Opponents of immigration reform often perpetuate harmful myths about immigrants and ignore the reality that our borders are already heavily militarized, at great expense to taxpayers.

The letter to the editor “Immigration woes” (Oct. 24) is an example.

In reality, border apprehensions are near 40-year lows, while crossing deaths are at historic highs. Proposals made by some in the U.S. House of Representatives to pour billions of additional taxpayer dollars into expanding border security initiatives are misguided and wasteful.

In the last six years, Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) budget has nearly doubled from $6 billion in fiscal year 2006 to more than $11.7 billion in FY 2012. The ranks of Border Patrol agents have swelled from approximately 12,000 in 2006 to over 21,000 today, with roughly 85 percent deployed at the U.S.-Mexico border. U.S. taxpayers now spend $18 billion on immigration enforcement agencies — more than on the FBI, DEA, ATF, U.S. Marshals and Secret Service combined.

As Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee has said about Southwest border security, “It is a sort of mini-industrial complex syndrome that has set in there, and we’re going to have to guard against it every step of the way.”

At the same time, apprehensions by the Border Patrol have declined more than 72 percent over the last decade. Unauthorized migration from Mexico has decreased dramatically, and net migration from Mexico is zero or slightly negative. Current policy subjects everyone within 100 miles of a land or sea border to surveillance, unfair targeting, and often unwarranted police interrogation. Rather that throw more money at border militarization, we should adhere to principles of fiscal responsibility, accountability and oversight, with attention paid to the actual needs of border communities and ports of entry.

Because our current immigration laws are so confusing and complicated, for many immigrants, there is no reasonable road map to come to the U.S. and stay lawfully. It can take years, even decades, and over $1,000 to get a “green card.”

Individuals who overstay their visas, and thus become undocumented, are often family members visiting their relatives, workers, or students who contribute to the U.S. economy, but are unable to successfully navigate the onerous, complicated U.S. visa system. For example, the waiting time for a close relative of a U.S. citizen varies widely depending on the country of origin — some would-be immigrants from Mexico and the Philippines have a wait time of over 20 years.

In order to combat overstays, the immigration system should be made more efficient, so individuals can obtain authorization to remain in the country in a timely manner. These investments will more efficiently and effectively reduce the number of visa overstays than outdated interior enforcement programs that come at great expense to the economy and our local communities.

Far from “plundering our safety network ... for citizens,” undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal benefits such as welfare, food stamps, Medicaid and most other public benefits. They also visit doctors and emergency rooms less frequently than U.S.-born citizens (12 percent report visiting the ER in a given year vs. nearly 20 percent of U.S.-born citizens reporting ER visits).

Immigrants pay property taxes, sales taxes, and consumption taxes at state and federal levels. The U.S. Social Security Administration estimates that the majority of undocumented workers pay payroll taxes, including $6 billion to $7 billion a year in Social Security taxes for benefits they will never get.

Immigrant workers boost state consumer markets and local economies.

They tend to be entrepreneurial, and they provide vital labor to key S.C. industries like agriculture and tourism. When documented, they would pay their full share of income and payroll taxes. Immigration reform would keep businesses from being undercut by employers who currently exploit immigrant workers and pay them less.

Increasing workplace rights would benefit all workers. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, legalizing the undocumented population combined with the visa reform provisions in the Senate immigration bill would reduce deficits by almost $850 billion over 20 years, add $300 billion to the Social Security trust fund over the next decade, and increase wages.

Anyone who thinks that “existing laws” work is out of touch with the reality of our broken immigration system. We need to reform our outdated immigration laws to enable aspiring citizens to earn their citizenship, pay their taxes, contribute to their communities, and meet the needs of our 21st century economy.

Victoria Middleton is executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina.