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Are the INS and Border Patrol valuable services?


Carole "Roo" Horn

Short Essay

February 25th, 2003

Migration and Culture



Our tax dollars at work - a Border Patrol Agent at Burger King!

Perhaps it’s a bit radical, perhaps a bit naïve, but I believe that the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol are institutions which are no longer practical, useful, or necessary in this country. First of all, what are they really accomplishing? The Border Patrol is specifically designed to keep "illegal" or "undocumented aliens" from coming into the US. Is it working? Hardly. Oh sure, they catch a few Mexicans running the desert now and then, but the numbers that are apprehended don’t come close to the numbers of those that make it through. And what about immigrants from other countries? Are our resources able to track those that fly in or arrive by boat? According to the Arizona Republic article "Dying to Work," "The INS strategy of blockading popular border routes with high-tech gizmos and nearly 10,000 agents has yet to measurably cut the flow of illegal immigrants." In fact, it is estimated that there could be as many as 8 million illegal immigrants in the US today.

Would it be so bad to just let them in? Over 1100 Mexican nationals have died since 1997 just trying to get to El Norte. Is keeping them out really worth all the expense of the Anti-Immigration agencies and the death toll involved? I would like to examine some of the issues believed to be a problem in this situation…

Immigrants are taking American jobs. While in the case of educated immigrants taking skilled jobs this may be true, the numbers in this situation are very small. In fact, one problem that faces many immigrants coming to this country for work is that skills or certifications that they may have had in their home country won’t transfer to professional jobs here, or the language barrier prevents them from performing professional jobs. A good example of this is with Seini from Tonga. In her home country she was a nurse, but in the US could only be a nurse’s aide. Her husband Simi went from being a teacher in Tonga to a warehouse worker.

Of more concern to Americans seems to be the throngs of unskilled laborers coming from "Third World" countries. These immigrants come to the US primarily to seek employment, true, but in general the jobs they take are those that are low paying and undesirable to Americans. In speaking with the owner of Hoe-Down Landscaping Services, I was told that in 8 years of business he had not had a single white American apply for a job. In fact, many industries besides landscaping – including construction, maintenance and cleaning, meat-packing, car washing, and sewing among others - rely so heavily on low paid, unskilled migrants that they would have to close their doors if those workers were not available. Many immigrants also take jobs "under the table" for the middle and upper class Americans, such as babysitting, gardening, housekeeping or cooking, a luxury that many here could not use if forced to go through the "proper channels" of IRS and INS reporting. I think what we should concentrate on is the fact that these immigrants WANT jobs. Many Americans can’t even make that claim!

Immigrants are a burden on social services such as healthcare. Again, on the surface, this could appear to be true. However those social services are paid for with tax money. Even if migrant workers come into this country illegally and give false documentation to their employers, most are still paying taxes on their wages. Therefore, they are contributing to these institutions just as much, if not more, than the Americans that are complaining about them. Perhaps the problem here is with the American healthcare system in general, rather than those who use it. Many American citizens also do not have health insurance, but must use the healthcare system as well. If our system allowed for all people to receive healthcare without fear of deportation or bankruptcy, maybe more people – immigrant or not – could take advantage of preventative medicine, rather than only visiting the doctor for expensive emergency situations. (But that’s a whole other paper!)

Immigrants make money here, but send it to their families "back home". Very true. But at the same time, those that are living here must buy food, personal products and gasoline as well as rent apartments or buy homes. They participate in social activities, watch movies, and attend sporting events. All of these things stimulate our economy. At the same time, the money that they send home greatly stimulates the economies of the sending countries, perhaps allowing those still there to stay there, and not have the need to emigrate.

Immigrants live in tenement conditions and do not care for their surroundings. Perhaps according to the American standard, the areas in which immigrants concentrate do appear more run-down than we would like to see. However, compared to the living conditions they experienced in the "sending country," these accommodations are a major improvement. Plus, the wages that our employers are willing to pay them isn’t conducive to luxury living – these are the homes that they can afford. These people work long hours for minimal pay and do not have the time or resources to beautify their homes to our standards.

Without keeping controls on immigration and our borders, we lose control over drugs and terrorists coming into our country. Drug traffickers and terrorists are not concerned with the laws governing our borders. These are the people who will come into our country no matter what the rules are. Even if our borders were completely closed and legal immigration halted, they would find a way. Money and conviction are very powerful motivators.

How would we fund the scores of people that will surely come if we open up our borders? First of all, more people would create more jobs. A town with a growing population must build more housing, create more businesses and provide more services, all of which would require new employees.

As another option, lets go back to the idea of eliminating the INS and Border Patrol. How much do we spend on these agencies? How much do we spend in mountains of paperwork that never get looked at? How much do we spend in time and money processing undocumented aliens and sending them back to their homelands, just so they can try again (and again, and again)? "The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service's budget has grown from $1.5 billion in 1993 to the $5.5 billion requested by President Bush for 2002" (AZ Republic). Perhaps that money can be better spent in social services to all of our new residents.

Realistically, like most government agencies, the Border Patrol and INS just do not spend their money practically. While to them it makes sense to build a wall that extends 300 feet into the Pacific Ocean, to me it would make more sense to make it more difficult for illegals to come through the major border crossings. A friend of mine who is here illegally from Mexico said that he simply got in his car and drove through. When the American agent asked him if he was an American citizen, he said "yes" and was told to "have a nice day". If this is as tight as security is going to be at our borders, I say, "Why bother".