political talking point filled stage, the all but ignored subject of illegal drugs entering this nation over (or under) the border, through our seaports and airports adds precipitously to our nation's troubles.  Drug use and the associated obsession by addicts to get a fix or acting outside of their natural selves while on them, has created an entire subculture of "criminals".  Maybe if this country secured its borders and ports and stopped illegal drugs from entering, there would be fewer crimes within the spectrum of our racial and culturally diverse social palette thereby alleviating 60% of all crimes committed by residents; illegal or not .  

Surprisingly, in the wake of 9/11, drugs arrests and drug use has not waned. The National Drug Intelligence Center gave an assessment in its National Drug Threat Assessment of 2010 that reported the availability of illicit drugs was on the rise in the U.S.  This statistic stands in spite of the exponential growth of Southwestern border patrol and drug enforcement agency strengthening.  Rather than blaming immigration policy, the quest for solutions to this epidemic should first begin with an examination of our own culture and how drugs are so easily brought in and distributed in this nation.  There are many reasons both social and economic for why this demand exists but the end user would not exist if there was no supply.

According to the Almanac of Policy Issues, "The illegal drug market in the United States is one of the most profitable in the world. As such, it attracts the most ruthless, sophisticated, and aggressive drug traffickers. Drug law enforcement agencies face an enormous challenge in protecting the country's borders. Each year, according to the U.S. Customs Service, 60 million people enter the United States on more than 675,000 commercial and private flights. Another 6 million come by sea and 370 million by land. In addition, 116 million vehicles cross the land borders with Canada and Mexico. More than 90,000 merchant and passenger ships dock at U.S. ports. These ships carry more than 9 million shipping containers and 400 million tons of cargo. Another 157,000 smaller vessels visit our many coastal towns. Amid this voluminous trade, drug traffickers conceal cocaine, heroin, marijuana, MDMA, and methamphetamine shipments for distribution in U.S. neighborhoods." Instead of addressing this blight on our nation though, politicians are satisfied to merely blame the immigrants for the problems instead of addressing the reality of the problem. 

Even with this testament to the seemingly futile efforts of our domestic drug control, the issue of illegal immigration has become the iconographic talking point of our Nation's border security issue and by proxy, one of our economic stress points.  Instead of concentrating on creating jobs and solving our socio-economic woes through realistic incentives, politicians seem to believe that rhetoric without reality will convince us all to vote them into office.  As an example of this, Herman Cain, an aspiring presidential candidate best known for pizza commercials and catchy slogans, has suggested that an electrified fence should be erected to control the Mexican-American border; truly an idea vacant of any realism.  A fence has proven to only reroute the imports. 

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Across the southwest, 149 tunnels have been shut down since 1990; 55 of them in or intended for California, said Joe Garcia, deputy special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations.  What is so very disturbing is how the statistics for drug trafficking are self-perpetuating.  Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice - National Drug Intelligence Center show that the largest number of seizures have occurred on the border such as Mexico so from this, they invest more money to control that point of entry while our seaports and airfields go largely unchecked.  Drugs represent an American pandemic but there is an even more insidious import which should be discussed on a national level: Human trafficking.

Largely under reported and considered taboo on the election circuit and within the newsrooms of popular media sources, human trafficking remains a dark evil within our nation.  Maybe it is because most candidates and "news" stations realize American voters do not want to deal with reality or maybe they just don't realize or want to recognize it exists.  In a series of articles titled, "Human Trafficking in America", Laura Bauer paints a landscape of such despair stemming from human trafficking as to turn your mind away from the fantasy of American media toward an issue that should be at the forefront of the political stage.

Even after our nation did recognize this social disease in 1994 and then in 2000, enacted the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, the effort did little to actually quell it.  As Bauer further points out, "America declared war on human trafficking nearly a decade ago. With a new law and much fanfare, the government pledged to end such human rights abuses at home and prodded the rest of the world to follow its example. But the United States is failing to find and help tens of thousands of human trafficking victims in America." 

According to the US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2006, 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually.  HumanTrafficking.org states; "The U.S. Department of State began monitoring trafficking in persons in 1994, when the issue began to be covered in the Department's Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Originally, coverage focused on trafficking of women and girls for sexual purposes. The report coverage has broadened over the years, and U.S. embassies worldwide now routinely monitor and report on cases of trafficking in men, women, and children for all forms of forced labor, including agriculture, domestic service, construction work, and sweatshops, as well as trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation."

Likewise, the U.S. Department of Education has stated that "trafficking can involve school-age children--particularly those not living with their parents--who are vulnerable to coerced labor exploitation, domestic servitude, or commercial sexual exploitation (i.e., prostitution). Sex traffickers target children because of their vulnerability and gullibility, as well as the market demand for young victims. Those who recruit minors into prostitution violate federal anti-trafficking laws, even if there is no coercion or movement across state lines. The children at risk are not just high school students--studies demonstrate that pimps prey on victims as young as 12. Traffickers have been reported targeting their minor victims through telephone chat-lines, clubs, on the street, through friends, and at malls, as well as using girls to recruit other girls at schools and after-school programs. --" Surely, this bit of information should be mentioned by our Presidential candidates but to date, it has not surfaced in the debates. 

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To combat these nefarious problems, border security should be coming to the forefront.  America has taken steps to this affect. With a great deal of money allocated through the Patriot Act, border patrols have increased exponentially from 4,139 in 1992 to 20,558 in 2010.  The bulk of this effort has been directed toward the Mexican-American border.  In 2010, the number of border patrol agents in the Southwest was 17,535.  The coastal patrol numbered; a mere 246. As is typical of this nation, our defenses have been allocated in such a disproportionate manner, our coastline and ports are all but unprotected.  To put this into perspective, our Southwest border is 1,969 miles long whereas our nation's continental coastline is 86,112 miles.  This equates to 85% of our border patrol allocated to mere 2% of our border; a disproportionate ratio by any stretch of the imagination.  Our borders need more than just political culture targeting if we are to truly be safe. Who knows, maybe a few more jobs here in America instead of abroad as our government invests billions in protecting other nation's borders, would actually make sense.

With the preceding in mind, the issue of illegal immigration seems rather inane.  After all, most immigrants coming into America are here for the betterment of their and their family's futures.  For the rest suffering for the lack of security on our borders, airfields and seaports, the consequences on inaction are dire. But shouldn't we all be used to this sort of inept governing on the real issues by now?  After all, the political performers of the capitalist system incessantly blame their rival political parties for our current economic and social woes without any action which reasonably solves any problem whatsoever.  Why should this issue be any different?  If half the effort our government expends to fight terrorism abroad and to secure the sea ports and air space of other nations was expended and focused on our own failing one, maybe we would see not only a better economy but a better lifestyle for all our denizens, illegal or not.

Immigration as a debate issue seems to be meant to distract our thoughts on the bigger problems facing this Nation and take from our national agenda, the dark edges of our profit oriented system. The truth of it all is quite simple: The political side show in this nation is not about finding solutions; it is about providing shock absorbers for our fantasy infected car pool traveling a road riddled with gaping, moral pot holes. Illegal immigration is the shallowest of these pits riddling the scarred surface of our Nation's current path. If we are to improve as a Nation, we will need a better vision and improved policies not just for ourselves but for those who needlessly suffer within the shadow of our nation's governmental inaction. 

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Steven Forrest is a Project Architect living in St. Petersburg, Florida. Currently, he is working to implement Green Building initiatives in several communities across Florida. Given the current situation in America and the continued (more...)

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