by Isaac Kight
Millions of illegal immigrants reside in the United States. They contribute to the economy, but also drain our social and criminal justice resources. What can be done to resolve this problem? What are the dangers of reform? What are the true causes of the problem?
Estimates for the number of illegal immigrants in the United States range from the more scientific 11 to 12 million to more outlandish and unlikely 30 million. Bear Sterns estimated that the number was closer to 15 million and perhaps as high as 20 million based upon the amount of money returning to Mexico and Latin America from the United States. I am going to go with the Bear Stearns number of 15 million because it is the highest scientific estimate that has been produced and thus serves as a conservative estimate. With the economic slowdown in the US a number of illegals have returned to Mexico and Latin America; which makes higher numbers all the less plausible.
Several numbers are often excluded in the discussion of illegal immigration. In 2009 the GAO (Government Accountability Office) held that there were over 14 million legal non-citizen residents (that is, Green Card holders) in the United States. There are also some 12 million people who have applied for legal immigration to the United States, including large numbers from Mexico, Latin America, the Philippines, Europe, and East Asia who are expected to enter the country over the next decade. These numbers will help to serve the immigration needs for the country, as I will describe later. Legal immigrants are eager to leave their countries of origin, seek opportunities here in the US, and to build a life here; they are patiently waiting in line while others cut in line and sneak into the country illegally.
The number that is perhaps the most commonly ignored, is that some 60% of voters in the US oppose executive amnesty. The same 60% say border security is far more important than addressing the status of illegals. In another poll 55% of voters say they think stemming the flow of illegal aliens into the country should be the top priority of the government. When it comes to allowing a temporary status for illegals, like allowing them to hold a legal status as guest workers, 55% strongly or somewhat oppose this measure. Herein lies an opening for some compromise on the issue. If democracy is to prevail, if the voters are to be placated, then no general amnesty may be issued, nor may any more generous immigration policy be set.
Pros and Cons of Illegal Immigration
Illegal immigrants often enter the US to work and send money back to their families in their home countries. Their motivations in coming here are often of a temporary nature. While they are here, a considerable number partake of our country’s generous social welfare system. The fact is, even below the poverty line, life is better in the United States then it is for them in their home countries. Some bring their families here with an intent to remain, but I would venture to say that most would prefer to work here and eventually return to their countries of origin. The children of illegals attend US public schools and consume public services. While illegals themselves do not pay federal income taxes they help to create profits and wealth that are taxable and they certainly do contribute to local sales taxes and property taxes (the latter through the payment of rents).
The pros of such immigration are that they fulfill agricultural labour and other unskilled labour needs. The reduced labour costs are passed on to the consumer through the lower cost of food products. Illegals do not just work in the agricultural sector, however. When they expand into construction and other labour markets, they both depress wages and create the opportunity for unsafe workplaces. Employers know that legal Americans have access to a variety of protections from various government agencies, but illegals are often unwilling to approach these agencies for fear of arrest. Thus, in these other fields, illegals actually displace domestic Americans who could be working, depress wages, and reduce workplace safety.
There are many great cons as well, for one crime rates among illegals are high. Even if they do only commit crimes at the same levels as poor domestic Americans, they are in the country illegally; they should not be within our borders in the first place. These crimes include violent crimes, rapes, and murders, and especially drug offenses. An estimated 39% of the Federal prison population in 2013 was made up of illegals. Americans should not have to tolerate this. We are incarcerating, including all of the costs thereof, foreign citizens who have come to the United States illegally and have committed serious crimes here. What is more, deporting those who commit crimes here is almost a futile effort since they will simply sneak back into the country and continue their criminal behavior. The human cost is also intolerable: people are dying in the desert trying to enter the United States illegally.
A reform is thus a necessary step to securing the border, reducing crime in the United States, ensuring national security, and addressing the labour needs of the market. That does not mean that any immigration reform will achieve these ends. There have been any number of dangerous proposals that would do more harm than good to the country.
Fundamental Truths of Immigration Reform
Before discussing a possible reform, there are a few things that need to be said. No immigration reform can be approved or implemented during the current President’s term of office. Period. President Obama has proven willing to go outside the law and the Constitution to promote his interests and those of the far left. Approving even the most reasonable reform would only provide him with an opportunity to push the reform beyond its legal boundaries. A reform along the lines that conservatives would support would likely meet the veto pen anyway.
