US Immigration Policy

(2006) As I upload this rant, it is a day of pro-illegal-immigrant protests around the US. You’ll find here no coherent opinion, just a number of observations.


Getting Old: They say that when you turn 40, you get conservative, and it seems to have happened. My stance on the immigration issue isn't founded on the premise that this country owes the same things to immigrants whether they're legal or illegal. In my mind, the US doesn’t owe a Mexican in Mexico healthcare or education or what-all, and it’s not clear that once that Mexican has broken our immigration laws that we owe them much more. Proof that one is inclined to and capable of breaking this country’s immigration laws does not qualify one for citizenship. I’m pro-immigrant, but that’s pro-legal-immigrant.


“Immigrants”: The coordinators of this movement have done a good job pretending that the issue is immigrants when it’s really illegal immigrants. It’s a lie, but that’s politics. Even the phrase “undocumented worker” is mendacious. If a corporation illegally dumps poisons in the river, is it an “undocumented dumper”? If someone impersonates a doctor, are they an “undocumented physician”? Is someone who’s trading in white rhino horn an “undocumented importer”? The issue isn’t that illegal aliens don’t have documents. It’s that they are breaking our laws by being here.


Balance: If we are going to welcome and legitimize 11 million illegal immigrants, that’s 11 million more immigrants than we as a nation decided to welcome. A natural balancing move would be to reduce or eliminate legal immigration until we’re back to normal. We bring in about a million legal immigrants a year, but I don’t think that means eliminating immigration for 11 years. The fair thing would be to scale it by country. Mexico has about 6 million illegals in the States, and 150 to 200 thousand Mexicans immigrate legally each year, so no legal immigration from Mexico for the next 30 to 40 years. If that were the deal, one might imagine the Latino community being less excited about amnesty. There’s a lot of talk about illegals “jumping to the head of the line” in front of legal immigrants. This measure would make that metaphor more real because it would mean that the illegals really were taking slots that legal immigrants would otherwise have gotten.


Fourteenth Amendment: Let’s revise the 14th amendment. We passed it to keep southern states from de-citizenizing blacks. Now its main effect is to turn the children of immigrants into citizens, even illegal immigrants. It’s crazy to offer a huge reward for breaking the law (“your kids can be citizens if you immigrate illegally!”).


1986: We tried amnesty in 1986 and legalized 2.7 million illegal aliens. If we do amnesty again, the message is pretty clear — please immigrate illegally and bide your time until the next amnesty.


Fairness: It’s not fair that I was born in the US and that illegal aliens weren’t. But then it’s also not fair that some people in poor countries with corrupt governments were born within hiking distance of the US and others weren’t. If it were about fairness, wouldn’t we want to scale illegal immigration from Mexico way back so we could facilitate more illegal immigration from Pakistan or Ghana or wherever?


Privilege: It’s an act of privilege to keep people out of our country. On some level, this fact makes selfish immigration policies illiberal and repressive. After all, what we’re defending is the treasure we inherited from earlier Americans, which in turn was stolen from people all over the globe. Now, a lot of that wealth we “earned,” whatever that might mean to you. But a lot of it we just took. But then not even the liberal supporters of illegal immigrants are ready to go all Francis of Assisi and give away everything the country has to the world’s poor.


Wealth and Poverty: The US economic system arranges it so that the wealthy benefit from illegal immigration and the poor are hurt by it. The wealthy get cheap laborers and more consumers for their corporations. The poor get economic competitors. Illegal immigrants put downward pressure on pay for low-paying jobs and upward pressure on rent for low-cost apartments. Their kids attend poorer schools, burdening the already troubled public schools with language barriers.


Economy: Pro-illegals say that immgrants boost the economy. OK, but who's supposed to decide how many immigrants to allow in — the people of this country, or the people of other countries? I think it's our call. Unless pro-illegals argue that there's no limit to how many immigrants the country should have (because they're "good for the economy"), it's incumbent upon them to show that the law-breakers haven't pushed us into the "too many" scenario.


Politics: Poor Bush is caught between his corporate sponsors, who want cheap labor and more consumers, and his right-wing America-first supporters, who want America "for the Americans."


English: It is fashionable among liberals to advocate a neutrality toward language, but if the US goes bilingual, life gets harder.


Fate: I can’t think of another liberal cause that has gotten this far and not achieved most of its goals. The civil rights movement pretty much got what it was after. Women’s lib didn’t get the ERA, but it hasn’t lost Roe v. Wade, either. The elderly got Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid if they need it. Environmentalism has had a huge impact, even if it turns out to be too little, too late. Gay rights has made great strides and is still moving ahead. If the immigrant issue defines a liberal-conservative divide, then today’s young liberals will orient themselves by it, and it’s only a matter of time before it takes hold.

May 2006

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