Immigration is a hot button issue of the day, nowhere more than in this great state of ours.
Did I say complex? No, that doesn’t quite tell it, contentious is a much better word. But too much of it occurred years and years before I was born, it’s hard for me to connect. The acrimony that has come about in the last couple decades provides a richer context for someone of my age and experience.
I remember the wave of immigration that occurred in East Texas during my younger years, when I went from being one among many Anglo carpenters at a construction site to being the only one not wearing the “white hat” of a foreman. No problem. It was the latter part of the 1990s and there was plenty of work. Bill Clinton was in the White House talking about building a bridge to the 21st Century and that sounded just dandy, especially to the 3 million or so Mexican immigrants who crossed the Rio Grande during that time span. Quite a few did so, and continue to do so, illegally.
Then things slowed down. The Great Recession cooled economic growth something fierce. Jobs weren’t as easy to come by and the ones that were didn’t pay. It seemed the pay wasn’t rising as quick as the cost of living. It still seems that way.
Now, I read a report from the Pew Hispanic Center that says the migration northward has slowed considerably, slowed to almost half. Slowed, but not stopped.
Pew’s numbers say around 1.5 million Mexicans immigrated into the United States from 2005 to 2010. Coming here despite every economic indicator showing comparatively limited opportunities to those in the past.
I don’t care how you spin it, 1.5 million is a lot of people. You’re talking about a population roughly the size of Philadelphia just up and deciding to move somewhere else over the course of five years. But when you step back and look at the numbers spread out of the last fifty years, you see that the trend is following a downward trajectory.
Pew’s research indicates that more Mexicans are now returning to Mexico than migrated to the U.S. between 2005 and 2010. The net result is the first decline in the population of illegal immigrants from Mexico in two decades. That is particularly significant for Texas, which is second only to California in the number of Mexican-born residents, both legal and illegal.
The study cites a number of mitigating factors as playing a part in this reveral, from aggressive U.S. border policies and a marked rise in deportations to the economic downturn of the last decade and the sudden sharp rise in Mexican drug gang violence.
However researchers also concede in Pew’s report that an economic upturn could easily reverse the trend. But it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in statistical analysis to see that the political emphasis on the U.S.-Mexico border has changed the game. While many will likely continue to attempt to enter the U.S. illegally, and perhaps succeed, the flow has ebbed for now.
About 1.5 million citizens of Mexico (with their 300,000 American-born children) returned to their homeland over a five-year period ending in 2010. Still, immigration remains a complex socio-political question, one with an answer that yet remains elusive.
Taking into account such complexities, some Christians are persuaded to argue for strengthened immigration enforcement first, rather than liberalizing immigration laws.
I am told that tightened border security would slow new illegal entries. More systematic enforcement of employment laws would diminish the job prospects of illegal immigrants, prompting many to return voluntarily to their countries of origin. Under such conditions, amnesty for more deeply rooted immigrants might be more palatable. Perhaps these measurable are indicators of just such a philosophy, or maybe “it’s the economy stupid.”
Everyone agrees that immigrations laws need reform, but many Christians believe that no significant reform can take place until this step is taken first.
Granted, we will not solve the immigration problem by deporting ten million people or severely limiting immigration quotas. But neither will we solve it by handing out ten million green cards or first liberalizing procedures for legalization or citizenship.
The priority of immigration enforcement is not emphasized by many Christian leaders today, but the concern is shared by millions of Christian citizens. This concern is also a Christian point of view, which deserves to be heard and respected.
Pew’s report is not unlike that of a child’s report card. While it can show you the results of your student’s efforts, and some helpful metrics from which to measure their success, it cannot say what they are learning.
What are we learning?
I hope we can come to a place, if we’re not there yet, of understanding that immigration (illegal and otherwise) must be approached seriously and that is an issue too important and too complex for mere rhetoric.