In a bold policy move taking place in the final days of 2019, New Jersey lawmakers approved legislation that would permit undocumented immigrants in the state to secure drivers’ licenses. Signed shortly after by Gov. Phil Murphy, New Jersey has now joined several other states, including New York and California, who have already begun offering licenses to millions of undocumented immigrants across the country. 

With the proposal dominated by Democratic support, advocates emphasize the safer driving conditions that the practice generates for undocumented immigrants and all motorists in general. Fewer unlicensed drivers mean better roads for everybody.

Many conservatives have grumbled about this news, but there’s nothing wrong with policies that make our roads and highways safer. Officials in New Jersey are serving their constituencies and confronting the concerning flood of undocumented immigration into our nation. These states aren’t to blame for our immigration problem. These states are responding to the problem.

In the end, these policy moves point to the steady stream of undocumented immigration that made them necessary in the first place. People who aren’t taking the correct steps to live in The United States are flocking here in great numbers. According to figures published by the Pew Research Center, the number of undocumented immigrants across the U.S. has steadily risen since 1990 until about 2010, after which it has more or less remained constant, if not fallen.

However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data proves this problem is still rampant, indicating that hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants are still apprehended every year at our borders. In 2017, about 300,000 individuals were detained at the southwestern border, lower than previous years but still far too large. States like Wyoming are home to less than 600,000 people in their entirety.

Undocumented immigrants are not bad people. They are individuals from all different backgrounds who want a better shot at a safe and secure life. They want their children to have better lives and they want to be part of our great nation. Unfortunately, when they fail to take the necessary steps to lawfully enter the U.S. and instead become undocumented, immigrants not only endanger themselves and others, but they also pose a dangerous risk to our security, economy and society.

Large-scale undocumented immigration is unacceptable because it carries so many risks. Allowing undocumented immigration to occur is a direct assault on the well-being of the migrants themselves, not to mention the potential danger for American citizens. According to an ABC News report published about a year ago, hundreds of immigrants die trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border every year. Many others, according to the Department of Homeland Security, have been rescued by authorities from deadly situations. 

Far beyond this, undocumented immigration poses a serious threat to national security, something that has a profound effect on us all. How can anybody be comfortable with letting people into our nation that we know nothing about? While we don’t know a good deal about many U.S. citizens, we have an obligation to get to know those who originate from other locations before welcoming them to our country. According to the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank based in Washington, D.C., non-citizens made up 64 percent of all federal arrests in 2018 despite comprising only 7 percent of the national population (although this may be due to their undocumentated status instead of further crimes committed on American soil). In Texas, a large border state, the Foundation noted that undocumented immigrants accounted for nearly 70 percent of the state’s prison population over roughly the last decade. In the same timeframe, undocumented immigrants have been charged with almost 500,000 criminal offenses, including assaults, homicides and kidnappings. 

Besides this, undocumented immigrants have also been connected to extensive drug and human trafficking that have taken a great toll on border communities. “The fact that our border can be penetrated so easily leaves us vulnerable to national security threats and has resulted in an influx of criminal activity, especially as it relates to narcotics and human trafficking,” according to Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark. “It is a serious crisis in need of a serious legislative solution.” In addition to the horrific human trafficking situation that has unfolded at our borders, drug trafficking especially has endangered and destroyed countless lives in U.S. communities, throwing deadly illegal substances into every corner of our nation. 

On the other hand, many Americans fail to consider the tremendous stress this onslaught of undocumented immigration has put on essential government and social services, which endangers hardworking Americans who expect federal departments to provide for them. Furthermore, many Democrats are now advocating for expanding health coverage to each undocumented immigrant that enters our nation. This precipitates a dangerous situation for our healthcare system, which is already handling many uninsured immigrants.

According to a Forbes article published in February 2018, American taxpayers spend almost $19 billion per year on healthcare for undocumented immigrants, a fact that illuminates the pressure both citizens and systems are routinely put under as a result of abundant undocumented immigration. If stronger borders forced these individuals to immigrate legally, we could accommodate them in a manner that would be more secure and more efficient for both them and American citizens. 

In recent years, we have continued to combat the volatile situation, especially at our southern border, under the proactive Obama and Trump administrations and luckily have seen a steady reduction in total apprehensions. Moving forward, however, we cannot neglect to recognize how important it is to have strong, secure borders. While President Trump, in particular, has been regularly criticized for his swift action on undocumented immigration, we should ultimately embrace his attitude and truly support the well-being of our nation. Other presidents, including President Obama, have fought undocumented immigration to a similar degree, something we should all note before rushing to judge Trump. 

We all know that immigration has been one of the greatest forces in America’s history, and chances are most of our own ancestors immigrated here. But in the end, we must all make the distinction between documented and undocumented immigration and ensure that everybody seeking to start a successful new life in the U.S. is doing so lawfully.

Evan Stern can be reached at erstern@umich.edu.

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