Immigration Reform - Supply and Demand Plus The American Dream
Immigration Reform - Supply and Demand Plus The American Dream
The immigration reform debate in the United States has included many proposals over the past few years. It has also included a troublesome amount of histrionics from all quarters. Unfortunately most of the solutions offered to date have been for the purpose of ameliorating the symptoms of this problem and not the source. What actually is the cause of this illegal immigration influx? Too often we choose to focus on solutions before we actually understand the problem.
I will begin this article by identifying and defining the true cause of this current illegal immigration wave. Then I will detail the simple solution that I feel will solve this problem. Next I will propose the steps we should take in dealing with the illegal immigrants already in the U.S. Finally I will reveal an underlying issue that I believe drives all of the over the top controversy surrounding this situation. Hopefully I will be able to shed a clearer light on this dilemma by the end of my Hub.
Why is this wave of Mexican and other Latin American immigrants coming to the United States? It is for better paying and more plentiful jobs . Businessmen are always looking to optimize their profits by cutting costs. Their largest cost is usually labor. The normal hourly wage in their countries is significantly below the U.S. minimum wage. Jobs are also not as numerous in their native countries as they are in the United States. Therefore many of the citizens of these countries come here for more lucrative employment. Employers in the U.S. are often willing to employ these workers at below minimum wage without benefits. They pay them in cash and look the other way as far as asking them for proof of citizenship or legal status. These conditions make the illegal immigrant dilemma simply one of supply and demand.
So how best to address this problem? There are basically two ways. You can attempt to cut off the supply of illegal workers by a few means. The most prominent of these is beefing up security along the border or building a very long and very high fence. These processes never work to any great degree. They can make it harder to cross the border and easier to catch those attempting to cross illegally. But these methods will never fully work when there are more lucrative jobs to be found in the U.S. The same argument is used for illegal drug control and we know how successful that fight has been.
I believe that the only solution that has a chance of success is controlling the demand for illegal immigrant workers. The best way to do this is by making the oversight and penalties for hiring them so onerous that continuing the practice would be impractical and more importantly uneconomical. The minimum wage is already a wage that is below the poverty line. Why do these employers feel the need to seek out these illegal workers to work for a lower wage? The answer is pure greed. Government authorities should impose punitive economic penalties for first time offending companies that visibly hurt their business. This will send a clear message that this business practice will not be tolerated. A second offense should provide for a stiffer fine and probationary time. Finally, a third offense will be considered three strikes and your out. A mandatory jail sentence for the owners should be imposed along with the company being shut down.
Now what if these employers play by the rules but cannot find enough U.S. citizens to perform their jobs. I believe that we should dramatically revamp and expand our work visa program or adopt President George W. Bush's proposed guest worker program. These programs should be designed in a way where employers could prove a business hardship and be allowed to obtain legal work visas for the foreign workers they require. They would need to rigorously prove this hardship with extensive documentation in regards to their employee search in the U.S. This way employers would be able to obtain the workers they need legally and employ them at a working minimum wage with benefits where legally required. The American government would have the advantage of knowing what foreign workers were in the U.S. and where. Public health as well as national and local security would be protected much more easily. These foreign workers would also now be on the tax rolls easing the strain on municipal resources by expanding the tax base. These workers would also have much greater personal security living above board and out in the open. This new and expanded work visa program would be a win win for all involved.
Now I would like to turn to the subject of what to do with the many millions of illegal immigrants already living in the United States. Hard liners would have federal and local authorities hunt down, arrest, and deport all of these immigrants. This is highly impractical, expensive, and probably impossible. Simply legalizing these immigrants through a blanket amnesty would be unfair to those who went through the naturalization process legally. It would also be a dead on arrival proposal politically. Ignoring the problem and just allowing these immigrants to remain living in the shadows of our society is unjust and dangerous.
So what should we do? My plan would be quite similar to the bill introduced in April of 2006 by Sen. Arlen Specter and sponsored by several other Republican senators. Their plan would have increased work visas from 65,000 to 115,000 a year with an annual 20% increase. Increased border security and a path to citizenship was also included in this bill.
I would instead increase the level of work visas to whatever levels employers could document as needed by them. The workers who would get these visas would have to prove they were in the U.S. and working for the prior three years. They would also have to be sponsored by an employer who has documented his need for the immigrant's services. A criminal record would automatically invalidate their application. This way these illegal immigrants with employment and roots in the community would be able to stay and live here without fear and continue to be productive.
