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Friday, March 31, 2006

Immigration

The president is right to oppose punitive immigration measures. Conservatives should favor putting illegal immigrants on a path toward citizenship.

George F. Will
I feel compelled to opine on the immigration debate. I've held off, because it really is a complicated, emotionally charged topic.

First, let me say that I'm a big fan of immigration. I can't blame anyone who believes they might make a better life by moving to the greatest country on earth. And I think that the type of person that will risk life and limb to come to America to do mostly manual labor is exactly the type of person we want here. For the most part, these are the people who made America such a great country to begin with.

That being said, I worry about the ability of our economy to effectively assimilate so many immigrants without doing long term damage. That's why I'm NOT a fan of uncontrolled illegal immigration. To me, the solution is simple, but not easy. If I were in charge, I would build a completely secure border but grant amnesty to the illegal immigrants who are here.

Thomas Sowell has written two articles (Part I and Part II) on the economic issues involved in the immigration debate. In the first article, Guests or Gate Crashers, he deals with the idea that "illegals do the jobs that Americans won't". I first heard this back in my 9th grade Spanish class. It seemed compelling at the time, but it really has no economic basis, as Sowell points out:
How often have we heard that illegal immigrants "take jobs that Americans will not do"? What is missing in this argument is what is crucial in any economic argument: price.

Americans will not take many jobs at their current pay levels -- and those pay levels will not rise so long as poverty-stricken immigrants are willing to take those jobs.

If Mexican journalists were flooding into the United States and taking jobs as reporters and editors at half the pay being earned by American reporters and editors, maybe people in the media would understand why the argument about "taking jobs that Americans don't want" is such nonsense.

None of the rhetoric and sophistry that we hear about immigration deals with the plain and ugly reality: Politicians are afraid of losing the Hispanic vote and businesses want cheap labor.

I think we must take into account the impact that illegal immigration has on wages in the US. Illegal immigrants make of 5% of our labor pool and the majority of illegal immigrant are young men. If you removed all illegal immigrants from the labor pool, you would have a shift in the supply curve that would result in HIGHER wages for American workers, especially young workers at the lowest end of the economic ladder. This would increase standards of living for poor Americans and reduce the wealth and income disparity in this country. Instead, businesses get rich off of cheap labor and wages are held at artificially low levels. As Sowell says,
Politicians are afraid of losing the Hispanic vote and businesses want cheap labor.
Unfortunately, I don't see any way to solve the issue of illegal immigrants who are already in the country. I think the only practical solution is to stop future illegal immigration. It will take a while to assimilate the existing population into our economy, but eventually it will happen.

Illegal immigration also potentially causes long term damage to developing countries in Latin America, especially Mexico. Removing 10 million of the most motivated, hardest working, and most entrepreneurial workers from the labor pool causes damage to those economies. In Mexico, almost 1/6 of the labor pool has left. These workers move to the US, earn dollars and send billions back home in the form of remittances. This outflow of human capital and corresponding inflor of "free" financial capital (in 2004 it was over $30 billion) removes many of the incentives for economic, political and legal reform that would otherwise be necessary to have a healthy economy. This doesn't even get into the issue of corruption. Many of these countries can free-ride on the American system while maintaining their own corrupt and/or quasi-socialist economies.

Sowell also makes the point that immigration laws are not being enforced and I agree that this is a critical failure. What we do NOT need is a whole list of new laws that are not going to be enforced. Let's worry about enforcing the laws that are on the books. I hate to pile on Bush here, but enforcement of the laws is the responsibility of the executive branch. Civics 101 teaches us that congress passes laws, the courts interpret laws, and the executive enforces laws. When is the last time the executive branch fulfilled their constitutional duties with respect to our immigration policy? We don’t need more laws, we need to enforce the existing laws.

There is another aspect of this debate that does not get covered by many of the major news outlets. Let's call it the geopolitical aspect. As Michelle Malkin points out, there is a small minority of activists for whom immigration is an issue of power, politics and potentially the " reconquering" of land that was lost by Mexico to the US (long before any of us were born). These activists take this very seriously and we should as well.

As Peggy Noonan eloquently states OpinionJournal that
...it's not fear about "them." It's anxiety about us.

It's the broad public knowledge, or intuition, in America, that we are not assimilating our immigrants patriotically. And if you don't do that, you'll lose it all.

Because we do not communicate to our immigrants, legal and illegal, that they have joined something special, some of them, understandably, get the impression they've joined not a great enterprise but a big box store. A big box store on the highway where you can get anything cheap. It's a good place. But it has no legends, no meaning, and it imparts no spirit.

I'll close with George Will, writing for the Washington Post. Will outlines four reasons why we must gain control of our borders:
First, control of borders is an essential attribute of sovereignty.

Second, conditions along the border mock the rule of law.

Third, large rallies by immigrants, many of them here illegally, protesting more stringent control of immigration reveal that many immigrants have, alas, assimilated: They have acquired the entitlement mentality created by America's welfare state, asserting an entitlement to exemption from the laws of the society they invited themselves into.

Fourth, giving Americans a sense that borders are controlled is a prerequisite for calm consideration of what policy that control should serve.

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