TCS Daily


Bordering on the Pragmatic

By Austin Bay - April 6, 2006 12:00 AM

The economic and political evolution of Mexico -- in preference to destructive revolution -- remains the big strategic goal of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In the next three to five decades, expanding economic and political opportunity in Mexico will drastically reduce the number of illegal aliens (both immigrants and migrants) entering the United States from Mexico and Central America.

To paraphrase the line attributed to John Maynard Keynes, however, the long run isn't a good guide to current affairs, for "in the very long run we are all dead." While great plans may ultimately produce extraordinary benefits, human beings live by their daily bread.

The difference between immigrants and migrants has policy implications. American immigrants intend to stay. When given the opportunity, the immigrant opts for integration and Americanization -- adding new melt to the melting pot. Economic migrants, however, come to the United States to work, but often have little interest in remaining in the country. A work-permit program is a short- to mid-term solution for the economic migrant dimension of the illegal alien problem. A sound international work-permit program legitimizes and regulates the worker's status. It also provides economic migrants with civil and economic protections they now lack.

"Illegal," however, is the volatizing word that raises legitimate, rational issues of justice and authority, but also sparks a range of emotions, from xenophobic anger to generous sympathy. Unfortunately, a cruel strain of false sympathy frustrates reasoned political discussion. The faux-compassionate caricature paints attempts to address border control and immigration issues as racist and nativist.

Amnesty programs, which in effect reward illegal entry -- and thus penalize legal immigrants who followed the rules -- are unjust. They erode respect for civil authority. Granting "amnesty now" sets a precedent for future demands, and thus fails to resolve fundamental issues.

At the same time, there is no just or rational way to prosecute or expel the 11 million to 13 million illegal aliens living in the United States. Difficult human factors, such as the "citizen child" with an "illegal immigrant parent," vex the debate. In these complex cases, exacting letter-of-the-law penalties divides families -- a result that is anything but just.

Legislation that creates pathways to legitimacy, while stigmatizing illegal entry (with a fine or similar consequence), is the best available solution. The legislation proposed by Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy may be imperfect, but it's a good start-point for fashioning a "pathway program" that will help mitigate the current crisis.

Tackling the long-run problems of immigration and border controls requires a more comprehensive strategic approach, one that won't be solved by building a wall or punitive laws.

Securing economic justice and political reform in Mexico is key to any truly effective long-term solution. The Mexican people know it. A decade ago, I met with a number of businessmen and women in northern Mexico who were "dollarizing" their businesses because they did not trust the corrupt central government. I also met several northern Mexican political activists who detailed their plans for ending the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) decades of one-party rule.

In 1997 and 2000, those plans led to opposition-party victories. Vicente Fox's presidential election, however, was the end of the beginning for Mexican reformers. Mexico's bitter mix of statist economics, poverty and elite corruption frustrate quick change.

Mexico's elites do indeed export their unemployed, as well as potential political dissidents. That policy must end. On the other hand, U.S. businesses benefit from low-wage workers (many coming from Mexico). The U.S. birthrate has declined, and immigrants compensate for that decline. America must confront those facets of the immigration problem.

U.S. demand for illegal narcotics feeds Mexican corruption. Narcotics trafficking negatively affects political and economic conditions in Mexico (and thus has an impact on immigration). Getting real control of the borders means curbing America's appetite for illegal drugs.

All too often, "difficult dimensions" like demography, corruption, political reform and drug smuggling are ignored when U.S. leaders slap together immigration and border security legislation. We can't let that happen this time. Sept. 11 demonstrated that porous borders, lax visa policies and unenforced immigration laws do have disastrous security consequences.

Austin Bay is a syndicated columnist and TCS contributing writer.

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9 Comments

Status of illegals
We can not reward those here illegally with citizenship and this should be stated again and again. We can not repeat the error of 1986 and simply kick the can down to another generation. We can not allow politicians seeking votes to impose these people upon us. Do we wish to face 48 million illegals in 2026? There are two immediate steps which should be taken which will reduce the problem over time.

1) Any illegal convicted of a felony is to be deported immediately upon completion of his/her sentence. No appeal will be allowed under any circumstances. Prior to deportation, fingerprints and DNA samples shall be taken (again, no appeal allowed) to create a database of exported illegals. First illegal reentry requires a mandatory one year sentence. second a two year sentence, and so on.

2) Rigid enforcement of penalties on those who hire illegals. In time, some of these migrants will leave when they can not obtain employment. If we lessen or eliminate the financial rewards, fewer migrants will remain or seek entry.

Guest worker visas
Ned-- Following completion of their sentences we do in fact insist on the deportation of foreign national with felony convictions. That's already happening.

As for penalties for hiring them, the resistance is coming from employers in fields like agriculture. You might not be familiar, but it is actually pretty hard to get poorly educated young southerners with dim job prospects to sucker tobacco or pick cantalopes. They consider these jobs beneath them. So if we want the produce shelves to stay stocked with American fruits and veggies, we have to be realistic about looking the other way on incoming laborers. That's the policy we have in place right now-- just to be incompetent in chasing them out again.

