Sunday, April 11, 2010

Explaining the Immigration Divide. (Part II)

In our previous post we explored the philosophical divide between immigration liberalizers and restrictionists. Because no side has a clear majority, this divide has resulted in a dreadful gridlock in which neither side is able to push through reforms to fix a broken immigration system. The end result is that millions of individuals are stranded in a bureaucratic limbo in which the prospects for resolution, either through a normalization of their status or through deportation, remain unlikely. And even proposals that the majority of Americans consider reasonable are resisted, because each side views them as concessions that would erode their position and allow their opponents to push through even bolder measures. For example, most restrictionists oppose measures like the Dream Act that would expand access to higher education to the many undocumented young adults, most of whom spent the majority of their lives in the United States. This is clearly an unreasonable position, because education greatly increases the economic and social contributions of residents, regardless of their status. And liberalizers have vehemently protested against measures that would grant local police departments the power to check the immigration status of serious criminals. This is also an unreasonable position, because gang bangers and dangerous felons wreck the most havoc in their own communities.

Given the fact that neither side has sufficient power to push through their version of reform, the only way to end the deadlock is for both sides to cooperate to craft comprehensive reform. To do so we need to look at the roots of restrictionist opposition to amnesty. Surprisingly, most restrictionists agree with liberalizers: we logistically cannot and ethically should not deport 12,000,000 undocumented immigrants. Most restrictionists would be willing to work together with liberalizers to legislate a viable path to citizenship, IF they could be ensured that this would be the last and final amnesty. But, given the debacle of the 1986 Amnesty, most understandably do not trust politicians who promise that an amnesty would be followed by comprehensive enforcement. Given the 400% increase in undocumented immigration since then, they assume that an amnesty not accompanied by strong enforcement will encourage an increase in law breaking. And given the track record of ethno-political activists, we can assume that they would continue to protest the enforcement of laws, even after the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform.

Clearly the only way to have restrictionists work together with liberalizers to normalize the status of today's undocumented immigrants would be to include post-amnesty measures the would cut off future undocumented immigration. So, the essential question is how can this be achieved within a democratic framework? Immigration liberalizers are either woefully ignorant or completely disingenuous when they state that that the only options are non-enforcement or a police state that will round up and deport millions of residents. Economists will tell you that the surest way to reduce the occurrence of a behavior is to eliminate the economic incentives that encourage that behavior. This means we would have to enact policies that would disable the magnets that draw millions of undocumented immigrants to the United States.

The first and most powerful magnet is employment. Rather than waste billions of dollars harassing undocumented immigrants, the simple solution is to reduce the incentives of businesses to hire them. This can be achieved by imposing heavy fines on businesses that violate employment laws. In the name of fairness and economic logic, after paying the fine, businesses could be offered the option to sponsor their worker(s) if they were able to demonstrate that there truly were no legal residents willing and able to fill the position(s). And through E-Verify, a worker's status could be quickly and cost effectively determined.

The second magnet is automatic birth right citizenship via a wilful misrepresentation of the 14th Amendment. The chance of dramatically raising the living standards of your children via automatic citizenship just by being born in the United States provides a huge incentive for millions of individuals to cross the border. For this reason, a myriad of nations have eliminated (or never implemented) automatic birthright citizenship. Among them we find democratic, modern nations like: Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom..

By eliminating birthright citizenship, a third magnet would be eliminated: access to the welfare state. Contrary to right wing rhetoric, undocumented immigrants do not directly receive welfare benefits, however their native born children do at the cost of billions of dollars to tax payers.

In addition, laws could be passed that would provide incentives for other nations to discourage the unlawful immigration of their own citizens. Contrary to the rhetoric of some right wing zealots, civilized nations do provide medical care and education to all individuals regardless of their immigration status. However, civilized nations should not be responsible for the cost of those services. So, we can and should bill other governments for the cost of providing them to their citizens. Since the cost of health care and education in the United States is astronomically high, the political elites of other nations would be discouraged from outsourcing this responsibility to the United States and may be encouraged (or pressured) to provide better services for their own citizens.

Both sides must recognize that alone that cannot achieve comprehensive immigration reform. Paradoxically, in order to achieve their most cherished goals, they must support each other and swallow the "bitter bill" of policies that they fundamentally oppose. I believe that most Americans are humane and all but the most zealous restrictionists would be open to providing a viable path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants as long as they were certain that this would be the last and final amnesty. To lead millions of good and hard working families out of the shadows is a humane and intelligent act, but to allow those shadows to be perennially filled is a sheer act of folly. The only question is if ethno-political activists would be willing to accept the necessity of a systematic enforcement of the law in order to achieve amnesty that their constituents and our nation so badly needs.

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