I had a disturbing morning. I stopped in at the local Republican headquarters to get a McCain button for a friend of mine. Actually I’m going to offer him a choice of that or an Obama button, and I think I know which he will choose. But I digress. The elderly volunteer tending the store asked if I would be willing to sign a petition demanding stronger immigration enforcement, including the requirement that local governments act for and under federal authority in a way that looked an awful lot like a set up for an old fashioned eastern European police state.
When I said that was not something I supported he let me know that, as a “Minuteman,” he had personally witnessed the flow of illegal Mexicans across the Arizona border, could attest to the great danger they pose for our national security, and told me of the egregious high cost of illegal immigrants leeching off the American taxpayer, a cost so high that it is greater than the cost of the war in Iraq. I expressed some skepticism about the numbers and he allowed as to how disagreeing was an American right, and we owe that to the troops in Iraq fighting to preserve that right for us. Knowing I was getting into hot water, I opined that the whatever they were fighting for, it was not my democratic American rights, that the war was a mistake that should have never happened, that we need to responsibly bring it to an appropriate conclusion, and that I didn’t know what any of that had to do with illegal Mexican immigration. If he hadn’t been in his mid-eighties I think I could have been in physical danger. As it is I think he was on the border of serious heart palpitations.
So what is the story? The right wing, anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies claims that illegal immigrants had a net cost to the federal budget of $10 billion in 2002. Various fear mongering users of their report have twisted and contorted their data to make it seem even larger. But for all of its prejudicial slant, the CIS study has some ballpark validity, keeping in mind that the GAO has time and again reported to Congress that the issue is more complicated than that and no study so far can be trusted 100%. The same GAO has also time and again reported to Congress that the inefficiencies of the Department of Homeland Security have bungled the enforcement mechanisms already in place. They are not helped by employers wanting large numbers of low cost workers and consumers wanting their low priced products. It means that although Illegal immigrants pay a lot in taxes and add value to some part of the economies in which they work, they also use a variety of social services that cost as much or more than they pay in taxes.
But what about the idea that they cost as much as the war in Iraq? The Washington Post reported last March that the Iraq war was running about $12 billion a month, with a total cost so far of somewhere around $566 billion, not counting Afghanistan or the domestic cost of lost and broken lives.
I have no doubt that we have a serious immigration problem to be solved, but running around like a bunch of racist Chickens-Little hysterically crying that the sky is falling seems just a bit childish and terribly naïve about the danger of wanting national security (and purity?) so much that the treasured rights of hard won American liberty would willingly be given into the hands of an authoritarian state masquerading as a democracy.