Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Great Immigration Debate

The Big Immigration Reform Debate continues to roll on in Washington. By most estimates there are something like 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States and because we have what is effectively an open border that number continues to rise. The debate over what to do breaks down into three major areas:

  1. What do we do about closing the border;

  2. What do we do about the illegals that are already here and;

  3. How do we allow for orderly legal immigration in the future

Closing the border will take two things. Physically preventing illegal border crossing is one, but not necessarily the first or only step to take. I would submit that the first thing we have to do is dry up the source of jobs that is attracting illegals in the first place and that means cracking down on the employers that are hiring them. We have laws to deal with this already. We need to get serious about enforcing them. If there are no jobs to come for, we will have removed an incentive for people to risk their lives crossing the desert on foot. The second, or actually concurrent step is to build a border fence and beef up the Border Patrol. to interdict the illegal crossers. There are also some very good reasons to do this from a national security point of view. It isn't just poor Mexicans that might use this route to get into the country. There are people from further afield that don't especially like us and have stated that they would like to do us harm.

Now to the part of the debate revolves around what to do about those that are already here. For one faction in the debate the gut reaction is "round'em up and deport them." The other extreme says that's impractical so we should just give up and hand them citizenship. It's true that neither extreme is practical, but why does the solution have to be either/or? We should make it known that if a person is here illegally, they will be deported and then we have to follow through. This may make a person who is here illegally a trifle nervous. If we have accomplished our first step of drying up jobs and are working on closing the border some number of people, maybe a few, maybe a lot, may just opt to go home on their own. The bottom line is that we don't have to set out with the stated goal of rounding up 12 million people and showing them the door. Without jobs to support themselves and the knowledge that they are certain to get sent home anyway if caught a lot will leave and a lot will be deterred from trying to get here in the first place.

[Update May 27, 2007: Even as I am in the middle of writing this, Mark Steyn's weekly column makes much the same point:

OK. But whatever happened to non-mass deportation? Not long after Sept. 11 I chanced to be heading north on I-87 between Plattsburgh and Montreal. At the border crossing from Champlain, N.Y., to Lacolle, Quebec, I noticed that what appeared to be a mini-refugee camp had sprung up. It's not often that you see teeming hordes lining up to get into Canada, so I asked the immigration officer what was going on. He rolled his eyes and did a bit of boy-those-crazy-Yanks stuff and then explained that most of the guys waiting to get in were from Pakistan. In the wake of 9/11, the authorities had rounded up various persons of interest in the New York City area. Whether or not they were terrorists, they'd certainly violated immigration law, overstaying visas and so forth. And as a result, many other illegal immigrants from Muslim countries had concluded it was time to liquidate their assets and break for the border. In other words, the roundup of a relatively small number of persons sent thousands more fleeing to Canada. As that Missouri grandma would say, don't look on it as losing a Pakistani illegal but as gaining a Canadian neighbor. (empahsis mine: JB) ]

The final question is how do we fix the legal system of immigration? We need to do this not just for those that want to get here but because we need them. The system as it stands now is completely overwhelmed. For those who want to do it the right way, the process can take a decade or more. That is not an insignificant chunk of a person's life. We need their energy and their talent. This means raising the number of legal immigrants we allow into the country and and overhaul of the immigration bureaucracy, including increased staffing, to handle the volume of applications. Reducing the wait time will also reduce incentives to try to come here illegally. I need to give more thought to how to accomplish this and perhaps I should save it for another post. One thing I am sure of is that I am not in favor of rewarding the people who came here illegally by granting them any sort of legal status. They can leave or continue to "live in the shadows." My bet is that if living here illegally becomes difficult enough they'll do the former.
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