Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The Immigration Problem"

So with all the controversy surrounding the Arizona immigration law, I thought it was probably high time I said something on the subject. And so, without further ado-

I've noticed that some people seem to have this view that immigration is evil, no matter whether its legal or not. Their thinking is that America is for the Americans, whatever that means. Then we have people who think that "illegal" immigration should be stopped. Then there are still others who think that immigration is fine and all, but once people are here, they should "become American"- whatever weird "American" they're thinking of. Then there are people who are of the opinion we should just let anyone and everyone in, whether they are legal or no.

As for me- well, I'm not really sure. One thing I do know is that, if we completely stopped immigration, our economy would most likely either stagnate or implode completely as cheap labor ceased to come in. However, if we let too many in, we might see either not enough jobs to go around and unemployment would skyrocket, or more jobs being created as labor became cheaper as the workforce expanded.

One thing I do think is a given- the immigration system America currently has needs a lot of work. For one thing, its astronomically expensive. And if anybody can figure out how a Spanish-speaking Mexican national who lives on three bucks a day can get into a country that requires thousands of dollars and the completion of multiple forms (all in English) before they can even have a hope of eventually getting into America legally (within oh, ten years), then that person will officially become a genius in my eyes.

So for starters, it would help immensely if we cut down on how much it cost. Yes, yes, I know- "if they want it enough, they'll pay for it." With what money, pray tell? We expect them to go to the end of a rainbow and nicely ask the leprechaun for his pot of gold?

Now, for illegal immigration- yes, it is a problem. But when one has a problem, it oftentimes helps to trace the problem back to the source. Why is it a problem? If people feel the need to come here illegally, why? I think it can be traced back to some of the above factors, at least some of the illegal immigration. It's too expensive. They can't afford it. What do they have to lose if they try to just cross the border? Deportation? Won't be any worse than the hell-hole they're in at the moment. Length of the process. Once again. What do they have to lose if they try to cross the border immediately?

And so, it is easier to come across illegally.

Now, for those illegals who are motivated by the profits to be gained here- drug dealers, etc. Well, let's see. We've been fighting a "war on drugs" since 1971. Since 2009, we've also been sending money to Mexico to try to help them eradicate the drug problem. Let's see...1971, it's now been almost 40 years since we've started this "war on drugs"?

That means that, in 40 years, we've not only failed to eradicate drug abuse and drug dealers, but the problem has only escalated. In 2003, it was estimated that over 50% of high school seniors were abusing drugs. 20% of 8th graders had tried marijuana. In 2007, 8% of people over 12 had "used" illicit drugs. (This site has an excellent map of drug abuse stats, etc.) According to Wikipedia, in 2005, we had arrested more than 2 million people for drug use.

The "drug war" has failed. Its just wasting money. So stop. Remove the stigma from marijuana, and I do believe we'd see use fall. Yes, people would still use drugs. But it's their body. They can mess with it if they want. And if use fell, we'd see drug dealers trying to get in from Mexico cease trying to get in as much.

Next, obviously our "wall" at the border hasn't managed to keep anything out. As Gary Johnson said- "A 10-foot wall [just] requires an 11-foot ladder." Or, in the case of some of the drug dealers, it just requires a truck with some handy hiding places, and not so much luck as you'd think. Some of the border patrol officers seem more inclined to harass a middle-aged man with his white wife and three teenage children (have a friend that happened to) than the people who might, more logically, be drug dealers. That just shows you the power of a quota.

So here's what we need to do- either hire border patrol officers with more sense, or institute a better system. Oh yeah, and make sure that people who are here illegally can leave, and not detain them as they try to leave, spending lots of money keeping them in jail, because that's just silly. Then, we should streamline the immigration process, and make it so that it is less expensive and takes less time to come here legally.

Anyway. Just my thoughts on this subject.


Anonymous said...

A fine article. Well done.

I have three comments that apply whether immigration is legal or not.

First, until 1965, American immigration policy was that people had to demonstrate they would make a positive contribution to our society and would not become a public burden. That's the same policy still followed by most sensible countries.

Second, our pre-1965 immigration policy favored immigrants who were considered compatible with our society: mainly people from Europe. A society is happier and more harmonious when its citizens share a common history, culture, and general moral-religious background. It doesn't mean that people from different cultures are "bad," merely that they don't fit in. If you want a picture of what life in America was like, go to Netflix and rent the DVD of "The Bishop's Wife," a 1947 movie starring Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young. You'll see what it was like to celebrate Christmas without having to apologize to all the people who don't celebrate it. The point I'm making is less about Christmas than it is about how comforting it is to live in a society with shared history, values, and assumptions.

