Congressman Mike Simpson has once again distinguished himself as the member of Idaho’s congressional delegation who can think for himself. Simpson reportedly told the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce last week that undocumented immigrants in the U.S. should be given permanent Green Card status.
That would allow them to live and work in the country without fear of being uprooted and deported, so long as they do not commit a deportable offense. Simpson observed what should be fairly obvious--that deporting the undocumented population “would be devastating for our economy.” Recent estimates put that population at around 11 million people.
Green Card status would allow undocumented workers to continue working without having to worry about being rounded up and tossed out of the country. A large number of these folks perform necessary work that American citizens simply won’t do.
Idaho’s multi-billion-dollar dairy industry would not be able to sustain itself without immigrant labor. About 7,000 of the 8,300 workers on Idaho dairies are immigrants and around 5,000 of them are undocumented. Thousands of other agricultural-related jobs in our state are being performed by immigrants who don’t have valid papers.
Idaho’s economy is growing faster than other states and construction is booming. Many of those construction jobs are held by workers without proper documentation. They are helping to build our economy, which would suffer if they were to be sent home.
The unemployment rate across the country is well below the historic average. The February jobless rate in Idaho was 2.9%, while the national rate in March was 3.8%. Those who want to rid the country of undocumented workers have not indicated who would fill the jobs left vacant if millions of them were deported. Kicking these folks out of the country would amount to economic suicide.
Simpson correctly concludes that comprehensive immigration reform is the answer to the problem because we can’t or won’t get rid of this immigrant population. Giving permanent status to those who are helping to build and sustain our economy just makes common sense.
Many of these folks are paying taxes and contributing to Social Security and Medicare. However, some are being paid off of the books, either because they fear they will be discovered or because their employers want to avoid the taxes or pay less than minimum wage. Simpson’s proposal would bring these workers out of the shadows for their protection and for the benefit of the tax system.
While Simpson has not proposed that the undocumented population be provided a path to citizenship, I think that is the ultimate solution. There is no reason why people qualified for the DACA program--people who were brought to the U.S. as minors--should not be given citizenship. There are about 800,000 so-called “Dreamers” in the country, over 3,000 of whom live in Idaho. Many of them did not even realize they were not citizens until years later.
There should also be a path to citizenship for others in our undocumented population. Some say that we should only grant citizenship to people who have advanced skills, like engineers and physicists. We should certainly welcome those folks as immigrants, but I doubt that many of them would fill the back-breaking jobs that citizens won’t touch in packing plants, dairies, orchards, and the like.
Thanks for bringing some common sense to the immigration debate, Mike. I hope you can make some headway in your efforts to get both sides of the aisle engaged in the effort to comprehensively reform the immigration system.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice and a former Idaho attorney general.