Immigration: The conversation we need to be having around America’s kitchen tables -- but aren’t

With the arrival of the migrant caravan at the U.S. southern border this past week, many claim we are finally having a national conversation about immigration.  But are we truly talking about it?  Or are we just being told about it? And is what we are being told true?  And complete?

A recent study from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) shows the total cost of illegal immigration to federal, state and local taxpayers for the nation’s approximate 12.5 million illegal immigrants has increased to $116 billion annually.  The expenditures attributable to illegal immigrants is staggering, crippling and unsustainable. The latest data also shows the costs to taxpayers in enforcement and social services continues to rise — even when offset by the taxes which some of those immigrants pay.  The huge surge of legal and illegal immigrants into the U.S. is enough to double the population of Philadelphia every single year.  These are shocking statistics.  Yet the American people are expected to remain silent about this or else be unilaterally deemed as racist.  But is it really a racial question?  Or is it a fiscal one?

My former boss, Ronald Reagan, used to explain with pride that ours was the only nation whose very foundation was built on the idea that “We the People” tell the government what to do, not the other way around.  I wonder if he would believe that foundation is still firm?

Have “We the People” truly been given a voice in this matter of immigration?  Have we been asked if this is the top priority for our hard earned taxpayer dollars? Do we want to spend over $8,000 per immigrant per year instead of aiding a wounded veteran, assisting a homeless citizen or feeding a hungry family?  It’s not a matter of compassion, it’s sheer economics.  And priority.  Are we willing to lower our own national standard of living to support those who enter our country illegally? Every American has to make tough financial decisions in their homes and businesses daily – but are we thinking about immigration in the same terms?  Perhaps we should.

While having a porous border to the south is just an ideological nicety for some in power, for those who live in border regions it has hijacked our budgets and placed demands on “we, the taxpayers” that we haven’t approved or prioritized.

At kitchen tables across the nation choices are being made and priorities are being discussed – especially as the holidays approach.  Where can the budget be cut back so that gifts may be bought? Can a home maintenance issue be deferred so an urgent car repair can be made?  An unexpected medical bill may cancel a planned trip.  Or a tuition payment may cause a savings account to be depleted.  And every day requests for support or donations are received. None of those decisions are categorically right or wrong, but a priority has to be placed on one over the other and given an urgency or not.  There are lots of good causes and worthy people with compelling stories, but ultimately, household budget constraints are what dictate the amount of generosity, not the desire to help.  This is real life for the majority of Americans.

Maybe it’s time for America to sit down around the proverbial kitchen table and have a similar, albeit difficult, conversation. It would start with the reality that America is in debt.  Deep debt.  There are dire needs globally and within our own borders.  We can’t help everyone – so how should we prioritize?  If we look at immigration in fiscal, not emotional terms, we realize that each person carries with them a price tag, and with that, a choice.  Can we help them – and should we?  And what do we have to sacrifice in order to do so?  When we choose to give generously in one area, we simultaneously choose to cut another area.  It’s basic math.

While having a porous border to the south is just an ideological nicety for some in power, for those who live in border regions it has created a challenging reality that strains every aspect of daily life, including roads, schools, stores, emergency rooms and stretched social services and community resources. And it has done so without the consent of the governed, hijacking our budgets and placing demands on “we, the taxpayers” that we haven’t approved or prioritized. If “We the People” truly had a say, we would be part of a national conversation.  One based in reality, not rhetoric – and rooted in practicality, not politics.

The federal government spends money as if it’s their money, but it’s not – it has come from the hard work, sacrifice and patriotic responsibility of taxpayers all across this nation.  It has come out of the pockets and households of you and me and our children and our parents and our savings accounts and from the sweat of our brows and the result of our industriousness and ingenuity.  It should be treated like the precious and limited resource it is.

We all realize we are a nation of immigrants, but legal immigration is measured and purposeful, not reactive.  There is a process and criteria and equity. The caravan is not any of that.  True asylum seekers wouldn’t throw rocks at their rescuers or pass through a relatively safe country which is offering refuge and employment and say “no thank you.” True asylum seekers don’t rush a border illegally with demands, but rather go through designated ports of entry and pleadingly request assistance. True asylum seekers don’t make threats against or harm those from whom they are requesting aid. The majority in the caravan are not truly seeking asylum, but rather economic opportunity.  While they have a legal process by which to request that, they need to wait in line and follow the rules like so many Americans before them. Legal immigrants are woven into the history of our great nation.  Illegal immigrants, like those in the caravan, are trying to unravel the very fabric of America.

It’s time for “We the People” to participate in determining the future of these caravan migrants, and other immigrants.  We need open and thoughtful dialogue about the fiscal realities of this ongoing issue, not just the emotional hype and political hysteria.  Our federal family, America, has serious problems that need to be discussed and prioritized.  So pull up a chair and let’s have a conversation about it together – gathered around our national kitchen table.