Third, the availability of cheap labor has less effect on our gross economic production than it does on the distribution of income from that production. One thing we've seen in the last 30 years has been a vast redistribution from the middle class to the upper income brackets. One reason why so many women are in the workforce outside the home is that it's the only way they can afford to raise a family. Until the 1970s, a single income was usually adequate for that. In 1980, the average CEO made 40 times more than the average wage in his/her company: now, it's 350 times. We can produce plenty.

I mean no disrespect toward immigrants, many of whom are fine people who come here seeking the opportunities they can't get in their native countries. But their arrival in our society is not without cost for Americans.

The Golden Eagle said...

I agree that the USA should make it easier to immigrate--and if it was easier, more people would be on record, which would mean it would be easier for the government to keep track of everyone.

suntzusays said...

Couple quibbles.
1) I don't think the argument on drug legalisation or decriminalisation is that drug use would go down. In fact, it's actually fairly likely to go up at least slightly. But much of that is because it will be more accessible and cheaper if it were made legal to produce and sell.

2) The actual argument is that we would be wasting fewer government resources and, most importantly, traffickers of narcotics would not need to resort to violence and fraud to gain and protect their market shares. You don't see alcohol salesmen shooting each other (anymore), but thousands of people get shot or shot at over cocaine or marijuana. Many of them in Mexico (further increasing the desire to flee their location).

suntzusays said...


3) You can address income inequality through reforming the tax code more easily than dealing with the root cause of immigration (which is in large measure, income inequality between nation-states, something beyond our ability to correct in the short and possibly long run). Meanwhile, immigration has done little or nothing to create the perceived necessity of a two income family, and there are a myriad of ways to deal with that even (for instance delaying child raising and pursuing higher education into graduate school). Income inequality and the destruction of the nuclear family seems highly disconnected from the "problem" of immigration.

2) Even excepting that as a supposed deleterious effect on cultural harmony, go back and look at the immigration and political nativism fights in the mid 19th century during the first major wave of non-Protestant immigrants. I think you will find that the perception was anything but that the Irish or Catholics in general from Southern and Eastern Europe were common and acceptable for their similarities. They are considered similar NOW. They were resisted THEN, sometimes even violently. There are a number of very bad policies directly related to these anti-immigrant biases. Prohibition for example, actually marijuana and opium prohibition too for that matter, and various trade unions were formed initially precisely to bar black, Irish, or Asian labourers from entering a field. So I don't see how that's a justification for restriction that people don't eat the same foods, have the same holidays, pray the same, look the same, or even speak the same language simply because the historical record overpowers it with our ability to assimilate differences that seem very much more significant at the time.

1) Pre-1965 immigration policy contained a large number of restrictions on Asian immigration, which is presently one of our better sources of educated labour and overall accounts for about a quarter of the immigrant population. I'd argue that this has been an advance even if there are costs integrating Eastern traditions or foreign languages. If this was the only objection, removed from the others, it would be easy to design a policy that would accommodate it: Let employers and universities recruit people and handle the visas themselves and pay the government a fee or purchase the visa through an auction. Nobody should have to demonstrate their supposed value or contribution (over that of a native) to a bureaucrat in order to get in.

Liberty said...

Sun Tzu- good perspective. Hadn't thought of that before. :))

Megan said...

I would like to address the drug abuse aspect, for whatever my opinion is worth. My sister is a recovering heroin addict and alcoholic, so I have learned a thing or two about how addiction/addicts work.

Honestly, I don't think legalization or illegalization of any drug makes much, if any, difference, and I don't think legalizing something is going to cause much, if any, surge in drug abuse rates. Its soaring just fine on its own, unfortunately, and in spite of the "war on drugs."

It boils down to this... Those who have the desire to use are going to use. And those who have no desire to use, won't. People don't care how many laws do or don't exist. For example, if a minor wants to get flat-on-their-face drunk - even though they know its against the law - they'll find a way. They'll do it anyway. My sister, unfortunately, was one of them. Then it moved to prescription pills, then heroin, then back to alcohol... Laws mean nothing to those who believe the "benefit" outweighs the risk. (And to an addict, a high is definitely enough of a "benefit" to override laws, morals, and their own better judgment.)

On the other side, I have never had the desire to abuse my mind and body with anything, and its not like as soon as (purely hypothetically) its legalized I am going to all of a sudden decide to go try marijuana. For me, the risk was never worth it, and never will be, so (again, hypothetically) if some substance was suddenly legalized, my mind isn't going to change.

For most people, it boils down to their own morals and integrity. Not to laws.