The Republican Party holds a long-term majority in the House and a decent majority in the Senate. Any reform to be had is going to require the support of not only mainstream Republicans, but also conservatives. Given the current political environment and the current administration, it would be best for the Republican Congress to discuss these ideas, study them, propose bills and start the process of drafting a reform; to not to pass one. Thankfully, incoming Speaker to be Paul Ryan has promised that there will be no immigration reform during the current presidential term.
In 2017 a reform may be put up for consideration, should the GOP take the White House. While many in Washington want to proceed with an omnibus reform that would then absolve the legislature of direct responsibility, this would not be the best approach. The matter is complex with many factors, variables, and layers. How can these all be accounted for in a single large reform? Did anyone actually learn anything from the Affordable Care Act (ACA – Obamacare) debacle? Senator Marco Rubio and the “Gang of Eight” proposed an unelected council to oversee the reform after its enactment, to govern its implementation. While a joint congressional committee should oversee the reform process, an unelected council is likewise not the wisest approach. Congress must retain tight and careful control over the implementation of any immigration reform.
Former HP CEO and National Cyber Security Expert Carly Fiorina, has called for a series of immigration bills to be considered individually and over time. Her approach allows for adjustment as the reform is implemented. If one area of the reform’s enactment, such as increased border security for example, should fall short, the remainder of the reform can be withheld until that failure is addressed. One thing is certainly clear: the matter must not be left entirely in the hands of the nation’s executive. Presidents have, of late, proven too easily influenced by those whose passion for outright amnesty and deep pockets no sitting President, who wants to remain as such, can ignore. Congress, and the House GOP caucus, must retain hold of the reigns and make certain that the voter’s concerns are addressed above all else.
Causes of Illegal Immigration
It is always amusing to me how in politics, as in the rest of our lives, we prefer to address the symptoms rather than the illness itself. How many people, when they find themselves down with a cold, take medicine to treat their runny nose so they can get on with their day rather than take the time to rest and eat hearty and nutritious foods, which would help their immune system destroy the infection itself?
When it comes to illegal immigration, like many other issues, no single casus belli immediately comes to mind; is a symptom of several causes. There has been a decline in domestic birthrates, an emphasis for domestic Americans on white collar work, a welfare system that subsidizes lethargy, and a general unwillingness of the US government either to enforce the immigration laws presently on the books or reform the laws to reflect the changing needs of the economy.
Since the end of the post World War II baby boom, American birthrates have plummeted, falling to today’s 1.9 annual births per 1,000 women, according to the World Bank. A birthrate of 2.1 is considered replacement, that is, the birthrate at which a population should remain about the same. There has been a recent increase in birthrates and the trends are rising, but this has only been since 2013. Unfortunately, about 40% of Americans are born to single parent families which are statistically more likely to live in poverty and generate lower educational performance and a higher rate of criminality. These children are also more likely to live in poverty as adults. There have been about 55 million abortions in the United States since 1973 and this does not even account for the use of contraception. These have contributed to an aging population and a shrinking workforce.
Declining birthrates mean fewer people, fewer people means less consumption, lower productivity, and slower economic growth. It should come as no surprise then, that our economy has been sluggish of late. This problem is not unique to the United States. Many European countries have experienced the same phenomenon. Today, they are also experienced sluggish economic growth and a high demand for unskilled immigrant labour to fill the needs of the economy. Germany and Japan did not experience post war baby booms and are now experiencing even greater problems as a result.
The overall demographic situation has been exacerbated by cultural and political factors as well. In the last several decades we have promoted the idea that everyone should have a college degree, work in an office, and live in the suburbs. The fact is, only so many people can go to college because only so many jobs require educated people. Americans used to value the simple life of hard work and family. Today, those who work for a living are ridiculed.
Employers can require college degrees for jobs that should not require such education. Even so, there are some 6 million more Americans with a college education then there are jobs that require it. Meanwhile, our country’s businesses are desperate for truck drivers, welders, diesel mechanics, oil workers, machinists, and other skilled labour positions. Millennials, those Americans born since 1980, have been raised to eschew such work as beneath them. This is to say nothing of our country’s need for essentially unskilled or low skilled workers in construction, manufacturing, and agriculture.
The welfare system only exacerbates this problem. Many young Americans today are living off of government programmes instead of seeking the skilled or unskilled labour positions that would be much more lucrative and offer them greater opportunities. About 1/3rd of Millennials live at home, many of these and many more still, work in low wage jobs in the service industry. They are unable to advance beyond this because of a culture that deemphasizes work and because of government policies that stifle economic growth. This is the generation that has to bear the burden of Social Security, Medicare, and ACA. How can they carry these burdens working low wage jobs, living off of welfare, or living off of their parents; parents who will need to take advantage of the services their children’s tax dollars are supposed to subsidize?
