Reforming immigration policy is a big topic in the United States’ House of Representatives. A new immigration bill was recently proposed and is being debated this month by the House of Representatives.

Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Orrin Hatch have teamed up and proposed amendments to the bill S.744. Schumer said, in regard to recent increased agreement in the house, “It is safe to say that this agreement has the power to change the minds in the Senate …With this agreement we have now answered every criticism that has come forward about immigration bill.”

Immigration is a hot topic and has been for some years. Americans stand divided in their opinions about what is just and fair in regard to the increasing cost of illegal immigrants in this county. Immigrant families have been backbone of the population in this country, but for most of us it has been generations since we have felt any tie to the old countries.

We have become Americans and feel a vested interest in protecting what is ours. The other side of this story is that ”the overwhelming majority of those that have come to our shores come not in search of a handout from American taxpayers, but rather in search of creating a stronger foundation for themselves and the generation who will come after.” I agree with this sentiment. When these immigrants are successful it strengthens our communities. But I still feel hesitant about “giving the country away.”

So what’s the answer?

Illegal immigration costs the American taxpayer. There is no question that the increasing number of immigrants have had an effect on the taxes paid by Americans. The Federation for American Immigration Reform published the following figures:

• Cost to Idahoans: $188 million spent annually

• $112 million to educate the children of illegal aliens

• $23 million on unreimbursed heath care

• $23 million on criminal justice activities

• $11 million on welfare

• $19 million for additional state/local operating costs

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• $396 annual cost to each of Idaho’s native-born households.

For me, the single most important factor in forming an opinion on the merit of these costs is the return. Is it the intent of these people to become permanent members of society? If they intend to stay, build business, create homes etc. then we want those children educated and healthy so they will become a productive part of our communities. Are these costs a long term investment or simply a drain on a slowing economy? What was the cost to early America, when our ancestors came by the thousands, also crammed into the holds of unsanitary ships hoping for a brighter future? This is similar to the journey of many modern day immigrants. Might these immigrants build a brighter future in which native-born American will share?

Sen. Hatch and others are introducing four amendments in the hope of strengthening the bill so it will pass. The first amendment addresses welfare reform and would prevent Obama’s administration from providing noncitizens with welfare benefits. It prevents cash payments going to families that are noncompliant with current policy. These would include felons, those on parole, those exceeding the five year limit of federal assistance and some non-emergency medical services. The second amendment attempts to ensure that immigrant applicants would fulfill their federal tax obligations.

The third amendment would require a five-year waiting period before receiving tax credits or subsidies. This waiting period is the same as required for eligibility for other government programs such as CHIP or Medicaid. The final amendment would prohibit non-authorized workers from Social Security benefits.

These amendments are in addition to the proposed increase of border control which if passed would cost up to 6.5 billion in surveillance, fences and border personnel. The program has a projected 10-year schedule. New visa programs would be considered with increased enforcement of employer accountability for identifying eligible workers.

Eleven million undocumented immigrants would be eligible to register for a provisional status with citizenship as the final goal. This bill allows for an additional 200,000 workers annually to enter the United States on a path to citizenship, and eases limitations on hiring highly skilled foreigners.

Ann Youts is a resident of Shoshone.

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