The immigration proposal
Lots of blog comment debate the last few days on the proposal. Here, in no particular order, are some of my contributions:
From Political Animal:
I think the guest worker proposal as outlined by the media is overly rigid, insufficiently generous, and places little or no emphasis on assimilation (guest workers, for instance, will not be eligible to apply for green cards). Still, it at least begins to chip away at the unworkable policy — the de facto prohibition of non-familial Latino immigration — that fuels the growth in the country’s illegal population.
For what it’s worth, I think the guest worker program and the movement toward a merit-based points system is where the real action is on this bill. The amnesty part — while something I favor for humanitarian reasons — really won’t have that much of an impact either way. I mean, those 12-20 million people are already residents of the United States. They’re already in the workforce. They’re already paying taxes. They’re already parenting American kids who go to American schools. Amnesty will make their lives easier, but the country won’t change very much as a result. But it would be a major change to get control of our borders and sharply reduce the annual inflow of illegal aliens, and to accomplish this I’m utterly convinced that some legal means of permitting Latinos to immigrate will be required.
With respect to the issue of enforcement, all I can say is if we can substantially reduce the number of Mexicans and other Latin Americans trying to sneak into the US — by no longer forcing them to do so because of the existence of a legal method of immigrating — we’re only going to reduce the size of the task facing our border control forces. An army whose enemy has been greatly reduced in size is a stronger, more effective army.
From Matthew Yglesias:
A standard “restrictionist” view is that the “crackdown” should yield results (a 60% drop in illegal immigration? 80%? 99%?) and then we’ll get around to doing constructive things like amnesty, or increases in legal immigration.
Their stance is akin to somebody saying in 1928: “Ok, let’s see if the crackdown by the booze police results in closing all the speakeasies and a 90% drop in alcohol consumption, and then we’ll get around to ending prohibition.”
Sorry, ain’t gonna work. Prohibition — in those days alcohol and in current times non-familial Latino immigration — is the problem. And the solution — a regulated legalization — is the same in both cases. This country — and its economy — are huge. We could easily absorb, say, 800,000 Latin American economic migrants a year. Just hand out some freakin’ green cards, and make the penalties for going outside the system severe. End of problem.
Off the top of my head I suspect we’re spending three or four times in real terms what we were twenty years ago on immigration enforcement. Well-publicized, widely reported workplace raids are a common enough feature in the headlines. We’ve doubled or trebled the number of people working our southern border, and beefed up security and screening resources at airports. Should we do a lot more? Maybe so. But the resources we do spend would yield much more satisfactory results if we reduced the size of the problem by coming at once to the conclusion we are inevitably going someday to reach: an open, free, capitalist democracy sharing a two thousand mile border with a poor country can only manage, not prohibit, immmigration-induced demographic change.
The reality is we can handle a certain amount of economic migration from south of the border. In fact we’re doing so currently, to the tune of 400k-500k annually. And know what? Streets still manage to get swept. And taxes get collected. And the mail gets delivered. And the dry cleaner doesn’t lose my shirts. And people get married, and divorced, and the sun comes up in the morning and sets in the evening. I just don’t perceive the crisis others seem to. I’m certainly not arguing for unlimited economic migration from Latin America. I’m just arguing that our current policy — which basically prohibits it outright — isn’t, well, practical. Nor is it moral.
On population growth and its relationship to immigration, again from Matthew Yglesias’s blog:
Birthrates are tumbling all over the developing world, and the growth of the planet’s human population is slowing dramatically. I’ve seen projections pointing to a shrinking population for Mexico starting about the year 2025. Indeed, although the raw numbers look huge to the uneducated eye, America’s own net rate of immigration — and that includes the inflow of illegals — is barely a third of what it was circa 1900. And this, of course, is set against the backdrop of a country whose birthrate is a fraction of what it was a century ago. The big picture story here is that the rate of population growth in the Untied States — even given the boost created by immigration — continues its long decline. I think that’s largely beneficial, but I don’t think it’s necessary to ratchet it down even further by a “crackdown” on a phenomenon that has helped make the United States the richest and most powerful nation on earth.
In 2006 the US likely received (if illegals are counted) something like 1.5 million immigrants, net, out of a population of 300 million, yielding an immigration rate of .5 %. In 1900 the United States received about 1 million immigrants, net, with a population of 74 million. That’s an immigration rate of about 1.4% — or a rate very nearly three times that of our current era. While it is true that the foreign born population of the United States has increased substantially in recent years as a percentage of the population, this is because America’s natural population growth is slowing down. It is certainly not the result of a sharply higher rate of immigration than that earlier era; as I have just shown, our immigration rate today is much lower than during the Ellis Island era. I would argue that the slowdown in natural population growth helps, not hinders, the ability of the United States to absorb immigration, because it tamps down overall population growth. Indeed, it this slowdown in the country’s natural rate of increase (and the slowdown in the natural growth of the labor force) that makes a steady supply of immigrants all the more desirable, and needed. Were American families as large now as they were in 1900, I might well join the ranks of the restrictionists. They’re not, so I haven’t