Immigration Reform: Economic handicap or jackpot?
By SHANNON VENEGAS
Sergio Bautista was brought across the Mexican-American border by his mother at the age of 13 with his other siblings to be close to their father in the United States. Bautista missed the age cutoff for the Dream Act, bipartisan legislation designed to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who entered the United States under the age of 16.
In January 2013, Sergio was forced to return to Mexico to continue his marriage waiver process (his only pathway to citizenship).Sergio is currently in Mexico awaiting word on the decision of his marriage waiver, which he filed with his wife Jennifer Suarez Bautista, an American citizen.
Bautista is one of 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. As Congress works to provide a pathway to citizenship for this massive group, citizens are wondering whether a large-scale legalization will hinder the budget or boost the economy.
Current Reform Progress
On April 19, the “Gang of 8,” a bipartisan Senate group composed of four Republicans and four Democrats, showcased a framework for immigration reform. Current reform plans include tighter border security and a path to documentation for illegal immigrants, granting them provisional status. Under the current law, undocumented workers are barred from the United States for three to 10 years before eligibility.
There is still debate as to what benefits, if any, would be allowed for these “provisional status” immigrants. In the current proposal, they would be allowed only to work and travel.
Many are questioning whether this “provisional status” will actually make things easier. There are remarks that immigrants will then be “second class citizens without benefits while still working and paying taxes. However, the senators made it clear that they had to ensure a new process was not easier than the current pathways for other groups who are legal.
Recently, another bipartisan House group is preparing a group of separate bills similar to the one comprehensive Senate bill.
Effects on the Economy
Many opponents of immigration reform believe legalizing so many undocumented workers will drain the funds from Medicaid and Social Security. In an article on foxnews.com, Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee estimated legalizing millions of immigrants could cost up to $40 billion in 2022 just for Medicaid and Obamacare. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio denied these claims, but said an in-depth budget analysis will be carried out.
Conversely, a 2013 report from the American Center for Progress says the legalization of undocumented immigrants will dramatically boost the economy. Even if undocumented workers are legalized with no pathway to citizenship, they estimate an increase of $832 billion in gross domestic product during the next 10 years.
Meanwhile, many immigrants with a qualifying American spouse or relative are going through the long and expensive process of legalization. Fortunately, a policy change in March decreased the amount of time they have to spend away from their family. Unfortunately, Bautista left before this change, and Jennifer eagerly awaits his return.
“The hardest part has been … keeping up with appearances,” she said. “People look at you differently.”
Marcelo Melendez, a member of the maintenance staff at Mount Mary College who acquired a visa two years ago, believes immigrants in the United States who are working hard to support their families should be allowed to realize their dreams.
“If you can’t get a visa then you’ll think about trying to get through the border, which means risking everything and possibly your life,” Melendez said. “Even if you make it through the border, [without a visa] you’ll live here always in fear and without the promise of a free and open life [like citizens have].”Marcelo Melendez, member of the Mount Mary College maintenance staff, came to America a couple years ago from Nicaragua.
Lynn Kapitan, director of the professional doctorate in art therapy and mother-in-law to Melendez, sponsored Melendez’s entry after Melendez fell in love with Kapitan’s daughter Chelsea Melendez-Kapitan.
“It was a massive effort — people who talk about undocumented immigrants breaking the law truly don’t know how difficult and expensive it is to get documented,” Kapitan said. “Marcelo waited for six months for the visa to come through, after which they were able to get married. Then they waited another six months for Marcelo to get a work permit, and another six months after that to get his permanent green card.”
Melendez is working hard to adjust to a new country and has completed four semesters of English as a Second Language classes in order to begin technical classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
“Marcelo said that in his own case the key to everything is to learn the language,” Kapitan said. “It is not enough to dream but one has to learn to speak English well … Marcelo believes strongly in education as the key to a better life here in the U.S.”
Other Mount Mary stories
Suzanne Caulfield, Mount Mary math professor, was born in Ireland, but came to the United States in 1994 after working in Japan. She was able to gain a visa through a lottery.
Through her process, Caulfield had to live in the United States before acquiring a green card. Suzanne Caulfield entered the country in New York at John F. Kennedy International Airport. She found it be a scary experience with so many police officers walking around deporting people.
Caulfield eventually became a citizen while applying for a job at NASA. She found the citizenship process to be expensive but rewarding.
“I have little sympathy and tolerance for people who are here illegally because there are so many ways to get in legally,” Caulfield said.
She said that ignorance of the law is not a good excuse because so many forms are publicly available. Her friends tried to get a visa without doing the research, and it took them 15 years.
Kim Schwamn, assistant director of admissions at Mount Mary College, came to the United States seven years ago from England and currently holds a resident’s green card. She initially came to the United States with a three-month visa and stayed after she got married.
She had an interview in 2006 to prove the validity of her marriage and then spent two years gathering proof of their relationship before sending it all out and receiving her visa.
Schwamn said having a lawyer did help to relieve some of the stress involved with the process.
“It was so stressful and so expensive,” Schwamn said. “They need to do something else.”