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 Frank Sharry

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Frank Sharry

Your Questions   1 | 2 6 Questions

P.O.V.'s Borders visitors sent Frank Sharry these questions in response to his work and his answers to P.O.V.'s initial 6 Questions. Read on!

Question: I would welcome anyone who is looking for a better life. Unfortunately, the majority of immigrants in my neighborhood come here with one thing in mind: money to send back home. The money being made in this country is being sent out of it to support families in other countries. If we don't spend some of that income here, all Americans will soon be out of work. I also object to the majority being paid under minimum wage and without paying taxes. Please write back. I would love to hear other opinions.

Frank: According to a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank, immigrants sent $23 billion in transfers to the Caribbean and Latin America alone last year. Should this trouble Americans? I don't think so.

First of all, the money is earned through hard work, in all industries, in ways that grow the economy. According to the National Academy of Sciences, immigrants contribute $10 billion a year in net income, so from an economic perspective it turns out that immigrants are a good deal for Americans. In addition, immigrants are taxed exactly like native-born Americans, and in some cases, as with undocumented immigrants, little of that taxation returns to the immigrant in the form of federal benefits, social security or welfare. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences estimates that, on average, immigrants pay $1,800 more in taxes than they uses in services, or $80,000 of the course of their lifetime. Finally, a great deal of the money earned by immigrants is, of course, used to pay for necessities such as food and housing right here, which further stimulates the economy here in America.

With respect to money sent home, studies show that over time these "remittances" decline as ties to the immigrants' original country fade and financial responsibilities increase here. In the meantime, remittances by hardworking immigrants in America to family overseas ends up being one of the most effective forms of development aid we send to developing nations. In fact, remittances far surpass the amount the U.S. government provides. This person-to-person aid is put to very efficient use in the countries receiving it, paying for basic necessities, starting businesses, and building schools. For Americans who consistently complain that we send too many tax dollars overseas for foreign aid, this is an extremely efficient and taxpayer-friendly form of international development. And in the long run, remittance-fueled development will reduce migration pressures in developing countries. If anyone is getting a bad deal, it is the immigrants themselves, many of whom get ripped off by money transfer companies that charge high fees and play games with exchange rates. Thankfully, more competition is beginning to clean up the business and cut down the costs of transferring money to loved ones back home.

Question: How do you react to the new irredentists, such as MEChA, and their call for "reclaiming" the seven western states for Mexico?

Frank: Honestly, I don't pay attention to the rantings of a small group of radicals who say the southwestern United States should be ceded back to Mexico, nor to the radical anti-immigration groups who rant incessantly about them. Neither side should be taken seriously. This is an unfortunate sideshow to genuine discussions about our immigration laws and how to fix and enforce them. We have a sovereign nation that has held together through thick and thin, civil war and depression, and it will be ever thus.

Question: In your response, you mentioned that "Unfortunately, some Bush Administration policies that have been designed since September 11, 2001 fail to make effective use of our border controls." Can you explain what some of these new policies are and why you think they are ineffective?

Frank: To weed out terrorists from law-abiding immigrants and citizens, our government must continue to improve its efforts to gain intelligence on potential terrorists and to make sure that front line officials have the information they need in real time to screen bad guys out. These layers of security based on good intelligence are what I call effective border controls. We find the needles in the haystack, and if we cannot take the fight to them, at a minimum we ensure they cannot gain admission into our nation.

Let me give an example of a post 9/11 enforcement initiative that does not make sense and does nothing to make us safer. A few months ago the Attorney General announced that the federal government would begin enforcing an unenforced 50 year old provision that requires immigrants to report changes of address within 10 days of moving. Within weeks of his announcement, millions of change of address cards flooded into the INS. So unprepared was INS to do anything with them, that they had to rent warehouses to store the boxes of cards. It's hard to imagine how this measure, which amounts to little more than adding more hay to the stack, will allow us to identify or track a needle.

Another example of a border control strategy that does not work is our current approach to enforcing the US-Mexico border. We have 10,000 members of the border patrol, who operate with high-tech sensors, cameras, helicopters, and all-terrain vehicles. Nevertheless, approximately 500,000 migrants cross the border illegally each year. The reason is that our laws don't match up with our economic reality. Mexico and Central America have willing workers, and here in the United States we have available jobs.

Instead of using a "smart borders" approach that regulates the flow, ensures that it is legal, and makes sure that those who cross our border are properly screened, we maintain restrictive visa policies and seem reluctant to conclude a migration and border control accord with the Mexican government led by a willing partner, President Vicente Fox. As a result, the broken status quo continues unabated, and we end up tolerating smuggling syndicates, ongoing illegal immigration, migrants dying in the desert, a false document industry, exploitation of immigrants fearful of speaking up in the workplace, and decent employers getting undercut by unscrupulous competitors. A better approach would combine joint border controls with more work and family visas and better checking, along with a process for immigrants already working and contributing here to get work papers and an eventual path to legal status. Then we would know and screen who's here, who's crossing our border, and get control of our borders.

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about Frank Sharry


Frank Sharry is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, one of the nation's premier immigration policy organizations. Since becoming Executive Director in 1990, Mr. Sharry has emerged as a leading spokesperson for pro-immigrant policies in the United States.



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