Finally, there is the question of immigration policy. There has been a need for a greater number of unskilled labourers in the United States and for immigration to supplement the lack of population growth. Yet, our policy makers have refused to acknowledge this and change the laws accordingly. The Federal government neither enforces the immigration laws nor secures the border. The fact is, every illegal alien who in the US is here because they have been allowed to enter through indifference. It is also worthy of note, that the old braceros programme was quite successful at providing agricultural labour but was ended because organized labour did not want to compete with this cheaper labour source. An ill-considered policy choice with broad and far-reaching consequences.
Shaping a Reform
This issue is a challenge for conservatives. It is difficult to maneuvre on this subject in the current political environment. GOP voters are furious at the failure to secure the border. The media is eager to enforce political correctness on the party that prevents any meaningful discussion (that is until Donald Trump broke the PC barrier) of the issue. This is all curious given that even left leaning pollsters suggest that voters strongly oppose amnesty (see polls cited above).
The greatest matter of concern, however, is that any reform might end up working to the benefit of the political opposition. It is no secret that Latinos in the US tend to vote for the Democrat Party. Democrats are eager to see illegals made citizens because they feel it will give them a supreme advantage at elections. TheDemocrats need some kind of a magic wand, their party is in dire straights indeed, especially at the state level. There is also very little likelihood that the Democrats will break the GOP stranglehold on the House of Representatives any time soon unless they have in influx of voters.
Like many immigrant demographics, Latinos upon entering the country, have been the subject of Democrat Party outreach. Italians and Irish, Catholics, Jews, and many other demographics have historically gone to this party. Today, however, devout Catholics are more likely to vote Republican, Italian and Irish Americans vote like the majority of Americans vote. African-Americans were once a solid constituency of the GOP and moved left with the Great Society programmes of Lyndon Johnson. Constituencies change over time.Is there a possibility that in the future Latinos may become a GOP constituency or meld with the American voting majority? Possibly, in the meantime, an influx of poor, uneducated, and Democrat leaning voters now would be a disaster for the Republican Party, for conservatism, and for America.
The argument that somehow the GOP is going to garner votes by passing immigration reform is specious to say the least. The GOP base is very much against an outright amnesty to citizenship. Even offering many illegals a permanent resident status (that is as Green Card holders) is difficult to swallow. The much derided Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986, signed by then President Ronald Reagan, applied to only about 3 million illegal immigrants, about half of whom were given a permanent status and the remainder a temporary status. Since the overwhelming majority of voters oppose amnesty, the GOP can only stand to lose if it renders its consent to a generous amnesty. GOP political leaders should stand firm on behalf of voters in the face of the onslaught from the country’s media and leftist elites. This will bear much greater political fruit in the future.
The Republican Party voting base already includes a significant minority of Latinos who, as with other GOP voters, are against amnesty. Nor are Latinos who vote Democrat any more likely to change their votes if a reform is passed. Many of these otherwise Democrat voters do not support an outright amnesty, and would be more open to the GOP in the long run if such an amnesty is not approved. Thus, passing a generous reform would only alienate the GOP base and the very Latino votes the GOP desires. A complete lose – lose for the Republican Party and conservatism.
Meanwhile, the Democrats and the media will make full advantage of GOP infighting and inaction on the subject to cast Republicans as racists. The Democrats have been afraid to pass any reform themselves, knowing that it would be unpopular and would cost them at elections. The Democrats held a filibuster-proof majority of the Senate and a solid majority in the House in 2009 and made no effort to pass immigration reform. Yet, they will never stop deriding the GOP until Republicans cut their own throats by passing the very reform the Democrats will not take up themselves. The one-two punch of convincing the GOP to pass a reform that would be unpopular with voters, and most of all with GOP voters, and would work to the general benefit of the Democrat Party, would be a significant blow to say the least.
The GOP does have something to gain from a good reform, however. Decreased crime, greater prosperity, and a growing economy will generally benefit the GOP in the future. With these goals in mind, a reform can be pursued in the first term of the next Presidency, should a GOP candidate win the election. Any reform should be constructed to accomplish the following:
1. The border must be secured against illegal entry, human trafficking, and drug smuggling.
2. A guest worker programme should be establish to answer labour needs, especially in the agricultural sector.
3. Those who are in the United States illegally at the present time should be permitted to seek a legal status that, as with the guest worker programme, is temporary in nature. This temporary status should be back dated to the date of entry, to eliminate the “anchor baby” concern.
