The political debate over illegal immigration has been a roller coaster ride for the last 16 months or so. Back in May of last year, 6 months before the election, we had all those immigrant marches around the country. There was a lot of talk about the issue but with the upcoming elections, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats were eager to tackle such a sensitive issue. The whole issue was pretty much ignored during the election cycle and during the first few months of 2007. But now, in the last month or two, the immigration debate has reignited.
Its ultimate outcome is anyone's guess. There are divided interests in both parties. On one hand, the Democrats are hoping to turn the illegal aliens (predominantly Hispanics that traditionally vote Democratic) into future constituents; they also like to toot the "compassion" angle. On the other hand, Democrats have to answer to their Union base that are are overwhelmingly opposed to illegal aliens taking their coveted jobs. On the Republican side, there is an interest to pander to small business owners that benefit from the low wages that illegal aliens demand. On the other hand, Republicans also have to answer to their "law and order" base that are overwhelming opposed to rewarding illegal aliens that have broken our laws.
Given these conflicting interests on both sides, it's hard to imagine how anything will actually get done. And if something gets done, I suspect there will be political hell to pay in the next election for both
But when discussing the issue of illegal immigration, we need to confront some realities:
- We must secure the border. Everybody says it but nobody does anything. But the reality is that the first thing that must be done is secure the border. We can't make any meaningful or fair changes to our immigration policies as long as our border is so easily breached. We can talk about building a wall, we can talk about deploying more Border Patrol agents, we can talk about confining illegal immigrants for some amount of time before returning them to their countries so that there's some real penalty for trying to cross illegally. But at the end of the day, we must have a secure border. And that must come before any other changes are considered. It should also be non-negotiable and not subject to discussion. We can debate how we will secure the border, but the question of whether or not it should be secured must simply be answered: "Yes, it must be secured."
- We can't deport 20 million people. We have to recognize the fact that it's logistically impossible to deport 20 million people. We do not have the manpower to find them all, spending that money would be prohibitively expensive, and our economy literally couldn't survive the all-at-once loss of about 7% of the current population. If we decide we're not going to grant the illegal aliens any legal status, the only way to get rid of them is through attrition: Make sure no more can come and make sure it's impossible for those that are here to get jobs or collect benefits. That way they'll go home all by themselves. But it is not reasonable to suggest that we implement some kind of enforcement action with the intention of finding and deporting 7% of the U.S. population.
- Amnesty is unfair to potential legal immigrants. It is not fair to grant legal status to those that came illegally when there are millions of people that have been waiting in line to go through the immigration process legally. Legal immigration is a time-consuming process where applicants often have to wait years before they are issued a visa. To simply grant amnesty to millions of people who didn't follow the law is a slap in the face and an insult to the millions of people who have been following the law. We cannot consider ourselves a nation of laws when we grant preferential treatment to those who have broken the law while giving lesser treatment to those that have followed the law. It's a logical impossibility.
- Breaking the law must not be rewarded. It seems obvious that we should punish, not reward, those that have broken the law. As such, any legislation which gives illegal aliens any kind of legal recognition should be considered unacceptable on its face.
- They will continue to come as long as there is an incentive to do so. Despite what some radical anti-immigrant activists will say, most illegal immigrants do not come to collect benefits or to commit crime. They come because they can earn approximately 8-10 times as much as they can south of the border. That does not mean it's ok for them to break our laws, but it does explain why they come. They come to work. Even if we better defend our border, as long as there is an incentive for these people to come, they will find a way. Perhaps in smaller numbers, but they will continue to come. The only way to stop this from happening is to remove the incentive for them to come: The jobs.
Given these realities, it seems that the most logical approach to dealing with the current illegal immigration problem is:
- Secure the border. As said above, this must be the first step of any immigration reform. We must make sure that our border is secure and that only those that we authorize to come in actually come in. A fence will not stop illegal immigration, but it will definitely help reduce it and allow the Border Patrol to be more efficient in dealing with those that make it past the fence since they logically will come in smaller numbers. I would suggest a three-layer fence system where two outer fences enclose a single electrical fence that will provide a substantial (but non-lethal) shock to those that touch it and simultaneously notify the closest Border Patrol station to dispatch agents to apprehend the intruders. The double fence will ensure that animals are not shocked and will also ensure that people are not shocked unless they are already trying to circumvent the outer fence. If the impact on local wildlife migration is a problem, the fence could be broken up at regular intervals (every few miles, perhaps) with manned Border Patrol towers that would monitor the area where the fence is open; thus animals would be allowed to migrate but the immediate presence of Border Patrol agents manning the location 24/7 would ensure that the opened area of the fence would not be utilized by illegal aliens.
