Thursday, March 09, 2006

Toward A Progressive Position on Immigration

Fence First, Amnesty Second!
At last an economist who states my position on immigration control clearly:
Build a Fence -- And Amnesty by Robert J. Samuelson.

My excerpts and enthusiasm, emphasized below:
It's time to build a real fence or a wall along every foot of the 1,989 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border.

There can be only two arguments against this approach to keeping out illegal immigrants: (1) it won't work -- possible, but we won't know unless we try; or (2) we don't want it to work -- then, we should say so and open our borders to anyone but criminals and terrorists. Either way, we need more candor in our immigration debates. Now is the time, because Congress is considering its first major immigration legislation in years.

In 2005 the Border Patrol stopped 1.19 million people trying to enter the United States illegally; 98.5 percent of them were caught along the southern border. Of those who got through and stayed (crude estimate: some 500,000 annually), about two-thirds lack a high school education. Even a country as accepting of newcomers as the United States cannot effortlessly absorb infinite numbers of poor and unskilled workers. Legal immigration totals 750,000 to 1 million people annually, many of them also unskilled.

I do not like advocating a fence. It looks and feels bad. It's easily stigmatized as racist. It would antagonize Mexico. The imagery is appalling, but it beats the alternative: a growing underclass and social tensions. Moreover, a genuine fence would probably work. The construction of about 10 miles of steel and concrete barriers up to 15 feet high in San Diego has reduced illegal crossings in that sector by about 95 percent since 1992, reports Rep. Duncan Hunter, a supporter of a U.S.-Mexico fence. Sure, there will be tunnels and ladders. But getting in will be harder. Policing will be easier.

.... If there are "shortages" of unskilled American workers, the obvious remedy is to raise their wages. A Texas roofing contractor testified to Congress that he couldn't get enough roofers at $9 an hour. Okay, increase it to $10 or $12. Higher wages will bring forth more workers. Perish the thought. Business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, clamor for more guest workers. That's a euphemism for cheap labor. These business groups seem unperturbed by extravagant increases in chief executives' pay. But they're horrified by anything that might raise the wages of maids, waitresses, laborers or gardeners.

As for assimilation, it's true that millions of Hispanic families are moving into -- and reshaping -- the American mainstream. But average trends look less encouraging. Since 1990 about 90 percent of the increase in people living below the government's poverty lines has come among Hispanics. That has to be mainly immigrants and their U.S.-born children. In a report, the Pew Hispanic Center notes:
  • Residential segregation is increasing. In 2000, 43 percent of Hispanics lived in neighborhoods with Hispanic majorities, up from 39 percent in 1990.
  • The median net worth of Hispanic households is about 9 percent of that of non-Hispanic whites (net worth is what people own minus what they owe).
  • Only about a quarter of Hispanic college students graduate compared with about half for non-Hispanic whites.
Assimilation takes time. The big difference between today's Hispanic inflows and past immigration waves is that those stopped. History or restrictive laws intervened. There was time for newcomers to adapt. Left alone, there's no obvious reason why the present Hispanic immigration should even pause. Today's unskilled arrivals make it harder for yesterday's to get ahead. The two compete. In 2004 the already-low median wages for foreign-born Hispanics dropped 1.6 percent, reports Rakesh Kochhar of the Pew Center.

There's a paradox. To make immigration succeed, we need to curb some immigration. That's why it's vital to control our border. It also explains why it's important not to "solve" that problem merely by legalizing these huge inflows. Unfortunately, the legislation being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee would do precisely that. Among other things, it would create a virtually open-ended guest worker program.

If we control new inflows, we should legalize the illegal immigrants already here. Many have American-born children, who are U.S. citizens. It is not desirable or ethical to force most illegal immigrants to leave. Yes, they broke the law, but we were complicit by making the law so easy to break. Their present shadowy status deprives them of rights and exposes them to exploitation. We should want the melting pot to work -- and fear that it might come to a boil.
Here I have to add a common sense caveat: it's not necessary to fence the entire southern border in order to get the desired effect. And it's an added unnecessary cost to do so.

But this is an unassailable position on immigration, and Progressives ought to seize upon it!

5 Moderated Comments:

Blogger Messenger said...

Charles Krauthammer agrees with us:
Wall First, Amnesty Second!

Every sensible immigration policy has two objectives: (1) to regain control of our borders so that it is we who decide who enters and (2) to find a way to normalize and legalize the situation of the 11 million illegals among us.

