Monday, August 13, 2007

A bit more on immigration

A commenter wondered, and I think I know a bit more now about why the Bush administration has announced a serious crackdown on employers who hire illegal aliens, which seems a bit contradictory to its desire for a "comprehensive" immigration reformthat included a path to legality and even citizen ship for the 12 million or so illegal immigrants now in the country. This is far from the last workd, but here's what I think for now based on what I learned today . . .

It is in some sense a move to reconnect with the conservative "base" that torpedoed the immigration bill earlier this year. But it wouldn't be entirely surprising if there are other motives at work also. Especially since it's being announced when harvesting is due in several farm crops, it might in part be designed to demonstrate that a crackdown on employers will create enough economic turmoil that some members of Congress might be willing to reconsider a policy that goes beyond enforcement to include some kind of "regularization" of those currently here illegally.

If so, that's a remarkably cynical and potentially dangerous approach, to purposely disrupt economic relationships that are working despite not being blessed by the authorities and creat fear and uncertainty among employers. There's also the fact that the Social Security database is hardly error-free, so a lot of time and trouble is likely to be spent on people who aren't illegal at all, or whose troubles arise from imperfect government record-keeping.

To me the "crisis" is simply another example of government stepping in and disrupting the working of supply and demand, this time with unrealistically low quotas for legal immigrants. Given that unemployment is currently at historically low levels, around 4.5 percent -- although the current disruption in the housing market and repercussions in the stock market could change things for the worse -- suggests that the U.S. economy can absorb 12 million illegal immigrants without creating an economic downturn or "taking" many jobs from Americans who really want them. The solution is to raise the quotas. But nobody is ready to consider something so simple and the invocation of the magic word "amnesty" paralyzes the political class.

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