- Punishment for illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants that are caught are generally just sent back to their country of origin where they are free to try re-entering the U.S. There is essentially no punishment or risk other than having to repeat their re-entry attempt. There should be a mandatory confinement period for illegal immigrants that are detained before they are returned to their country. Perhaps 3 months for a first offense, 18 months for a second offense, and 36 months for a third offense. These people should be housed in our prisoners--rather, immigration confinement camps should be established along the southern border. Rather than highly secure and expensive detainment areas, these would simply be securely fenced areas with simple wooden living structures; essentially simple POW camps. Once operational, the operating costs would not be very high but large numbers of illegals could be detained there. Additionally, the detained immigrants themselves could be used to construct additional on-site housing for additional immigrants that are brought in. There would be an initially large number of detainees, but as potential illegals realized we were seriously and that there was some real risk to making an effort to cross illegally, the number of detainees would presumably decline after an initial increase.
- Institute effective employment authorization checks. All employees should be required to check the documents of a potential employee using a federal database that would combine information from the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The employer would collect necessary information from the potential employee. The exact requirements would obviously be determined later, but they should at the very least include the name, social security number, A# (in the case of resident aliens), and birthdate. This information would be entered into the online federal website and the website would then indicate whether or not the person was authorized to work. Alternatively, the system could simply acknowledge reception of the data and, if the data was in some way suspect, the government would dispatch immigration officers to personally check the paperwork and/or detain the employee in question. As long as the employer entered the information into the federal website, the employer would be absolved of responsibility. If, however, an illegal alien was found in an employer's workforce and the employer hadn't submitted the information to the federal website, the employer would be hit with extremely punitive fines.
- Same check for benefits. The same checks that are described above for authorizing employment should be implemented for authorizing benefits of any kind. Children should not be enrolled in school without validating their situation and that of their parents. The only service that should be provided without an authorization check is emergency medical care; however, their situation should be validated once the emergency has passed and, if they are determined to be illegal, they should be turned over to immigration officials once they are healthy enough to be released.
If all of the above are instituted, illegal immigration would quickly decrease--as would the population of illegal immigrants that remain in the country. The new employment checks would make it very difficult for illegal aliens to find work so the vast majority would leave in search of work back home--poorly paid work is better than no work at all. The implementation of detainment time for illegal aliens that are caught would mean there'd be some real risk to attempting to enter the country illegally. The fence would also make it more difficult to enter the country and easier to catch those that somehow circumvent the fence. But the solution would work: Fewer people would attempt to enter the country illegally and most of those that are here already would leave when there was no way to make a living.
Of course, despite how reasonable and rational it is, this solution would not be approved by those that favor amnesty. But the purpose of our laws and our government is (or should be) to protect citizens and legal aliens, not to pander to illegal aliens that have flouted our laws and have no right to be here to start with.
Citizens should, however, recognize that there will
be a cost involved in reducing the presence of illegal aliens. The argument that "they drive wages down" is true, but that same argument also means that their presence drives prices
down for those of us that purchase the goods they produce. Whether it be construction, agriculture, or minimum wage jobs at McDonald's, we must be prepared for the absolutely predictable consequence that getting rid of 20 million low-wage laborers will increase
the costs in those industries and that those increased costs will be passed on to the rest of us.
The fact remains that even with these tens of millions of illegal aliens, the U.S. is currently operating at better
than "full employment." As of May 2007, the U.S. unemployment rate is 4.5%
. That represents approximately 7 million unemployed persons. Considering there are approximately 7.2 million illegal workers
, that tells us that our economy currently requires more workers than we have (legal ones anyway). And since "full employment" is defined as 5% unemployment and not 0%, in reality, our economy currently does
need those 7 million workers.
Further, eliminating those workers from our economy will most likely cause a temporary decrease in our GDP. You can't eliminate 7% of our population overnight (or even in a year or two) and not expect a serious impact on our economy. Not only that, if we have 7% fewer people to house, it would be logical to expect demand in the housing industry to decrease substantially. Even with the 300 million people that are currently in our country, we apparently have an oversupply of homes. If you reduce our population by 20 million illegal aliens, I would expect a major crash in the housing market that makes the current slowdown look like child's play.
Despite all this, we need to implement the immigration reforms I described above. Yes, it will hurt our economy and the housing market, but we must
be a nation of laws and we cannot
reward those that have broken our laws. We should expect our implementation of these laws to hurt our GDP and almost definitely hit our housing market, but both impacts will be temporary and are a necessary consequence of our complete neglect of our nation's borders and immigration laws for decades.
Will either political party do what needs to be done on this issue? It sure seems improbable.