Patterico's Pontifications



Filed under: Immigration — Patterico @ 9:47 pm

I think I disagree with everyone on the Bush immigration reform proposal, which is a neat trick, because everyone disagrees with each other. Citizen Smash has a good list of links showing how varied opinions are on the topic. But I haven’t seen anything yet that really replicates my opinion.

My view is that our problem is not so much illegal immigration as the increasingly socialistic nature of our economy. There are certain things that we want done, but nobody wants to do them, because government makes it easy not to. So we let illegals do those things, for wages we would never tolerate for ourselves, and look the other way. As long as this is the case, there can be no solution to the problem. The very second that we legalize one set of people, for humanitarian reasons, we will immediately require a new class of illegal people to take their place — because in our increasingly socialistic economy, it is precisely the illegal status of illegal immigrants that makes them so attractive to the economy.

Let me explain in more detail.

I am troubled by the idea, referred to in the post immediately below, that illegal immigrants are necessary because there are certain jobs Americans just won’t do. As Bush put it in his speech: “Some of the jobs being generated in America’s growing economy are jobs American citizens are not filling.” Similar reasoning is often advanced to justify illegal immigration.

There is something wrong with our government safety net if it allows citizens to turn their noses up at jobs that are nevertheless good enough for the “brown-skins” to do. There is a “nativist” arrogance in this view, which outstrips the arrogance even of those called “nativists” who rabidly oppose illegal immigration. One is reminded of Gray Davis’s famous speech to a room full of Latinos:

We need immigrants to pick our food and put it on our tables. We need immigrants to clean our hotels and office buildings and take care of the elderly. That work is important. Whether people are janitors or maids or busboys or cooks, it’s all part of the experience we enjoy when we’re at a restaurant or a hotel.

Given our cushiony safety net, Americans just don’t want to do those jobs at the wages being offered — i.e. sub-minimum wage. Indeed, even if we abolished the safety net, Americans couldn’t legally do those jobs at those wages, because of the minimum wage. To fix this, we would have to abolish the minimum wage.

As long as we have the safety net and the minimum wage, Americans will not want to work for the wages offered illegal immigrants — and legally could not do so even if they wanted to. So my solution to our immigration problem would be, not “immigration reform,” but economic reform. I would implement fundamental structural changes to our economy, such as abolishing the minimum wage and the welfare state. Soon enough, the jobs currently being filled by illegals would be filled by Americans. Illegal immigration would not appear so necessary to our economy, and perhaps we could muster the political will to enforce our immigration laws.

Of course, this solution is politically impossible. Steps far short of this (such as keeping the minimum wage low, or reducing welfare benefits) are routinely decried as heartless and cruel. As we loudly denounce such solutions, we try not to think about the hard truth that our welfare state creates a black market for unskilled jobs to be filled by people earning low wages. By maintaining the status quo, we simply allow that demand to be filled by illegal immigrants — and we ignore the fact that they manage to live and survive under conditions we denounce as quite unacceptable for American citizens.

So, most Americans seem content to let things stay the way they are. The message seems to be: let us keep our nanny welfare state, and we’ll overlook the illegals. As long as they do the shit jobs and don’t ask for too much money, it’s fine with us.

Not true, you say. Polls show that Americans are still opposed to illegal immigration. Ah — but try suggesting actually doing something about it, and people get uncomfortable all of a sudden. Militarize the border? Build a fence? Get serious about deporting huge numbers of people? Uh-uh. We’re not really serious about deporting illegals. We’re not willing to devote the resources it takes to kick them out and keep them out.

Perhaps we would be if we started to truly understand the huge hidden costs of illegal immigration. To take one example, illegals who receive all their medical care in the emergency room create a tremendous strain on local health care systems, and cause a tremendous drain of funds from local governments. But people aren’t thinking about this as they buy their lettuce oh-so-cheap at the grocery store.

Someone once said that government breaks your legs, gives you crutches, and you say “thanks for the free crutches!” Illegal immigration is like that. Just like government programs, people think about the benefits, and don’t analyze the hidden costs.

So if we’re going to keep our welfare state, our minimum wage, and our cheap produce, what should be done about the millions of illegals who keep our food costs low and our child care cheap? I don’t know — I offered you my solution and you rejected it. But I can tell you what won’t work.

We can’t just deport them all, like the conservatives want to do — at least without implementing the economic reforms I suggested (which will never happen). Politically, it won’t wash. And this makes some sense for reasons of compassion, as well as those having to do with Americans’ economic self-interest. After all, if you lived in Mexico, and had a family, and could make your life better in America — wouldn’t you do just what the illegals are doing? It’s hard to mount widespread support to target people whose actions are so understandable.

We obviously can’t just legalize them, like the liberals want to do. Because then they will be Americans. And didn’t you hear what I just got through saying about Americans? They apparently consider themselves too good to pick fruit, and also too good to work for less than minimum wage. So if we legalize the illegals, then once again, there will be an economic need for people who are willing to do the unskilled jobs for a pittance. And the cycle will continue. It happened after the 1986 amnesty, and it will happen again.

I don’t think the Bush plan is the right fix either. The primary reason is that there is no indication that enforcement will be stepped up in any noticeable way. Despite some lip service paid to the concept of harsher enforcement, I don’t sense that the proposal has teeth. Employers who now benefit from paying wages below minimum wage will continue to do so. And illegals who believe that they benefit from their illegal status will stay.

For proof, look no further than this story in the Washington Post:

But when their visas expired, many of the immigrants would be required to go home. Several analysts said that immigrants who had lived in this country for years would be unlikely to simply leave and that some might avoid the program altogether.

“Why should they show up, pay the fees that will be required of them, go through all the process . . . so, what, they can be thrown out of the country in six years?” asked Demetrios Papademetriou, co-director of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.

If you’re an illegal here, you have a choice: six years of not having to worry about deportation, in return for 1) paying taxes, and 2) knowing the government now knows who you are and where you live — and will expect you to leave in six years. Not everyone will take that deal; for them, there is no change. Contrary to the opinion of Mr. Papademetriou, I think some people will take that deal, so they can stop looking over their shoulders for la migra for six years. But when the six years is up, what will happen then?

Well, without stepped-up enforcement, the answer is nothing. The employers who hire illegals now will continue to do so, whether they take advantage of this program or not. And the workers aren’t just going to go home. Once the six years is up, would we really chase down the people who received a temporary legal status under this program? I doubt it. As I said, we lack the will.

So I just don’t see how this proposal will change anything. If you disagree, let me know why.

P.S. Sorry for the length of this post. To paraphrase something Mark Twain didn’t say but Blaise Pascal did, I didn’t have time to write a shorter post.


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