Employers would be ensured of the stable workforce they need. The 2006 Senate plan would have given these workers a 6 year work visa. I would limit this to 3 years after which the employer would be required to renew the visas and again prove the need for them. These guest workers would now be allowed to apply for citizenship if they wish but would be placed at the back of the waiting list. This application could only occur after paying a fine and back taxes. All of these provisions would be contingent upon the guest worker remaining gainfully employed without any criminal convictions. Criminal convictions would result in deportation after serving their prescribed prison sentence.
This new Immigration Reform system would be beneficial to the United States. Only productive foreign workers would remain. Our tax base would be expanded and only truly hard working people would remain here. All sides win in this scenario.
The final issue I would like to discuss is the proverbial elephant in the room. An underlying issue that most everyone denies but one I believe is clearly fueling this argument. This issue is ethnic bigotry. The current public outcry for immigration reform did not take off until after the 9/11 terror attacks. There had been complaining about the situation prior to this but there was no great public or political thrust for dealing with it. The fear and loathing that followed those attacks was understandably large and made securing our borders to protect our security an imperative. Now don't get me wrong. Solidifying our security in all areas including our borders was long overdue. The concentration placed on illegal immigration across the Mexican border became hysterical. None of the terrorists came across the Mexican border. Why then did this hysteria develop?
The crux of the matter is that the citizens of the United States have always had fears and suspicions of newly arrived minority ethnic immigrants. This is nothing new. The more the new immigrant is different looking and sounding as compared to the majority of our citizenry, the larger the inner fears will be for the majority. Discrimination was rampant against the Chinese in the 19th century. This was also true of Hispanic immigrants from the 19th century onward. It is true that this also occurred to European immigrants through the course of U.S. history. But never to the same extent. European immigrants have usually been able to assimilate into American society much easier and quicker.
Native Americans who were already here have still not fully blended into our society. African Americans who were brought here as slaves needed a war, constitutional amendments, and landmark legislation just to get them into the game. The common denominator for these groups was that they looked much different than the majority of the U.S. population. There are currently many illegal immigrants from Russia and eastern European countries that were formerly under Soviet control. Illegal Irish immigrants were prevalent in the U.S. in the 1970's and 1980's due to northern Ireland violence and a depressed economy. In both of these cases no public outcry was and is heard.
I argue that this is because they look like the majority of Americans in the U.S. The Immigration Reform bills offered since 2006 have had substantial bipartisan support. But each time the far right wing of the Republican party has blocked these bills because their supporters were very outspoken and animated in their opposition to said bills. Political pandering and cowardice ruled the day. My belief is that these common sense plans have been ultimately defeated because of ethnic xenophobia disguised as outrage over illegality.
The outlines to a successful Immigration Reform Bill are already in place. The only things missing are strict enforcement mechanisms that would ensure that employers comply along with enough work visas to satisfy employers' work requirements. What then is missing? It is political courage by elected representatives who are willing to do what is right for the United States. Our political climate has been toxic since the presidential election of 1992 when Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. Political initiatives by either party are now usually met with intense almost irrational opposition. This is true even when the proposed legislation is positive and makes sense to all. This is what we are facing here. The new START treaty with Russia is being held up by Sen. Jon Kyl because he supposedly wants more money for nuclear weapons modernization. The Obama administration has agreed with this but still Sen. Kyl blocks the treaty.
The bottom line is that the Republicans want to block any President Obama initiative regardless of its merit. This is why the Republicans are now opposing immigration reform. Also because it panders to their far right which is in the ascendancy right now. I believe this is disgraceful and unstatesmanlike. The opposition believes this plan is an amnesty. What is wrong with that? These workers must pay substantial fines and taxes to work legally here and they must go to the back of the waiting line for citizenship. This plan is only for those working hard and obeying our laws. Besides there is no way to find and deport all of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. today.
The plan is practical, compassionate, and purely American. Part of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 reads "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free". It does not read huddled white masses of European descent. These newest immigrants are seeking that same dream and are working very hard to achieve it at great personal risk. They want to work at very difficult low paying jobs that very few Americans want to work at. I for one believe in this American dream and wish to see them given a path to achieve it. Anyone willing to sacrifice so much for so little is my kind of American.