Immigration Reform: Uniting to Get Things Wrong

Often times I observe the gridlock between Republicans and Democrats and I feel hopeless. Then, once in a great while, the parties will actually come together to get something done. And that is when I feel really hopeless. With regard to the issue of immigration reform (like the so-called Fiscal Cliff deal), the Democrats and Republicans demonstrate they can only work together to get things wrong.

Immigration has long been an issue that has lacked meaningful leadership on both sides of the aisle. Generally speaking, Republicans vocal on immigration reform are fueled by racism and xenophobia. On the other hand, Democrats outspoken on immigration refuse to acknowledge the very real costs of having a border that lacks the ability to keep anyone out.

Before delving into the best way to address illegal immigration, it is important to acknowledge that illegal immigration is a problem. There is a reason the United States does not have an “open border” policy whereby anyone who wants to come in can. Some of the reasons we do not adopt an open-border are obvious, such as the United States not having the resources and infrastructure to absorb millions of people all at once. And there are many reasons that are not so obvious, such as what illegal immigrants do to the value of labor. For instance, the existence of readily available, low-cost, and low-skilled labor means the value of that labor is significantly diminished. Low-skilled workers are forced to work for less money, and employers are put in the unenviable position of having to break the law by hiring illegal workers or be financially uncompetitive.

Most Democrats and liberals do not acknowledge or discuss the problems outlined above or any other costs of illegal immigration, and their “reforms” prove this. Ask a Democratic lawmaker how their “reforms” do anything to stem the problem of illegal immigration. They will not have an answer. Rather, their plans actually make the problem worse.

Look at Obama’s plan. The details are still vague, but the central tenet is creating a pathway to citizenship for those people who came to the United States illegally. He tries to gussy it up by throwing in such proposals as the illegal immigrants will have to pay back taxes, but I consider such measures fairly useless. How on earth are you going to determine the lifetime of wages of a person who hasn’t worked on the books in 20 years at varying jobs, in various places, for varying lengths of times? This assumes the worker wants to be honest. What is to stop someone from reporting just five years of income if they have been here 30 years? More importantly, however, Obama’s plan does nothing meaningful to solve the underlying problem of people coming to the United States illegally. It actually makes the problem worse by incentivizing people to come here illegally. For example, if a person knows he will be guaranteed a pathway to citizenship by coming here illegally, why would he stay in his native country and apply for citizenship through the traditional routes with no guarantee of success, and if success is achieved, it will only occur over a much longer period of time?

The Republicans in the Senate have a plan that makes a little more sense (a true rarity), but not nearly enough sense. The Republicans at least have the wherewithal to tie a pathway to citizenship to securing the border—i.e., we agree a pathway to citizenship is important, but it would be foolish to do that and nothing else because it would exacerbate the larger problem of illegal immigration over the long run. The problem with the Republican plan is that their idea to secure the border is to militarize it—a truly preposterous plan. We share a 2,000 mile border with Mexico. The costs of building, maintaining, and patrolling a border of that size is cost prohibitive and would not work. There are just too many ways into this country (over wall, under wall, around wall, through check points, etc.).

The only solution to the illegal immigration problem I can think of is one that I have been pushing for several years but one I have never heard articulated by an elected leader. It would require we simultaneously put into place two policies. First, we create a pathway to citizenship for every illegal immigrant who is in the United States as of today and can pass a background check. And second, we put into place very harsh penalties for anyone who hires or rents property to an illegal immigrant. CEOs of companies who hire or rent to illegal immigrants do not pay fines; they go to jail. When CEOs face jail time for hiring or renting to illegal immigrants, you can rest assured they will find a way to avoid “accidentally” hiring or renting to illegal immigrants. This solution would address the needs of those already here in a humanitarian way while removing the incentive for any further illegal immigration.

The reason we do not see this type of solution is that our elected leaders are less concerned about solving problems than winning elections. Democrats just want to pass something to make their Latino base happy and Republicans just want to pass something to end their march towards becoming a party made up solely of old white guys. While the plan I support would actually solve the problem of illegal immigration, it is not as warm and fuzzy to the Latino community and would upset our nation’s CEOs—two groups neither party wants to upset.

What the immigration debate shows us is that the United States needs lobbyists. There are already a lot of lobbyists in the United States, but none that actually represent the broad interests of the country. Rather, the lobbyists are there to promote their own narrow interests (guns, labor unions, doctors, teachers, defense contractors, and on and on) with little to no regard as to how the promotion of their own group’s interests will impact the overall health of the country. When our legislators take their marching orders from a collection of self-interested lobbyists, such as in the immigration reform spectacle, what is often produced is a solution that is worse than doing nothing.

– Dylan


2 Responses to “Immigration Reform: Uniting to Get Things Wrong”

  1. The United States needs lobbyists? I had to read that paragraph three times to understand what you were getting at.

    I think you’ll find the vast majority of Latinos would think your position is offensive. I’m an anti nationalist so I think the solution to this problem is in a whole different arena. I agree, though, that there is a problem in that illegal immigration lowers wages for all.

    Go after those who hire illegal immigrants. Sure. Go after Tyson meats. I’ve been saying that for years. Go after the landlords? That’s a bit much for me. You seem to be advocating for “self deportation.” You might as well just say it.

    I agree both sides are backwards on this issue and only one side really cares about it. I would take strong issue with you taking a position reminiscent of the Republican position.

    Good to see a new article.

    • Ely – I am not advocating for self-deportation. As my article states, I am advocating for a pathway to citizenship for those who are already here. The cracking down on CEOs and landlords is with regard to those people who are not in the country prior to the law’s passage. The more interesting problem this would create is the extreme incentive it would create for every person in the world considering coming here illegally to do so before passage of the law.

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