Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Immigration

We were all immigrants once. Yes, even the Native Americans. Pretty much everyone outside of some small valley in Africa is an immigrant. And since odds are good that those original Africans moved around a bit too, that pretty much means we all are immigrants if you go back far enough.

So now comes yet another plan to "fix" immigration in our country. But what is broken? Apparently businesses are fine with how things are - lots of cheap labor, made cheaper by the undocumented status of the workers. No need to pay extra taxes on them. No need to pay market wages. No worries about complaints if you treat them poorly because the workers can't complain for fear of deportation. Sounds like a sweet deal for employers.

And it still works out to be a decent deal for the workers as well, compared to what they had at home. If it wasn't, they would not take the risks and effort to come here. Not that things are all that great for them, but things must be really bad at home for them to come.

So where does that leave us? On the one hand, there are calls for closing the borders and enforcing the laws that make hiring illegal immigrants, well, illegal. On the other hand there are those calling basically for amnesty, allowing them to have their status changed to legal while at the same time opening up things for "guest" workers. In the end, I don't think what is being proposed will really fix anything and the system as it is is really messed up.

I can sympathize with those who don't want to give amnesty. After all, those people did violate the law to come here, so why should they be allowed to stay and even get citizenship even if they pay money to do it? I sympathize with that because my wife is an immigrant and we had to deal with INS (now BCIS) for years, pay lots of money, and it was a real pain in the ass, and we did it the legal way. So why let someone else just coast on by all of that if I had to go through it? In other words, this is a personal bias for me. But not one that is controlling of my thinking on the issue.

I can sympathize with the idea that we should close up our borders and enforce the law on employers. Heck, enforcing the law with employers is all we really need to do. Without that draw, no one will bother coming here just to sit and be unemployed. That said, if we REALLY wanted to slow the border crossing to a mere trickle, we could do it. It would be tremendously expensive, but we could do it. We would just need to set up a triple fence system with armed, live guards watching it 24/7, close enough together so that the guards at each post could see the guards at the posts to either side of them. And the no-man's land in between the fences could be further patrolled as well. It isn't rocket science to produce a hard to cross border. It just requires spending the money to build it and staff it adequately. Obviously, if making a wall hard to cross were impossible, we could not have prisons or security. Now, I'm sure the very clever would find some way around, perhaps going by sea, but the numbers would probably be reduced by over 95%, perhaps over 99%, simply because it is much harder to come by means other than just walking across at an unwatched border.

But again, it is probably much more economical just to hire a few thousand investigators and prosecutors to go after employers who employ illegal immigrants and would probably be just as effective, because you remove the incentive.

Of course, the reason we don't do the border is the cost, and the reason we don't go after employers is that big business gives lots of money to politicians because they WANT the laws unenforced so they can get lots of cheap labor.

The other side of the coin, amnesty, really doesn't solve anything either, not even with a guest worker program. You just legalize those that are here and give more incentive for more people to come because they figure in 20 years there will be another amnesty. The "guest worker" program is stupid because it isn't permanent - I think they can only be renewed for 5 or so years and then they can't come back. But the economics that drove workers here in the first place is not going to go away in 5 years. Then you'll still have the entire population of workers that come here still needing jobs, yet they will all have "expired" so they'll just have to keep coming, only now they'll come illegally, probably to the same employers they had as "guest workers." Really, a "guest worker" program would only work if it was something that was permanent, if seasonal, allowing a worker to come back as a "guest worker" for the rest of his or her working life. Otherwise, just what do people think they'll do when the time expires? It is not like they had jobs in Mexico - if they did, they would not have come all the way here.

So ultimately, nothing meaningful will get done. Really, the problem is that the powers that be want to keep a continuous supply of workers paid below market value. I really think we need to make up our mind. Either we enforce our border, build the triple wall and staff it, and enforce the laws against employers, or we just admit that we want those workers here, we just open up the borders, and let anyone who wants to come and work here freely. They are coming anyway. Letting them do it openly lets them get full market wages, as opposed to wages depressed by the fact that they fear deportation and can't complain, and it also allows the government to tax them, so those who worry about them costing "the natives" know that they will be paying their admission price to our society. Doing it halfway, which is what we do now, and what the proposed immigration "reform" will continue to do, is just pointless.

Those who worry that we'll get a lot of "undesirables" should just chill and realize that anyone who is willing to travel hundreds or thousands of miles, to another country, one where they might not even speak the language, just for a job is probably going to be a pretty hard and dedicated worker and a good contributor to the community. Lazy people would have just stayed home.

Of course, my views don't matter on this - I'm not in power, I'm one of the many powerless nobodies. But at least I can expess my opinion on the matter.

4 comments:

The Barefoot Bum said...

As the spouse of an immigrant, I have an inverted reaction: I'm enormously pissed at the BCIS/DHS for putting me through the wringer to bring in an incredibly intelligent, educated woman of tremendous character who is nothing but an asset to this country while turning a blind eye to tens of thousands of people who are being abused and exploited.

Second, I really don't care whether an action is legal or illegal per se; I care only about whether I personally approve or disapprove of an action. Legality by itself is, as far as I'm concerned, between the individual and the police. Of course, most of the things I happen to disapprove of are also illegal, but the connection is indirect. So I don't have any sympathy for people dislike immigrants just because they're "breaking the law"; such people would, if they held such a principle without hypocrisy, disapprove of hiding Jews from the Nazis. A free people makes bad things illegal; slaves consider illegal things bad.

Fundamentally nothing is going to change because no one wants it to change. Immigration as a political issue is just a political dog-whistle for racism.

hedera said...

I think you've about summed the situation up, unfortunately. As the daughter of an immigrant (Mother was Canadian), I generally feel that immigration is better for the country rather than worse. I also think that when we shut the borders and restrict immigration we are displaying, again, a racist streak that has popped up at intervals over the years, and that does us no credit.

On the subject of how all these new Spanish speaking people will corrupt our culture, I'll point out that there are Hispanic families in New Mexico which have resided in the area for centuries and generations, back to when it was a Spanish colony, so they're probably more "American" than I am (I only go back one generation), and they're all bilingual.

DBB said...

Yeah, I'm sure there is a racist element to some immigration protestors, but there are also huge economic issues with this. I know lots of people who lost jobs in the IT industry only to see themselves replaced with H1B visa holders, ostensibly because the companies "could not find anyone native who was qualified" - forgetting, of course, that a bunch of very qualified people were just fired. H1B holders are also basically captive to the companies they work for, so surprise surprise, they get paid less than citizen workers.

People need their jobs to survive, to feed their families, so if there is an impression that opening the borders means losing that, people get very defensive, which is understandable, and has nothing to do with racism.

But I think in the end, you are right, we will prosper the more open we are. Historically, those nations that allowed immigrants to come in and work freely are the ones that have had booming economies. Because the people who come across borders are the ones who are the most motivated - they essentially self-select for ambition and drive. People not interested in work or who just want to sit around and be taken care of seldom venture far from home.

Maya's Granny said...

When we look at past immigrants, what we see is people who came to this country and added their work and ideas and children to the good of all. (Well, except for my group, which came right after the Mayflower and stole land from the Indians.) They have been such a valuable part of our heritage, and the people who are coming in now are also.

I would like things to change so that all immigrants are considered legal and so can't be taken advantage of.