Cracks in the wall

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Somewhat quietly, the Democrats came out with their immigration plan at the end of April.  I have to say, it disappoints.  Similar to the Bush approach in 2005, the bill emphasizes enforcement, then reform, a wholly misguided effort that will not resolve the issue and will result in billions in wasted taxpayer funds.  Some supporting thoughts are rounded up.

The American Prospect sums up the bias towards enforcement:

Their proposal is 26 pages long, and 17 of those pages detail ways of improving enforcement [...] The last three pages include the Holy Grail of immigration-reform advocates: a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants.

[...] the framework specifies that the enforcement provisions must take place before the legalization process begins. Broadly, the enforcement plan calls for hiring thousands of new border patrol agents, building more Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, and installing “high-tech ground sensors throughout the southern border.”

The first problem is the emphasis on the border.  Since approximately 45% of undocumented immigrants did not enter the United States illegally, but merely overstayed their visas, the proposal at best deals with half of the issue.

Overall, Lexington says border security is futile; it’s simply a supply and demand issue:

[...] it is impossible to secure a 2,000 mile land border against economic migrants. So long as there are jobs to come to, they will find a way. The only way to relieve pressure on the border is to allow a realistic number of migrants into America, ie one that bears some resemblance to the demand for their labour. When demand falls, (as in the current recession) fewer come, and many go home.

In the medium term, trying to secure the border before you address immigration reform is like trying to stop dust flying into your vacuum cleaner without turning off the suction.

While we’re talking analogies, at Cato, Daniel Griswold likened it to prohibition:

Requiring successful enforcement of the current immigration laws before they can be changed is a non sequitur. It’s like saying, in 1932, that we can’t repeal the nationwide prohibition on alcohol consumption until we’ve drastically reduced the number of moonshine stills and bootleggers. But Prohibition itself created the conditions for the rise of those underground enterprises, and the repeal of Prohibition was necessary before the government could “get control” of its unintended consequences.

Illegal immigration is the Prohibition debate of our day. By essentially barring the legal entry of low-skilled immigrant workers, our own government has created the conditions for an underground labor market, complete with smuggling and day-labor operations. As long as the government maintains this prohibition, illegal immigration will be widespread, and the cost of reducing it, in tax dollars and compromised civil liberties, will be enormous.

On “compromised civil liberties,” Andrew Sullivan puts it quite nicely, speaking of the Arizona bill:

This bill will thereby punish “suspicious”-looking legal immigrants as well, because they will all feel under surveillance. A society where one minority feels under surveillance is not a truly free society. This is beneath America.

Funny how immigration was the top concern for 2% of Americans before the Arizona bill and all of a sudden it’s top for 10%.  I am now pretty sure that if America’s best friends jumped off a bridge, 8% of us would jump after them.

We’ll need someone to replace that labor.  Hmm, where will we look?

Posted on May 19th 2010 in news

Immigration in perspective

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One of the things that drives me absolutely bonkers about debates surrounding immigration is how devoid it is of historical perspective.  Anti-immigration advocates that argue for more control over immigration universally tend to overlook the historical reality that the relatively recent existence of immigration controls is the only reason one can even speak of an increase in illegal immigration.

One common argument you hear from anti-immigration advocates is that, yes, we are a nation of immigrants, but that our ancestors came to this country legally.  But the fact of the matter is that the concept of “illegal” immigration did not exist until the end of the 19th century.  Prior to 1875, the United States allowed a virtually unrestricted flow of immigrants, with the only requirement for legality being physical presence.  Basically, as long as you found a way to set foot in America, it didn’t matter how you got here.  You were a legal permanent resident.

And 1875 didn’t change much except bar the entry of convicts and prostitutes.  You have to go to 1921 to find the first time the United States ever put any real limits on the number of people allowed to enter the country (shocker: it was motivated by xenophopia, the law actually attempted to implement proportional immigration quotas by country in order to keep the existing ethnic balance intact).

So for all those that claim that their ancestors came legally, before you go praising their virtues, keep in mind that they didn’t really have much of a choice; there was no such thing as illegal entry.

Now imagine what the situation would have looked like if we had today’s limits on entry.  The majority of our nation’s ancestors might never have been allowed in.  Though I have a hunch that, with the hope that their future generations might grow up in America, some of them might have hopped over a fence to make it happen.

Posted on May 12th 2010 in news
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