McQs post on the lax approach to border security gives me an opportunity to point out the weakness of the plans that have been offered so far. We're not just ignoring our borders, we're making policies to codify that problem, and poor arguments to excuse them. Case in point, the Weekly Standard, in which Tamar Jacoby recently wrote...
Just ask experienced agents like Lee Morgan: Cutting off illegal immigration would require thousands more men on the border, routine sweeps in every city, roadblocks, roundups, massive deportations, a national ID card, and more.
Nonsense. And coming from a magazine that advanced the "we can't stop all of them forever, so we have to do something about the root causes" argument for war in Iraq, I find this particularly weak. It's true that a catch them after they've gotten here tactic would be as effective against illegal immigration as it is in the War on Drugs. After all, they're willing to die to get here, and we're not willing to die to keep them out. Advantage: illegal immigrants!
But that's a strawman. The key to dealing with illegal immigration is to eliminate the incentives that make them so anxious to come here, by cracking down on the businesses who hire illegal immigrants under the table. It takes two to Tango, but we don't seem to take any interest in the US half of that illegal immigration problem.
But, Jacoby argues, the new Bush policy would solve that incentive problem...
A new, more realistic policy would be much easier to enforce. ... The idea is not to expand the total number of immigrants who enter the country each year, merely to provide those who are coming anyway—and would otherwise come illegally—with a safe, orderly, legal route. Assuming it works—assuming, as the White House does, that once most jobs are filled by authorized immigrants, there will be little incentive for others to come illegally...
As it is, illegals enter the country secretly to take jobs under the table, because businesses would rather hire low-cost illegals than higher-cost Americans. The White House plan stipulates that these heretofore-illegals would be matched to a US employer "when no Americans can be found to fill the jobs".
But here's the thing: a lot of Americans can "be found to fill the jobs". Yet, businesses still prefer to hire illegal workers, because businesses would rather break the law to get low cost labor than pay the costs (higher wages, health care, payroll taxes, etc) of abiding by the law. If Bush's policy is implemented, nothing about this will change.
When a business is faced with the decision of whether to hire an American or to save money by hiring an illegal, they can make precisely the same choice they already make. If businesses are willing to break the law to avoid the high costs of American labor, then they'll certainly be willing to break the law to avoid the high cost of legal immigrant labor.
Bush's plan offers these choices:
- You can pay the higher cost for an American worker, which you're already willing to break the law to avoid.
- You can pay the higher cost for a legal immigrant worker, which you're already willing to break the law to avoid.
- You can continue hiring illegal immigrants, and skip the higher costs. Which is exactly what you're doing now.
It's hard to see how this plan offers much incentive to get illegal immigration on the books. If businesses were so gung-ho about being legal, they'd have hired Americans already. If their concern were simply putting warm bodies into jobs, we wouldn't have an illegal immigration problem in the first place.....or an unemployment problem.
Waving a Green Card in front of those higher labor costs isn't going to magically make them any more appealing. Jacoby is unacquianted with human nature if he thinks that...
Those already in the country illegally should be required to pay a penalty; they should have to wait just as long as other applicants for full legal status. While they're waiting, they should be required to fulfill a variety of additional obligations: hold a job, pay taxes, abide by the law, take English classes, and demonstrate their commitment to American values. Once they've met these terms, it might even make sense to require them to go home to pick up their visas.
...people willing to risk their lives to avoid the problems and uncertainties associated with legal immigration would jump at the chance to wrap themselves in that bureaucratic nightmare when they could just come across illegally. "You'll get a penalty, no shortcut to legal status, and strict job-obligations. You'll have to pay taxes, take English classes and jump through any other hoops we set up. At the end of all that, you may or may not be allowed to stay here. But we will definitely know who and where you are."
Yeah, I bet the illegal immigrants will be all over that.
Apparently immigration reform—and securing the borders of the country—is the hot topic of the day. So I thought I would weigh in as well, if briefly.
One of the attractions to illegal immigrants is also the relatively generous system of public benefits we have in the US. Compared to Mexico, even a life of poverty in the US is one of relative security. If you get sick, you can go to the emergency room for treatment, irrespective of your ability to pay. Your children will receive a free education at public expense.
Things aren't all fuzzy kitties for illegals, but clearly by voting with their feet, they're indicating that it's far superior here than in Mexico.
Milton Friedman summed it up in a brief statement years ago. You can't have both a welfare state and uncontrolled immigration. The inducements, even with the relatively ungenerous benefits we provide compared to, say, our European cousins, are vastly superior to anything available in Coahuila or Chiapas.
The trade-off is clear. We can eliminate the welfare state and allow open borders, or we can have the welfare state and crack down on both illegal immigration, and the employers who employee the...ahem..."undocumented worker".
Cake. Have it. Eat it. Please choose only one.