Monday, April 17, 2006

Immigration Reality: It Ain't Pretty

When it comes to immigration, I believe most Americans want an equitable system that works both for the interests of the nation as well as for the interests of immigrants. As I mentioned in a previous post, however, we need to base our discussions and debates in truth. I believe it is also important to infuse the debate with the whole truth, or as much of it as is humanly possible to obtain.

Many of the myopic solutions being bandied about today are not based in reality. It is beyond ridiculous to think that the country will expel all of the illegal immigrants currently within its borders. It would be the largest forced migration in the history of the world. Would we establish a department of brown shirts to carry this out at gunpoint? At what rate could these people be deported given the efficiency of our government? A quarter million a year? At that rate we’d still end up with a net inflow. Let’s face the music on this one—we’re not going to deport any significant portion of the illegals currently living here.

On the other hand, the just-leave-it-alone idea is viewed by many as not workable. It’s bad for the country as well as for the illegals. It creates a subclass that is vulnerable to exploitation. Even if it’s willing exploitation, it’s not a good thing. We should want our immigrants to have the same opportunities as all American citizens. Didn’t we already discover after a century of Jim Crow that creating a subservient class is a bad thing? We’re still dealing with some of the effects of that bad policy. Where is the morality in this kind of thing? I have expressed my concerns here that we are doing a poor job of turning immigrants into Americans in their hearts. That bodes ill for future generations.

The make-‘em-all-citizens idea fails to consider the long-term impacts that would result as well. We also have to ask how the INS would manage the legalization of illegals in any kind of efficient manner. Mark Steyn outlines his frustration with the rosy-sounding rhetoric on this viewpoint here. He offers his immigration “compromise,” saying, “We need to regularize the situation of the 298 million non-undocumented residents of the United States.” He notes that some of the 9/11 hijackers obtained the state-issued documentation they used to board the aircraft they flew into the Pentagon via the illegal immigrant network.

As a naturalized American citizen, Steyn is highly frustrated with how difficult and unwieldy our current system is for legal immigrants, while illegals operate in our society relatively uninhibited. He recounts the case of the British subject in the U.S. legally whose American husband was killed in the twin towers, only to be ordered by INS a few days later to take her two American-born children and get out of the country. Steyn notes that none of the solid proposals that Congress has considered would in any way improve the situation for this poor woman or for millions of other legal immigrants. He asks why some immigrants should be given preferential treatment.

To be sure, we have largely brought this problem upon ourselves by refusing to enforce our own laws. But Heather McDonald asks here what will become of our nation if we give in to the immigration protesters and make them legal simply because they want it to be so. Although she ignores the idea that our current laws (or failure to enforce them) might lack morality, she argues that protests of past issues have been based on an actual legal standing of some sort, while the recent protests are based only in the concept that “existing laws are void — simply because the illegal aliens and their supporters do not like them…”

Brendan Miniter asserts here that the real basis for concerns about immigration are culturally based—that our nation is “unsure of the power of its own culture to assimilate millions of new arrivals.” He says, “In a nation where the definition of marriage is open for debate, where the Pledge of Allegiance can be ruled unconstitutional, and where we can't even agree that human liberty is a universal value, hiring more border agents isn't going to quell anxiety over the country being culturally adrift.” He argues that economic incentives are probably the best tool we have for dealing with illegal immigration—that we should make it more economically favorable to be legal than to be illegal.

Look, we’ve made this mess and now we have to deal with it. We can’t actually deport all of the illegals (or even a lot of them). We can’t leave things as they are. We can’t simply grant all the illegals amnesty while leaving our dysfunctional system for legal immigrants broken. There are no sound-bite-simple solutions that will actually work that will also produce a lot of feel-good in time for Election Day this year. This is going to take some very hard work with sleeves rolled up. With a majority party in Congress that governs like a minority party and a President that favors a particular group of immigrants over other groups, I’m not sure we currently have the stuff that it takes to get the job done.


That One Guy said...

Obviously a huge and complex situation. Can we take the same tack as one or two European countries and simply begin to deport illegals beginning on a certain date? Although this in itself seems harsh, we also realize that the genie is already out of the bottle. Instead, we need to treat the disease, rather than the symptom. Why do these illegals come here? Jobs. Illegal jobs. Over the weekend there was a story in the Tribune about a group of immigrants who ALREADY HAD JOBS SECURED BEFORE THEY CROSSED THE BORDER ILLEGALLY. They were headed to Aspen Colorado to work in the hospitality industry. What needs to happen here is that the government needs to make mandatory the social security number/identity check for employers, which is currently VOLUNTARY for employers. If employers are prosecuted (not fined) for bypassing this vital step to ensure that the person being hired is who they say they are, we would get a long way down the road to making these jobs unavailable to illegals, and the traffic would slow over time, simply through attrition.

We need to make employers accountable for their actions. That's 90% of the game right there.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Employer punishment will only work if we provide them with the tools they need to ensure legalily. We have a bizarre patchwork of systems in this country that no one is willing to fix. Illegals have no difficulty obtaining forged documents, and almost no employer (outside of the government) is equipped to validate documentation.

We have the technology to develop systems that are less prone to forgery, but there is a strong current against implementing them (think, for example, national ID card). Employers also have a right to ask why they should be required to enforce the laws that our government refuses to enforce at the border, making the employers de facto law enforcement officers.

Cases should be made against employers that blatantly seek illegals as employees, but it's not as easy as it looks. Employers have to be very careful about what they require of prospective employees. Anti-discrimination laws have the unintended side effect of preventing employers from pressing the issue.

As we develop policies that punish employers, we have to be careful not to create yet another bureaucratic playland where complete compliance becomes impossible—where employers do their best with the hope that no regulator finds a 't' they failed to cross or an 'i' they failed to dot. We have to make it possible for employers to easily determine with certainty the citizenship status of any prospective employee before we can make employers the enforcers of our immigration laws.

The whole matter is a supply-demand thing very similar to the battle against illegal drugs. While some argue for legalization, most accept the ongoing battle, which has many facets, including punishing and treating addicts, punishing pushers, disrupting supply chains, interdiction, helping foreign countries establish and enforce laws, education, etc. Once again, there are no easy answers, just a lot of hard work ahead.