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The Issue Is Immigration

by John Courage

We need a common-sense, comprehensive solution to the problem of illegal immigration. Enforcement-only does not work. From 1993 to 2004, the number of Border Patrol agents tripled (from about 4,000 to about 11,000) and the amount of spending has gone up five times (from $740 million to $3.8 billion), yet the number of undocumented immigrants doubled (from 4.5 million to 9.3 million).[1] Building a fence along our southern border-as my opponent, incumbent Rep. Lamar Smith, advocates-and making felons of millions of undocumented immigrants and those who help them will not solve our immigration problems. It will only make matters worse.

I support a bipartisan, comprehensive approach that combines full implementation of border security measures recommended by the 9-11 Commission and fair and equitable immigration reform that serves to permit workers to come for available jobs, and reunites immigrants with family members who are United States citizens and lawful permanent residents.

For two decades, the country has been toughening border enforcement, building more fences, adding thousands of Border Patrol agents, and making it more costly and dangerous to cross. The result: Many more undocumented workers, 'economic refugees' as I to refer to them, who were once part of the seasonal workforce-north in spring, south in the late fall-stay here permanently, sending for families and driving up growth in the undocumented population.

In the long run, the country benefits economically and culturally from immigration and always has. But given the nation's tax and public service structure, in the short run at least, low-wage immigrants put burdens on local and state social services that their taxes don't pay for. The taxes they pay-Social Security in particular-go largely to the federal government, which is augmenting its surplus with billions from illegal workers. The costs of emergency health care and schools are borne largely by the states and local districts.

But the economic data (always controversial) isn't as important as the politics. Undocumented workers are already denied most social services, including welfare and all but emergency health care, but the widespread belief that they suck up taxpayer dollars and take American jobs has continued to feed the discontent with America's immigration policies.

An approach to the immigration problem that I support is a combination of a reliable identification system, tougher enforcement of employer sanctions and labor laws, expansion of the number of skilled worker visas, a guest-worker program that will allow less-skilled workers to work and return to their homeland with reasonable restrictions and measures to allow the undocumented who are already here to come out of the shadows.

Other Points on Immigration

  • Building a fence (with holes) along our southern border and criminalizing millions of undocumented immigrants as well as churches, charities, doctors, and lawyers who provide them assistance would turn this country into a police state and would make a mockery of the immortal words of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty.

  • I do not support a blanket "amnesty", but rather an "earned legalization" program whereby certain illegal immigrants would be required to pay a fine, back taxes, learn English and civics, and take their place in line behind those who have applied and waited years to become lawful permanent residents. I also support removing restrictive caps on the number of persons who can immigrate legally and eliminating harsh barriers created by Smith in his 1996 immigration bill that prevents immigrants from being reunited with their families in the United States. Reducing illegal immigration by increasing legal immigration is a solution that makes common sense.

  • Illegal immigration will not be abated until we work with Mexico and other countries of origin to develop programs that will increase employment opportunities and build the middle class in those countries, and until we begin to enforce our labor laws, like paying the minimum wage, here at home.

  • Lamar Smith claims that cheap immigrant labor reduces the wages of American workers performing low-skilled jobs. [2] If Smith is concerned about the wages of workers performing low-skilled jobs, why has he consistently voted against raising the federal minimum wage? [3]

  • Smith was one of four original co-sponsors of HR 4437, the "Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005," which passed the House on December 16, 2005. Smith hailed the passage of HR 4437 as the "most significant border security bill in nearly a decade." [4] HR 4437 provides for 700 miles of fence to be built along the 2,000 mile-long US-Mexico border, 15 miles of which would be constructed on either side of Laredo. Every Texas Congressmember, Republican and Democrat, whose district runs along the border, voted AGAINST this fence,[5] which shows how out of step Smith is with his own fellow Texas Congressmembers.

  • If Smith is so concerned about securing our border to enhance our national security, why is he in favor of privatizing the jobs of federal immigration officers, who do the important work of interviewing people who seek to enter our country? That's right, in 2004 Smith voted AGAINST an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill that would have prohibited DHS funds from being used to contract out the positions of immigration officers and contact representatives to the private sector. [6] Did Smith learn nothing from 9-11, and how we did the exact opposite with respect to airport screening personnel?


1) Undocumented Immigrants Facts and Figures - Urban Institute January, 2004

2) Public Statement by Rep. Lamar Smith (TX), December 2, 2005 (as printed in The Washington Times).

3) H AMDT 1084 to HR 1227, May 23, 1996.

4) Public Statement by Rep. Lamar Smith (TX), December 16, 2005.

5) H AMDT 648 to HR 4437, December 15, 2005.

6) H AMDT 581 to HR 4567, June 18, 2004.

About The Author

John Courage is running for United States Congress for the 21st District of Texas. Courage came to San Antonio for basic training after enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 1971. He was honorably discharged four years later and enrolled in the University of Texas at San Antonio, working his way through with jobs in a local children's home and the Bexar County Mental Health and Retardation Department. He earned a BA in American Studies at UTSA. Returning to UTSA to earn a teacher's certification, Courage has been a classroom teacher for the past decade-and-a-half, primarily serving special education students in inner-city public schools. Courage has served on the San Antonio Teachers' Council Board, been a delegate to the National Education Association's convention for many years, and testified before the Texas House of Representatives' Committee on Education and the State Board of Education.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.