Cuddihy's Cut

Cuddihy's Cut on the events of the day....

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A rational solution to immigration

OK, I get tired of hearing the pundits of both sides argue about turning illegal immigrants into felons or about another amnesty that would encourage more law breaking.
First, a disclaimer: although I am a legal native-born American, my grandfather, Thomas Long, illegally entered the US from Canada after immigrating there from Ireland. He worked on the docks in NY as a longshoreman for several years until he saved enough money to go back to Ireland, immigrate legally, and then fought in WWII shortly after receiving his legalization status. I don't condone my ancestor for working here illegally, but he desperately wanted to be a real American, so he rectified the situation as soon as he had sufficient means to do so.

I would submit that there are several truths that both sides can agree on:

There's no practical possibility of deporting 11 million illegals, if the number really is that high. It's just not possible. Every single one of those people pretty much gets a hearing. As if the federal courts aren't clogged enough as it is, dumping an extra 11 million cases on their hands is just not feasible, especially as they would be heavily concentrated in the border districts. That doesn't mention the likely effect this would have on the economy, as the cheap labor is suddenly taken off the market. That fact alone would make the INS's job even more unworkable than it already is, with politicians from both sides screaming about specific enforcement efforts killing their constituents.

Encouraging future lawbreaking is not desirable. However, there has to be some answer to the current rampant lawlessness with regard to immigration laws. Any solution has to take into account not only the specific cause of current lawbreaking but the concerns of a labor market producing more jobs than native-born Americans can fill.

So what is the cause of current law breaking? As this graph from a study done at Mizzou shows, the numbers of immigrants coming into the United States peaked around 1900 at close to 1 million/year, then dropped sharply, and has only recently come back to that level. But how many of those are legal? In 2003, only 463,000 people were made legal residents of the United States. Less than half the number of people immigrating(Legally!) in 1890. Keep in mind that the US population in 1890 was somewhere between 62-65 million. In other words, legal immigration was 2-3% of the total population per year. I think most Americans today would agree that that worked out pretty well in the long run. In contrast, in 2003, there were somewhere around 278 million Americans, and yet we only allowed short of 500,000 to join us in the greatest nation on Earth. That's 0.001% of our population. What the hell is wrong with us? Are we really that scared that 88 million Mexicans are going to overwhelm us 280 million Americans? Have math skills decayed that badly?

What, is the cause of the lack of assilimation that plagues many Mexican immigrants, especially in California? Conservatives like to blame the problem on liberal multi-culteral philosophy that is entrenched in our education system. Perhaps that plays a role. But I would argue that the main cause is the fact that so many of our immigrants are here illegally, never given the opportunity to raise their right hand and swear allegiance to this country and our consitution, is the main factor. When did our society lose the concept that words are important, even to those who barely understand what they are speaking? Keeping a noticeable percentage of the population restricted to the barrio, where they can hide safely in their illegal identity, is NOT a solution, and only perpetuates a 'seperate' identity. Granting amnesty to those already enmired in the current proto-slavery of illegal immigration would only perpetuate the current seperation in that population.

I would challenge conservatives who say that the problem is 'not immigrants, but "illegal" immigrants,' to put their money where their mouth is and start calling for drastically increased LEGAL immigration. I mean where the only requirement to immigrate and obtain a green card, beyond health issues, should be the ability to show up at a US port of entry and not be on a terrorist watch list.

This one stroke would solve a LOT of immigration problems. Illegals already in Amercia would find themselves competing against legals with the same hard work ethic, but much better prospects, raising immigrant wages. Many would be forced to go back to a port of entry and enter legally, or go home altogether. The very act of reentering the United States at a port of entry will act to break the 'barrio' mindset of many of these immigrants. Ceremonies and words have important effects on the human psyche.

Couple increased legal immigration with slightly stronger enforcement, especially on the payroll tax side, and suddenly the agricultural and meatpacking industries that rely so heavily on illegal labor, would have little reason to continue to do so.

There is no need to condone past illegal behavior, but there are ways to discourage future illegal behavior without throwing our economy under the Homeland Security bus.

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