We already have a river of people coming every day knowing they're going to be illegal and perhaps even exploited. They come nonetheless. The newest amnesty -- the "earned legalization" being dangled in front of them by proposed Senate legislation -- can only increase the flow.

....Those who think employer sanctions will control immigration are dreaming. Employer sanctions were the heart of Simpson-Mazzoli. They are not only useless; they are pernicious. They turn employers into enforcers of border control. That is the job of government, not landscapers.

The irony of this whole debate, which is bitterly splitting the country along partisan, geographic and ethnic lines, is that there is a silver bullet that would not just solve the problem but also create a national consensus behind it.

....Forget employer sanctions. Build a barrier. It is simply ridiculous to say it cannot be done. If one fence won't do it, then build a second 100 yards behind it. And then build a road for patrols in between. Put in cameras. Put in sensors. Put out lots of patrols.

Can't be done? Israel's border fence has been extraordinarily successful in keeping out potential infiltrators who are far more determined than mere immigrants. Nor have very many North Koreans crossed into South Korea in the past 50 years.

Of course it will be ugly. So are the concrete barriers to keep truck bombs from driving into the White House. But sometimes necessity trumps aesthetics. And don't tell me that this is our Berlin Wall. When you build a wall to keep people in, that's a prison. When you build a wall to keep people out, that's an statement of sovereignty. The fence around your house is a perfectly legitimate statement of your desire to control who comes into your house to eat, sleep and use the facilities. It imprisons no one.

Of course, no barrier will be foolproof. But it doesn't have to be. It simply has to reduce the river of illegals to a manageable trickle. Once we can do that, everything becomes possible -- most especially, humanizing the situation of our 11 million illegals.

If the government can demonstrate that it can control future immigration, there will be infinitely less resistance to dealing generously with the residual population of past immigration. And, as Mickey Kaus and others have suggested, that may require that the two provisions be sequenced. First, radical border control by physical means. Then, shortly thereafter, radical legalization of those already here. To achieve national consensus on legalization, we will need a short lag time between the two provisions, perhaps a year or two, to demonstrate to the skeptics that the current wave of illegals is indeed the last.

....A solution requires two acts of national will: the ugly act of putting up a fence and the supremely generous act of absorbing as ultimately full citizens those who broke our laws to come to America.

Washington Post

Ordinarily, I would try to embarrass you for taking position shared by the Kraut. But in this instance, I agree, also. (Having admitted that, and having posted agreement with him, I am now going to take my second shower of the day!

4/23/2006 06:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pass a retroactive law that removes citizenship from babies born to illegal parents, thus removing the 'anchor'.The cost to society over the long haul will outweigh the cost and effort to DEPORT them all NOW.

6/14/2006 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger LittleBill said...

New Thoughts on Illegal Immigration

Why are we getting so hysterical about people crossing our border from Mexico, at risk of death by starvation and/or fatal dehydration? To my knowledge, none have been found so far to be carrying nuclear weapons.

Some may be carrying drugs, but they are paying an awful physical price for the journey. Besides, the market for drugs in this country evidently makes the price worth it. Whose fault is that?

A great deal of crime is said to come with the illegal immigrants. Hey, we have plenty of that in this country already, physical, social, and corporate.

The physical act of crossing the border may be illegal, but it is hardly criminal or an act of war.

8/06/2006 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger sol said...

The border represents segregation and nothing more, its a sign of fear of a true culture, people..of course those who agree with the construction of the border do so because they rather seclude themselves in their dwelling places (homes) thinking to be untouched and ignore the true reality that lies outside their door or fence...migration is nothing new to this area for the Mexicans is common....Due to the white power that governs us and their continuous struggle to renounce to their Euro past, they have escaped the ruined political system and religious persecution by taking away the freedom of those who have always been here to roam the land and improve ones life, all a Mexican knows to do is fight, struggle, and continue with or wihtout the petty fence that with time will crumble before our eyes. Fear is what kills...enough with the stupid wall. Haters are those who agree with the construction of it.

9/13/2007 06:26:00 PM  
Blogger Vigilante said...

A very eloquent statement.

I will say that enforcement of borders, boundaries, frontiers is the mark of all "non-failing" states. It is an universal prerogative of developed states. Even Mexico is protective of its southern border. Mexicans, themselves, aren't truly indigenous to this hemisphere, either, are they?

9/13/2007 06:46:00 PM  

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