Thursday, May 04, 2006

Some Practical Questions About Immigration

First, let’s establish my “street cred”. I am an immigrant. I came to the U.S. from Mexico when I was 6 years old because my father and mother found jobs here. I started first grade without knowing a word of English. To this day, going to Latin America is one of my favorite professional and personal pastimes. I’m pushing my kids to learn
Spanish, because I think everyone that lives in the U.S. would be wise to do so.

Having said that, I can also confess that I’m troubled by the recent “pro-immigration” demonstrations and boycotts, and the open-the-borders mentality among libertarians like those who write the Wall St. Journal op-ed page. Certainly I understand the rationales for the fears, frustrations and hopes that many undocumented immigrants harbor. And as a proponent of free-markets, I sympathize with the economic theories supporting the unfettered, boundariless global movement of labor.

And yet, I’m disturbed because I haven’t received adequate answers to a few practical questions. Like:

• Is a person’s willingness to sneak across a border and work hard sufficient grounds for enjoying permanent status in the U.S. ? I’ve traveled extensively throughout the world and wherever I go, I see people who desperately want to emigrate here. I’ll bet that, conservatively speaking, among the 6.5 billion or so people who live on earth, that at least 500 million of them would love to come to the U.S. and would be willing to work very hard for low wages upon entry. Should we open the borders and let half a billion people in? Hello??!?

• I can certainly empathize with businesses’ desires for cheap labor. But to paraphrase Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution, aren’t we simply subsidizing many businesses that would otherwise raise wages, or innovatively automate tasks, or offshore tasks, or get out of businesses that no longer make economic sense? A steady run of cheap labor—no questions asked—may be expedient for an individual firm in the short run, but consider this: in the long run, how efficient or innovative are domestic markets that are artificially propped up?

• The empirical data are pretty clear. It’s one thing to open the door to millions of new immigrants who have high-end professional skills. It’s quite another to open the door to millions of new immigrants who have, at very best, a high school education. The first scenario is a turbo-boost to competitive success in the global knowledge economy (and if anything, we need to make it even easier for folks like these to enter). The second scenario is a temporary salve for many vendors and consumers, and, I would suggest, a potentially adverse source of unintended social, political, and economic consequences nationwide.

• The first three bullets are open to debate, but this last one I hope is not. It’s the most important one. The bedrock of any effective democracy and market system is a rule of law. When laws are flagrantly skirted, and when those who skirt them insist that the laws are meaningless, and when people, in effect, get to choose which laws are “worthy” of being obeyed, I worry about the future of this country. Please spare me the flowery words about “we’re all immigrants.” Once and for all, the issue here is not immigration, but legal vs. illegal immigration. Like many recent immigrants and like your descendants, my family came here legally. What do we tell those people who are going through the laborious process of getting a visa, a green card, or—if they’re already here legally—their citizenship papers? Do we tell them they’re fools? What sort of message are we giving people in other countries who are planning to go through legal channels to be part of this country? What message do we send about U.S. law in general? I’m sorry, this issue can’t be prettied up or shoved under a rug, regardless of whether jobs presumably exist for people who are willing, however nobly, to risk even death to circumvent police and borders to get at them.

I’m no saint. Over the years, I know I’ve hired laborers who’ve turned out to be illegal, and because I speak Spanish, I’ve become friendly with some of them. I’m no genius, either. I don’t have the policy answers for this thorny issue. The idea of rounding up 12 million illegals and shipping them south is absolutely absurd. But the idea of rewarding lawbreaking with blanket amnesty is equally absurd, as is the accusation that controlling our border is somehow either racist or totalitarian. We need to have an honest dialogue on these matters, including those four bullets above, in order to come up with a just, viable, and enforceable immigration policy . Unfortunately, I’ve not been overly impressed with many of our legislators, who are either too spineless to confront the above four issues squarely, or so unprincipled that they are willing to pander to any group in order to get re-elected. My last thought: Vote them out. This immigration issue is way too important to tolerate cowardice or opportunism.


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5:33 AM  

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