Immigration: Tough Questions, Direct Answers, Dale Hanson Bourke. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014
Summary: Third in “The Skeptics Guide Series” and like others in the series provides a concise overview of basic facts about immigration and discusses the challenges of immigration policy in the United States.
The United States is a land of immigrants. Most of us can trace our roots back to forebears who came to the United States either to escape persecution or simply to find a better life. And yet immigration is highly contentious, between those who appeal for others pursuing a dream of a better life, and those concerned to protect our borders and restrict the numbers of people who may enter. Immigration has always both enriched our life and economy as a nation, and posed challenges for how we relate to new cultures and ethnicities.
Dale Hanson Bourke’s guide is not written to advocate but to inform. She begins with defining terms including “immigrant”, “undocumented”, “out of status”, “refugee” and more. One helpful distinction she makes is that there are no “illegal” immigrants. Under our system of law, it is not illegal to be a person and all enjoy equal protection under the law. Persons may commit illegal acts. For those who either have entered the country illegally, they are “undocumented” or “out of status” if they have overstayed their visa. She then turns in Chapter 2 to larger issues beginning with citizenship. One of the interesting facts in this section is that unlike most European countries and many others in the world, the U.S. grants “birthright citizenship” or recognizes citizenship on the basis of jus solis (“right of the soil”) as well as jus sanguinis (“right of blood”). This provides a strong incentive to have a baby on American soil. In this chapter, she also looks at larger issues of immigration around the world including refugee issues, xenophobia, the use of national identity cards and other issues.
Chapter 3 considers how we are indeed a nation of immigrants, how immigrants enter, different kinds of visas, “green cards” or Legal Permanent Residency, naturalization including our citizenship oath (quite interesting!) and even some of the vagaries of what defines a U.S. citizen–a question that has come up in presidential elections since the U.S. president must be a natural born U.S. citizen–the question being what constitutes “natural born”. Chapter 4 looks at the current issues surrounding immigration, particularly the numbers living here illegally (approximately 11.7 million in September of 2013) the problems of crime and drugs–most undocumented immigrants actually avoid crimes because this is cause for immediate deportation. I found out that U.S citizens are under no obligation to report those in the country illegally and that doing so might place one in legal jeopardy in certain circumstances. One of the challenges is how long the “line” is to enter the country legally–20 years for people in some countries.
While immigrants, including concentrations of undocumented immigrants in some states, do place added burdens on the system, they contribute immensely as well. One interesting fact in Chapter 5 was that 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies were started by an immigrant or child of an immigrant. Google, eBay, Yahoo, Sun Microsystems, and Intel are a few examples. Equally, remittances from immigrants equal global foreign aid and so play a huge role in assisting the economies of the countries from which immigrants come. Many of those in the U.S. illegally are paying taxes and contributing to Social Security and Medicare without the opportunity to benefit from these programs.
Chapter 6 focuses on who the immigrants are and how many come into the U.S. under different categories and in what states the most immigrants are living (California, New York, Texas and Florida are the top 4 and account for over 55 percent of the immigrant population). Chapter 7 concludes the book considering the need for immigration reform. Fundamentally, our immigration system is a highly confusing system of sometimes self-contradictory laws that require an immigration attorney to sort through–something many immigrants cannot easily afford. It is a system that does not necessarily protect our borders from those who would do harm, and often fails to show mercy to separated family members. Furthermore, it makes it very hard to retain highly trained talent from other countries who would be willing to work for American companies and universities.
The value of this book is that it replaces misinformation with good information. It may not tell us the polices for which we should advocate, but it helps us cut through the misinformation we are fed in our public discourse, sometimes from those who are charged with making that policy. And it does this in a book of under 150 pages, written clearly and attractively with illustrations, charts, and images.