Any effective change will have to come with guest worker registration as part of the package. Then their tenure here in the work force becomes formalized. It's not a reward for lawbreaking, it's the acquisition of a necessary labor component in American life. And admitting guest workers has zero to do with awarding citizenship. We let them work cheap, pay their taxes (which their employers deduct for them) and one day go back home.

illegals
Roy: I suggest that the Agri-corps (the majority of 'farmers' left in America) will have to raise their wages to a rate where Americans will accept the jobs. And please, Americans do a lot of sh1tty jobs but not at minimum wage. Yes, our veggies will cost a bit more but so be it. The second option is a guest worker program: permit/visa to be valid for a limited period and obtained only outside of America, it can not be available to illegals already in America. Permit number can serve as a Social Security number.

Raising migrant wages
If the politicians feel so strongly that it will get them the votes they want this year, they will abandon the ag interests they have so long represented and pander to the public by driving out foreign migrants. We will certainly be paying more for produce, but in the eyes of many it will be worth it-- just so they don't have to put up with the notion of illegal and possibly dirty noncitizens brushing shoulders with them in the parking lot. It's a free country, and many of us have emotional issues over noncitizens.

But somehow I don't think it will happen. The good old boys have always run the pols. If the system fell apart now it would be catastrophic. We've run government for quite a long time now on the basis that some citizens have more say than others. If we went to representative democracy at this late date the shock would be severe for a lot of folks.

I would have no problem with work visas being obtainable only in the home country. Everyone here would hightail it back home, pick one up and come back legally. It's been my experience that these guys don't just come here and stay for years and years. They go back and forth. No one ewants to be away from home for more than two or three years. At any rate, that's how the local indocumentados feel.

status of illegals
why can we not reward those here illegally with citizenship? How about just admitting that our immigration/migration laws are unjust and that the faulty administration of those unjust laws is one of the components that drive people to be technically illegal?

Re: Status of illegals
FastNed wrote:

"Rigid enforcement of penalties on those who hire illegals."

The first definition of the word "complicity" given on www.m-w.com is: "association or participation in or as if in a wrongful act."

Here's the first definition of "conspire:" "to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement."

Where I live (Texas), complicity and conspiracy to hire illegals is so rampant that it is a part of everyday life. How would you "penalize" my next door neighbor, a little old lady that hires illegals (indirectly, but knowingly) to cut her lawn?

FastNed wrote:

"In time, some of these migrants will leave when they can not obtain employment."

Exactly. Some, but perhaps not most.

You'll forgive the rest of us, then, for considering the consequences of driving vast numbers of otherwise law-abiding, hard-working people (many of whom that have families to look after) into poverty and misery.

FastNed wrote:

"If we lessen or eliminate the financial rewards, fewer migrants will remain or seek entry."

Sure, but you might try answering to the more interesting question which is why, precisely, there exists so few efficient and fair legal processes to permit guest workers and immigrants.

A broad set of reasonable employment-based immigration laws combined, then, with "rigid enforcement" would bring matters into a sensible balance but the U.S. of A. has elected not to do that. Pragmatic people wonder why.

When discussing immigration policy, the trade-offs of each approach need to be examined in the context of what is best for America going forward. Unfortunately, the loudest voices in this debate are incapable of doing just that.

Re: Guest worker visas
roy_bean wrote:

"It's not a reward for lawbreaking, ..."

Sure it is. That may not necessarily be, however, omportant when considering a practical solution.

Not to long ago, I remember the local cable companies in my area offering "amnesty" to people that were illegally riping off cable tv. Why would they do that?

roy_bean wrote:

"We let them work cheap, pay their taxes (which their employers deduct for them) and one day go back home."

Why would want to deny tax-paying workers the ability to stay permanently? Send back the unemployed ones that don't pay any taxes.

roy bean sez...
If some foreign national were found to be unemployed, without proper papers and paying no taxes, I would endorse sending him back.

Wait a minute. We're already doing that. Do we need additional legislation, or is that just because this is an election year?

Celhardt & HappyInfidel
Celhardt said: "How about just admitting that our immigration/migration laws are unjust and that the faulty administration of those unjust laws is one of the components that drive people to be technically illegal?"

If you as a citizen believe our laws to be unjust, like any American you have recourse to our political process to seek a change in our laws. Absent that action, you obey our laws! And most certainly, non American citizens may not decide which of our laws they will follow and which they will ignore.

HappyInfidel said: "You'll forgive the rest of us, then, for considering the consequences of driving vast numbers of otherwise law-abiding, hard-working people (many of whom that have families to look after) into poverty and misery."

We are not the cause of their poverty and we are not responsible for an improvement in their condition. By this reasoning, all of South American, Africa & most of Asia should have free entry into America. It is not our responsibility to feed them, cloth them, provide education and free medical service. We do our best to accomplish that with foreign aid.

Many illegals are taking work at minimum wage or less. Might I suggest you look at the figures for unemployment in young black men and the number of them that end up in prison. They are our citizens and as such they deserve the opportunity for those entry positions. You can not work your way up in America without that first job and how many turn to criminal activity because they see no prospect of employment? If I may mangle Emerson - These illegals are not our poor! Let's take care of our own first.

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