Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Coming clean on immigration

I guess it's as good a time as any to let whoever reads this find out where I really stand on immigration, one of the issues on which I don't agree with Ron Paul

Commenter "daveg" writes:

"Alan, when illegal aliens are not allowed to send their kids to school receive medical care, and their offspring are not entitled to citizen ship and therefore all these benefits are no more, and when they pay full restitution for any crimes they commit we can talk. Until that time we need to control our borders. Even Ron Paul agrees with that. "

There's little question that the 12 million or so illegal aliens now in this country pose serious social problems that will plague us for some time to come. And it is also true that the fact that most of them come from an adjacent country rather than from across a wide ocean means that this wave of immigration is different from what the country took in from about the late 1800s until the 1920s or so, in that the earlier wave had to make a large commitment to leave the old country behind and "become Americans" to a greater extent than the current wave -- or than the current political culture is willing to demand. There were enclaves of German-speaking or Italian-speaking neighborhoods back then, but the pressure to learn English and become "Americanized" was greater (and not always in a kindly way).

But we have to ask why -- beyond the obvious complaints about incompetent enforcement and lukewarm attitudes -- there are so many illegals in this country. The core reason is that the quotas for legal immigrants have been dramatically lower than the economy can absorb. We may be moving into a slump right now that could effect construction seriously before long, but for the last decade or so unemployment has hovered at near-record lows and the economy has been humming along. So it's hard to argue that the illegals are taking many jobs from Americans that Americans really want (though they may have had the effect of reducing wages at the lower end of the scale, though I'm convinced it's been only a marginal effect).

Since it takes decades, literally, standing in line to arrive here legally (and ICE, formerly the INS, is notoriously inefficient), and the opportunities in the U.S. are so much greater (even in jobs most native-born U.S. citizens would consider low-end), people come here illegally. It's what happens whenever government intervenes in the economy to limit supply -- in this case of legal immigration slots. A black market develops. I don't think the economy is "dependent" on illegal aliens as some advocates claim, but there's little question that they fill slots that employers are willing to pay for, and many employers would be notably less profitable without them. Some -- who knows how many? -- would go out of business. And there's little question most of the illegals come here to work, rather than to suck up welfare, although some get involved in crime (perhaps more so than if they had legal status) and welfare is marketed shamelessly to them.

I think those are pretty indisputable facts.

To me, the obvious solution is to increase or even eliminate the quotas on legal immigration. Let the marketp[lace decide how many immigrants we "need." You can increase enforcement all you want, and while it might have a marginal effect, it wouldn't eliminate the problem any more than decades of conspicuous enforcement have seriously reduced the usage or trafficking in illicit drugs. The only other way to reduce illegal immigration seriously is to have a depression, thus eliminating the jobs magnet.

If it were up to me, we would have welcome stations along the border at which authorities would check for communicable diseases and membership in terrorist organizations -- real ones, not being part of a democratic opposition in authoritarian regimes. That might require detention for a few days while such things are checked out. Then immigrants would be asked to sign a form promising not to apply for any government benefit for a reasonable period of time -- five years, 10 years, 50 years, I'm open -- on pain of instant deportation.

The Supreme Court decided back in the 1980s that illegal immigrants' children were entitled to go to government schools on equal-protection grounds, but both states and the federal government have limited other government benefits without successful legal challenges. In my utopia, of course, we would have separation of school and state, so the issue wouldn't arise, but I don't expect to get to that utopia soon.

If we didn't have such an extensive welfare state there would be much less resentment of immigrants, legal or otherwise. A good deal of the resentment Americans feel should be directed at the welfare state rather than at illegal immigrants -- I think Ron Paul would agree with that -- but the conservative movement (and all too many libertarians) have come to terms with the apparent inevitability of the welfare state or don't want to be considered "mean-spirited."

I have nothing against restitution or even deportation for criminals. I'm agnostic on automatic citizenship for those born here; I think under my preferred policy it wouldn't be a big problem. While there's little question illegals have put a strain on emergency rooms, the medical "crisis" as supposedly caused by illegals is overblown, and the best way to approach what's real about it would be to legalize them.

There's more, but that's enough for now. Have at me.


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daveg said...

Look, Japan and Finland have little immigration and they have very healthy economies, plus low crime and high levels of education. They also have many high value add jobs.

Immigration is not necessary for a strong economy. In fact, it can hurt the economy by providing "cheap labor" that retards the R&D necessary for a high value add economy.

For example, the development of automated farming equipment is probably being retarded due to the cheap labor available.

These companies are hiring labor and externalizing the costs on society. And for farming, they are often receiving subsidies from the government.

This is all just more forms of corporate welfare. Not very libertarian indeed.

Bob said...

I think you would find this opinion very interesting.

... America or Europe could easily be demographically swamped if even a fraction of the world's five billion other citizens headed for the West. The physical infrastructure of buildings and roads is not up to a sudden massive increase in population, much less the government institutions. And there is the danger that admitting too many people from countries lacking the cultural capital of capitalism could overwhelm the local culture's ability to assimilate them, destroying the very prosperity they came to seek.

How many is too many? Well, the foreign-born population of America peaked around 1890 at about 15%. Looking around me, I see that almost no one seems to be speaking Czech, Italian, Polish or Yiddish, or even English with a crusty Irish brogue, so I presume they were all assimilated adequately.

Currently, America's foreign-born population is about 10%. This suggests that America could increase its immigration by 50% without destroying its prosperity machine. It's harder to gauge in European countries, which have no established tradition of absorbing massive immigration flows. But it seems likely that most countries could take more than they have. Not endless numbers. But enough to make a lot of lives better. Including all of us who love ethnic food.

Alan Bock said...

I wouldn't argue that immigration is necessary for a strong economy in any and all circumstances, but in the U.S. right now there are more jobs, especially relatively low-level jobs, than there are native born Americans to fill them. If we actually got the illegals out of the country and put them on the years-long path to legality under current law, and/or seriously reduced the immigrant flow, the economy would eventually adjust, but it would be enormously disruptive for quite a while.

Think of it this way. Would it be disruptive to throw 8 million Americans picked at random out of their jobs? Of course it would. And picking those here without proper papers would be disruptive.