Can local government do anything about undocumented immigrants? Should they?

Jeremy Aldrich -- October 12th, 2006

No Irish Need ApplyFollowing the recent request by the H’burg City Council for more information, which was reported in the DNR and on WHSV (both of which make look like the New York Times), there’s some discussion in the community about the cost of undocumented immigrants locally, and what local government can do about it. Seems to me like the whole thing is a lot of empty posturing backed up by suspicious “facts.”

First off, local governments have very few tools at their disposal to deal with transnational issues, and I think things should stay that way. But that hasn’t stopped them from trying. Town councils in at least 30 cities have tried to punish landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants, punish businesses who hire them, and make English their official language. These measures shift the burden of law enforcement onto individual citizens and promote inappropriate (and illegal) questioning of minority candidates for housing or jobs, while also promoting a general sense of racism (disguised as nationalism) and alienating an entire community of people.

Second, the notion that the cost is unbearable is questionable. Even the anti-immigration CIS released a study which admitted that the average cost of undocumented immigrant households is half that of average US citizens to the government, and the reason their tax contributions are so low have more to do with the low-paying jobs they take than anything else. And that’s from the OPPONENTS of undocumented immigration. People who are sympathizers point out other facts – such as that arguments that undocumented workers lower wages are dramatically overstated and that undocumented immigrants pay federal taxes (like Social Security and Medicaid) for benefits they will NEVER receive, meaning they pay more into the federal government than they cost. The key here is shifting the costs and benefits so that localities are not overwhelmed in costs related to education and emergency health care (the main impact costs of undocumented immigration).

Third, the “facts” that have been shared are questionable. Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst suggested that 20-30% of the city’s cases are againt undocumented immigrants, which is a huge number. Yet the same reporter from WHSV (Kelly Creswell) reported only 9 of the 282 inmates at the Rockingham County jail are undocumented immigrants, which is 3%, not 20-30%! Are the other cases dismissed due to lack of evidence or was her estimation far overstated? The fear of increasing gang numbers among undocumented immigrants is also largely unfounded and way overhyped, but that’s another issue.

It’s all good and well for City Council to get more facts on this issue, but let’s make sure that what they get is factual, and that the decisions they make based on those “facts” are humane, reasonable, and have a positive impact on our community.

by Gxeremio

10 Responses to “Can local government do anything about undocumented immigrants? Should they?”

  1. finnegan says:

    Yes, the source of the info is extremely important. There are lots of stats available online (biased against immigrants) and those sources often try to mask their bias to seem credible. The Pew research center in DC has done several studies on undocumented/illegal immigrants that is generally accepted as unbiased info.

    To answer your question, I personally believe that this is not a local issue, and should not be tackled by our city council.

    If you’re for strickter anti-immigration laws, continue to vote for Rep. Goodlatte. He has an A+ from anti-immigration group Americans for Better Immigration. Of course, it doens’t really matter if you don’t vote for him, because it’s likely he’ll be in office until he’s old and gray (but be aware that he does have two independent challengers this November).

    The strain on local infastructure was the subject of a disscussion after the documentary “Crossing Arizona” screened at the Latino Film Fest at the CST last week. Several audience members wanted to know how much of a drain undocumented workers are on social security and health care, etc. No one had definitive answers, because, well… they’re undocumented.

  2. Adam Sharp says:

    Great post Gxeremio. The pic makes it even better.

  3. Daytonres says:

    Both Marsha and Kelly’s numbers could be right. Obviously not everyone the Commonwealth has a case against winds up in jail. Not everyone the Commonwealth has cases against get caught either.
    I agree that the issue is a national one and not one to be tackled by the City Council, however because the feds do so little local governments are looking at taking the matter into their own hands.

  4. Gxeremio says:

    Unfortunately, it’s not the only number she’s been using that seems grossly over-“estimated.” People look to her for facts, and she needs to make sure she errs on the side of caution rather than creating unnecessary and undue fear in the community. I plan to post more on this theme soon.
    As to feds versus localities, what do you think the feds ought to do?

  5. Daytonres says:

    There’s not much the feds can do. The issue has become a political football with folks somehow equating border protection with racism. Obviously there is too much debate and sides to this story to even begin to get into, but seems like you ought to be able to figure out who is and isn’t in the country illegally and expell those that shouldn’t be here.
    Are you suggesting that the Commonwealth’s Attorney is cooking the numbers? Can’t back you up there.

  6. forehead on keyboard says:

    Significant sectors of our local (and national) economy are built on the backs of undocumented workers. If the feds were to enforce black-and-white immigration law, the economy would suffer at least and collapse at worst. The feds know this and, therefore, don’t deport large numbers of undocumented workers. Any state or local officials who try to “enforce immigration law even though the feds won’t” only demonstrate their incapacity to understand this economic reality — or maybe they just hate Irish people.

  7. Daytonres says:

    Forehead, you’re right. That’s one of the many sides to this issue that will make it something that will never go away. I think local governments are looking for a scapegoat when it comes to funding woes and they can blame the illegals for somehow costing them money. I’m not a big conspiracy theory guy, but sometimes things really are just a smoke screen. The reason some people want a black and white immigration law is that they see the schools spending a lot of money and resources on ESL or LEP students. Of course they also assume that all those students are illegals. The can make that assumption however, because the schools are not allowed to check on the immigration status of students. The problem is that there are too many symptoms to treat and the disease cannot be treated either do to all the political and economic ramifications.

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