March 13, 2005

Immigration Again (tip to IP)

The immigration debate has a major problem. That problem is found in the four values of the post above, specifically the fourth one:

"Preservation of traditional values"

Immigration policy should not be a social, religious or moral litmus test. We should not try and pick the white, European Protestants before the black, African animists. Social values like these do not belong in the debate, because it's so subjective and prone to abuse. Even when not abused, doesn't that violate the whole reason behind America?

We're supposed to be the place to come when you've been persecuted for your beliefs. If we start excluding people for their beliefs and practices, when non-violent, how are we any better than 17th century Europe?

It's not only legitimate but mandatory to include security in the immigration debate. Rule of law is also an ever-important subject for all matters of US policy. National cohesion, in my opinion, is an incredibly shaky concept that could be a decent basis for policy but in matters like immigration all too often turns into a fancy word for keeping out dark-skinned folks. I'm not suggesting that the above author is racist, because I have no reason to think that. I am suggesting that 'national cohesion' is not an easy thing to direct and that it is prone to negative implications, even if the author here has no such thing in mind. After all, if everybody looked, talked, walked, thought and acted the same it stands to reason in some people's minds we'd be more cohesive than were the opposites all true.

If security and rule of law are the two legitimate concerns then there's a simple and critical two-part answer to both: dramatically increase legal immigration caps and normalize relations with existing legal immigrants.

Along our southern border, we ought to encourage immigrants to use the existing border passage sites. On the borders now, let's assume that the ratio of migrants to agents is 100 to 1. I don't know the real number, but that's irrelevant for this hypothetical. If it is currently a 100:1 ratio, then let's factor in dramatically legalized migration through the southern border. Suddenly the crossings are full and the border itself is empty. Just as a wild guess, let's say that Mexicans and others quickly realize that they can go safely through a crossing instead of sneaking through the fence - the ratio on the border drops wildly to 10:1 or 5:1 - or even lower. Why would anyone cross illegally now unless he has terrorist connections or a felony record?

Now, I don't have evidence of that, but if that did happen, it would be the equivalent of hiring ten or twenty times as many agents, and buying ten or twenty times as much fuel, vehicles and choppers. Except it would cost the same price. Those that couldn't come over legally would be a lot easier to nab because the agents would be patrolling the area instead of rounding up the same illegals over and over every week.

They should be catching Islamist terrorists from Al Qaeda or Hamas, not would-be farm hands from Chihuahua or Coahuila.

This plan would require increased funds, though. To make sure migrants continued to use the crossings, we'd have to make sure it could process them speedily. That means a hefty investment in facilities, manpower and administrative support for INS clerks and bureaucrats at or near the border. We also need to make sure INS has the resources to identify and hold a terrorist trying to migrate peacefully into the US.

I'd propose an additional solution: spreading the Hispanic immigrants around by bus. This way the cultural isolation that afflicts migrant groups will be broader but shallower instead of narrower and deeper. More relevantly, it would avoid saturating the unskilled labor markets of CA, NM, AZ and TX. We want them to come in and work, but too many in one place will make that difficult. If we don't bus them though, they'll likely move themselves; people who crossed the border for work won't bat an eye at changing states for it.

I just can't sympathize with the wildly anti-immigrant (as opposed to anti-immigration) position. Almost all the Mexicans coming over the border just want to work and live better lives. Mexico sucks and they come here for wealth, happiness, security, prosperity, and so forth. They enjoy much better lives here. How are the poor, bedraggled, Catholics Mexicans coming here for work possibly worse than the poor, bedraggled, Catholic Irish coming here for work?

Most come ready and willing to work hard, long hours often at multiple jobs that most Americans are unwilling to perform. What's the problem with the picture, that they worship the same God in a slightly different manner in a different building? That they speak a different Western European, Latin-influenced language?

We already have free trade with these people - why will we accept Mexican-made goods made in Mexico but not Mexican-made goods made in the US? That seems awfully backwards from a nativist perspective.

I think for entirely too many social conservatives the immigration debate HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH SECURITY and everything to do with culture, tradition, borders and most especially language. If they really cared about security they'd let the peaceful, hard-working Mexicans through so that we can focus more of our agents' energies on Al Qaeda crazies.

I propose we let Hispanic immigrants in to work after screening for violent felonies on their records. We should normalize relations with existing illegals, allowing them to come to various bureaucratic branches to go through the screening process and become citizens. Then we should increase funding to the agents emphasizing sweeping patrols across the border and we should dramatically increase administrative budgets for border crossings so that we can process and properly screen any new arrivals. This process will be like ending alcohol Prohibition - the illegal activity (whether booze or migrants) will go from completely-unregulated organized crime to government-screened legal activity.

We can get a lot more done through regulation than restriction. We don't need to turn the border into a moat; we just need to think critically about what we're doing.

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