March 31, 2017

Be Our Guest / Ana R. Hernandez

Undocumented immigrants and our broken immigration system

Ana R. HernandezI write in response to a few letters recently published in The Criterion in support of the executive orders issued by the new administration that have placed immigrant communities under attack. I write to you as a U.S. citizen and a daughter of immigrants.

First of all, I would like to offer an explanation of what an undocumented immigrant is. Undocumented immigrants in this scenario are people who are living in the United States without authorization from the U.S. government.

Undocumented immigrants have either entered the United States unlawfully or have entered lawfully but overstayed their visa.

Many people and organizations have stopped using the term “illegal” to describe a person because a person’s existence cannot be illegal. Only actions are illegal, and in this case, entering the United States unlawfully is most often a misdemeanor crime. We typically do not go around calling people who have misdemeanor charges for driving without a license “illegals.”

I would like people to realize that some readers are reacting out of fear. They believe that immigrants are here asking for handouts and exhausting resources from their country. I would like to offer them data that they may not know is available.

More than 60 percent of undocumented immigrants living in the United States have lived here for over a decade.

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes. Undocumented immigrants contribute an estimated $11.74 billion a year in state and local taxes in the United States, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a non-profit, non-partisan research organization.

In fact, the same institute noted that if the undocumented individuals in our state of Indiana were given the opportunity to obtain legal status, they would contribute over $28,701,000 more per year in state and local taxes.

They also contributed almost $12 billion to Social Security funds in 2010, according to a 2013 report from the Social Security Administration. And the report expected that positive impact on Social Security trust funds to continue. That’s money from which the U.S. citizens of this country will one day benefit, but the undocumented immigrants contributing never will.

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for all of this “free stuff” mentioned in previous letters. They are not eligible to receive food stamps, cash assistance or housing assistance.

I want the readers to understand that a person cannot simply “apply for citizenship.” One has to first become a green card holder (i.e., permanent resident), and then two to five years later apply for “citizenship.”

Our immigration system is broken, and we cannot continue to ignore the problem. In some family-based categories, the Department of State is processing applications that were submitted on or before 1994.

If you want people to follow the law, the United States needs to provide a realistic avenue for that to be done. This is not a “3-5 business days” type of scenario.

I urge everyone to go out of their way and truly inform themselves on the United States’ immigration policy.

Undocumented immigrants are not here to exhaust your resources or ask for handouts, and if given the opportunity to legalize their status, their economic contributions would increase, therefore boosting the economy nationwide.

(Ana R. Hernandez attends St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis.)

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