4. Legal immigration should be increased to answer needs for skilled and unskilled labour through selective immigration policies.
5. Other reforms need to be made to the welfare system and the economy to promote work among domestic Americans.
Many ideas have been advanced to address item 1 and I will not expound upon them here. It can be done and until it has been done other aspects of the reform will ultimately fail. If the war on drugs were ended and a means found to make the substances legal in some form, perhaps by allowing the pharmaceutical industry to put them to positive use, it would certainly help to reduce the demand, as would welfare reform.
Several proposals for guest worker programmes have been advanced and there are many excellent ideas out there. Those presently here illegally should be allowed to apply for this guest worker programme. They would need to pay a small fine and supply a DNA sample that will allow them to be cleared of any criminal activities. Thus, the criminal element will exclude themselves. Since work will be more readily available to legal guest workers, this criminal element will find it less profitable to remain here.
Under what circumstances might some illegals be allowed to become permanent residents? This is a question that does not have to be answered right away, in fact, it should be deliberately put off to the future. The success of the guest worker programme and border security efforts must be evaluated before this question can be taken up. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has in the past proposed that the bar for permanent status be set very high. Anyone who is to be allowed a permanent status must demonstrate the ability to speak English, pay back taxes (or a settlement for them), and must demonstrate gainful employment for a number of years. We cannot allow those who attempt to live off our generous welfare benefits to become part of our otherwise permanent dependency class. This class is too large among domestic Americans as it stands.
None of these illegals should be granted citizenship, and in fact, those permitted to remain in the US permanently, should be specifically excluded from applying for citizenship for a given number of years.
Anchor Babies and the 14th Amendment
The 14th Amendment sets forth the policy of jus soli, that is, those born within the jurisdiction of the United States are citizens. The goal of the Republican Congress in proposing, and the states in ratifying, this amendment in the wake of the American Civil War was to be certain that former slaves and their descendants could not be excluded from citizenship. This amendment does, however, make exception for those who are within the United States temporarily, as visitors. Guest workers and illegals can be established under just such a visitor status, and this status can be back dated to the day of their arrival. Under such a law, any children born with the United States to temporary or illegal residents can be excluded from citizenship. It is cruel to divide families, children should share the status of their parents. This law may be challenged in the courts, but the courts are unlikely to reverse it. Such a decision might open the door for the children of tourists to be eligible for US citizenship.
There is also the matter of a large number of youths recently brought to the US by the current administration. Their families seem to have been given the false impression that they might be allowed to immigrate to the US to join these children at some future time. No provision should be made for families of these children to enter the US. These children must be deported back to their country of origin and reunited with their families. It was inhumane to separate these children from their parents for a false hope in the first place. Those responsible for this migration should be charged with crimes against humanity.
General Economic Reforms
I have written on welfare reform before and will not detail possible reforms here. A generally pro-growth economic policy approach must be taken and the dependency class slowly encouraged to join the labour market. A greater emphasis and more funding should be allocated to skilled labour education. A greater cultural value must be placed on marriage and family as well. These are fairly standard planks of conservatism and are scientifically proven means of achieving success. Guest workers should be excluded from most social benefits. If they are here to work and are safely contributing to our society, access to emergency rooms and temporary food subsidies are not unreasonable. Permanent access to our many social benefits will not be an option.
Education policies should also be developed that assist Americans in obtaining the skills for which there is so great a demand for foreign born workers. The high tech industry constantly complains of a need for foreign workers to work in certain highly skilled positions. Fine, the government can allow more visas for these workers. The price? Silicon Valley is going to have to work with local colleges and universities or otherwise develop the resources themselves to educate domestic Americans to possess these desperately needed skills. Within a few years, such educational institutions should turn out at least two graduates for every foreign visa issued. The weakness of the American education system, while a fact, can no longer be used as an excuse to exclude Americans from the skilled workforce.
The left claims to be pro-immigration, but their interest is limited to the kinds of immigrants who make easy constituents for them: those who are likely to remain poor and to depend upon government programmes. There are, however, many people who have applied for legal immigration to the United States who do not fit into this category. Among these more respectful potential immigrants are entrepreneurs, skilled labourers, and those truly seeking an opportunity for personal betterment. We can expect this lot to be more successful in the US, to rely less on government services, and to be a general boon to the economy.
