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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Looking at the Other Side of 'Illegal'

IN "Immigration's Unspoken Word" (Feb. 2), columnist Stu Bykofsky calls attention to the fact that many immigrants are considered "illegal."

I'd like to emphasize that being in the U.S. without documentation isn't a criminal offense. It's a civil offense like speeding or jaywalking. People jaywalk for a number of reasons: They're late, or need to catch the next bus, or there's something happening on the other side of the street. Similarly, people immigrate to the U.S. "illegally" out of need. In the end it is not often a choice, it's a matter of survival.

The movement of people across the U.S.-Mexico border isn't only a matter of survival of the people migrating north, it's also a matter of survival for our economy. Up to 75 percent of unauthorized immigrants pay federal, state and local taxes. Undocumented workers are estimated to pay about $7 billion a year into Social Security. The average immigrant pays $1,800 more in taxes than she receives in public benefits, according to a study by the National Research Council and National Academy of Sciences. Over their lifetimes, the average immigrant and her immediate descendants contribute $80,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

The average migrant is a 29-year-old Mexican male, earning less than $7,500 a year with a life expectancy of 49 years. As these workers accept low-paying jobs, long hours and no benefits, they keep our daily goods such as fruits, vegetables - and even housing developments - more affordable. Just imagine how expensive all goods and products would be without these low-wage workers who are called "illegal."

Jennifer Rock, Philadelphia

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