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This is the ninth story of an 11-article series leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election that will break down the issues dominating political debates. Check back next Thursday for our segment on women’s health.
America is a land of immigrants – President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have practically coined this as a campaign catch phrase.
Obama says he has passed legislation that has helped immigrants in America, and Romney says he will be the one to sort out the immigration issue America is faced with.
But Lilia Fernandez, professor in Ohio State’s Department of History and the Latino Studies Program, says immigration is a complicated issue with no simple solution.
“I don’t think anyone’s really going to seriously take up the issue of immigration reform because No. 1, it’s a really complicated issue, and No. 2, for political leaders, there’s not a lot of political gain,” Fernandez said. “The people who would benefit from the laws can’t vote themselves.”
Between 12 million and 20 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, and Fernandez said they have “everything to do with the economy and the direction the country is taking.”
“Immigrants here in the U.S. and every country around the world … tend to fit into the bottom of the labor market … and they tend to do a lot of the manual service labor,” Fernandez said.
American consumers want to buy cheap things, and one way to keep low costs is to lower labor costs, or pay immigrant workers less, Fernandez said. Undocumented workers don’t have many rights and therefore won’t protest.
This often overlooked influence unauthorized immigrants have on America’s economy, Fernandez said, is why simply deporting everyone without documentation “would have a really devastating impact on the economy.”
According to Romney’s website, one of his strategies for solving the immigration problem is to encourage self-deportation. In the second presidential debate Tuesday night held at Hofstra University in New York, Romney said that was a stance that is often misconstrued.
“We’re not gonna round up 12 million people, undocumented illegals, and take them out of the nation,” Romney said. “Instead let people make their own choice.”
Fernandez said the tight restrictions and quotas are what make getting into the country to work so hard for immigrants.
“The people who are in the country today, who we call illegal, who we consider to be illegal immigrants, are coming to the U.S. in exactly the same way that people did a hundred years ago,” Fernandez said. “What’s happened is that our laws have changed and it’s become stricter.”
Romney and Obama both said at the Tuesday debate that the immigration system needs to be fixed.
According to Romney’s website, he plans to get rid of pointless requirements that delay temporary worker visas and speed up visa applications so that immediate families can be together.
But other techniques in dealing with the immigration issue include completing a “high-tech fence to enhance border security and develop an employment verification system” and to “discourage illegal immigrants from coming to America to seek jobs.”
“We’re gonna have to stop illegal immigration,” Romney said Tuesday. “There are 4 million people waiting in line to get here legally and the illegal immigrants are taking their place.”
Romney promises residency on his website to all foreign students who obtain degrees in the U.S. in math, science or engineering, and was even broader during the debate in suggesting “we should give visas, green cards to people who graduate with degrees.” But as governor of Massachusetts, he vetoed in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants, according to his website.
Drew Stroemple, president of OSU College Republicans, said he thinks Romney will make the right choice in encouraging people to go home and come back in a legal way.
“You can’t blame anyone for wanting to come to this country with the opportunity it’s always had,” Stroemple said. “(But we need to) put our foot down and say, ‘You have to wait your turn,’ and ‘Let’s do this the right way.'”
Obama said Tuesday that he wants to make it simpler, easier and cheaper for people who are waiting in line to get into the country.
“We can fix this system in a comprehensive way,” Obama said Tuesday. “I sat down with Democrats and Republicans in the beginning of my term and said, ‘Let’s fix this system.'”
However, Fernandez said there hasn’t been much action in the way of immigration law reform since about 2006. That is until Obama took action in June that would prevent the Department of Homeland Security from deporting undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 with no criminal records who came to the U.S. before they were 16, have lived here for at least five years, are in school or are high school graduates or veterans in good standing, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
“That would basically prevent them from being deported right now,” Fernandez said. “But that’s not really offering a long-term solution.”
But it does offer a stride toward citizenship, albeit temporary, which is something Obama has been striving for as he continues to push Congress to pass the Dream Act.
The Dream Act is legislation that has not yet been passed that would give undocumented youth a way to citizenship through college or the military.
“We should make sure that we give them a pathway to citizenship,” Obama said Tuesday. “And that’s what I’ve done administratively.”
But Paul Filippelli, executive director of OSU College Democrats, said Obama can’t pass the Dream Act alone.
“He doesn’t have the power to do all of it without Congress’ approval,” Filippelli said. “So that act that he tried to pass this year would just defer deportation.”
Whatever happens, Fernandez said immigration is an issue that affects everyone.
“We need to step back and take in the bigger picture of immigration and how it functions in our economy,” Fernandez said.
Kristen Mitchell contributed to this article.