It would not be difficult to arrange to select immigrants based upon the likelihood of their contributing positively to the economy. That is, to bring those into the US who will provide, or preferably supplement, necessary skills or education that are lacking here. In East Asia, and Europe in particular, economic opportunities are weakening as economies stagnate and slow. There are a number of bright individuals there who can be brought to the United States to our benefit. Likewise, with India and several high tech nations.
The fact is, America’s education system is in a terrible state and our children often lack the education of foreign born individuals, especially in science and technical fields. Mitigating this problem will take time and effort. As I stated above, if industries like the tech industry demand skills that too few domestic Americans possess, then they need to provide a means to acquire them. They cannot simply rely upon the government to allow more immigration in this area. Domestic Americans, naturally, include legal immigrants and their children. By denying opportunities to our own, we also deny opportunities to those who have more recently joined us.
In general, we should be cautious not to create brain drain in the developing world. It would be beneficial for the US to allow more Africans to study here in the states and return to their home countries with the skills to assist in their development and growth, provided it is accompanied by policies that encourage economic growth to which those graduates may return. Sapping their intellectual power would unwisely slow growth, as these are important trade partners, and our future prosperity depends upon their future growth.
Unskilled labour is also a need. There are too few unskilled workers here in the US, which is among the causes of illegal immigration. Another challenge is that many of the people who might otherwise fulfill the need for unskilled labour live in places wherein no unskilled jobs are to be found. Policy adjustments should be made both to help employers relocate to places with an excess of potential unskilled labour, and to help those who might be employed as unskilled labourers to relocate to places where these positions are available.
Through the afore-proposed guest worker programme and, yes, through some increases in legal immigration it will be possible to answer the need reasonably. Naturally, such a policy must be done in concert with policies to reduce dependency in the US and encourage domestic Americans into the workforce. The policy can be designed such that enough unskilled labour will be present to answer the need, while leaving the market slightly starved, creating continuing opportunities for domestic Americans. Leaving the number of unskilled laborers slightly below the overall demand will also mitigate, to a small degree, the wage depressing effects of importing unskilled labour.
Our economy has a strong demand for labour. Even if a change in policy and culture were to drive almost all currently idle domestic Americans into the skilled and unskilled labour market, they still would not answer the total demand for labour, although they would certainly answer a greater part of it. Even the most vigorous effort to encourage domestic Americans into the workforce would still find many unwilling to participate. The full range of public policy should be employed to this end, however, to include relocation assistance if necessary, education assistance, and the like. The government can do more, through tax breaks and incentives as well as direct public spending, to help connect the private sector that has a high demand for labour with those who lack gainful employment. Nevertheless, for the time being, some immigration is going to be necessary to help fulfill these needs.
The selective immigration approach needs to be studied to be certain that immigration levels are designed both to meet the labour demand of the economy and to facilitate the maximum level of employment for domestic Americans. Care should be taken to consider the realities of the economic cycle and the tendency of markets to rise and fall, demand to ebb and flow, and to address the general dynamism of the overall economy. A carefully molded selective immigration policy would be the most felicitous to economic growth.
With higher birthrates, better education, incentivizing two-parent families, and promoting a more dynamic cultural focus on work of all kinds, within a decade or so fewer immigrants would be needed. This would allow us, through trade, general prosperity, and charity, to promote better living conditions and greater economic activity and opportunity in other countries. Bringing to those countries a higher standard of living while continuing to sustain and improve our own. America has already met with significant success in this area. Global poverty levels are at the lowest in human history in the greatest measure due to American capitalism and charity. Developing countries are our trade partners, the higher their standard of living and the greater their wealth, the more American goods and services they can consume.
In the end, our economic and immigration policies should benefit our own citizens before they benefit those from abroad. Every other country in the world operates this way, why should the Americans be made to feel any shame for doing precisely the same?
A Great Deal to Lose
The Republican Party and the conservative cause have a great deal to lose from a bad immigration reform. The issue must be approached with certain limits in mind. Conservatives must push beyond the language of political correctness and hold fast to the principals that define the movement. Slow and careful reform that maintains the sanctity of our borders and provides labour, but does not give away the farm is not unreasonable. The power brokers in Washington DC will do whatever they can to push a general amnesty. This we must staunchly oppose.