This week's Newsweek has a genuinely excellent and detailed analysis of the reality of undocumented immigration in the US. The author, Kurt Eichenwald, went to the key sources such as Doug Massey and Rubén Rumbaut, among others, to get all aspects of the story right.
To understand the current controversy, look back a few decades. Until the mid-1960s, illegal immigration from Mexico was incomprehensible because the United States was legally admitting about 50,000 Mexicans a year as immigrants. From 1942 through 1964, the United States issued short-term visas for temporary laborers from Mexico, primarily for agricultural work. The system functioned well—some Mexicans became legal residents, more became temporary workers, and very little needed to be spent policing the borders since the laborers were happy to head back home when their seasonal jobs were done.
But civil rights advocates criticized the program as exploitative, and in 1965 Congress terminated the issuance of the short-term visas, which accomplished nothing. “When opportunities for legal entry disappeared after 1965, the massive inflow from Mexico simply re-established itself under undocumented auspices,’’ says Douglas Massey, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. “By 1979, it roughly equaled the volume observed in the late 1950s, only now the overwhelming majority of migrants were ‘illegal.’”
Once immigrants arrive in the U.S. illegally, do they commit crimes? Of course, in any group of millions of people, there will be those who engage in violent felonies, but the numbers here are not statistically significant. Rubén Rumbaut, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, noted in a 2007 report for the Immigration Policy Center (now part of the American Immigration Council) that even though the number of undocumented immigrants doubled from 1994 to the record level of 12 million in 2007, the violent crime rate in America dropped 34 percent, and the property crime rate fell 26 percent. That same report found that Mexican immigrants—including those who entered the U.S. legally and illegally—had an incarceration rate in 2000 of 0.7 percent, one-eighth the rate of native-born Americans of Mexican descent and lower than that of American-born whites and blacks of similar socioeconomic status and education.Eichenwald discusses the fact that the real crime wave related to immigration is the $6 billion per year human trafficking industry. Those folks have a strong interest in keeping the current system in place, but are probably already figuring out how to charge people to get around any new wall that might be proposed.
This is a lengthy article and I highly recommend it. Not only does it lay out the fallacies of the current policies being promulgated by right-wing politicians, in particular, it also makes a case for seeking a solution--going back to where we were in 1963 and moving forward in a different direction than we did back then.