Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Alot of the immigration debate I've been reading about and listening to can be broken down into a few categories: " Border security", encompassing such ideas as putting the National Guard on the Mexican border, or building a wall, or hi-tech surveillance measures, to stop potential terrorists from entering through Mexico. The "amnesty or expell" debate, involving the fate of the estimated 10 million plus illegals in the USA. This one divides into several aspects to consider. The third category is the economic cost/benefit of illegal immigration, and the impact of any action taken to limit it. Finally is the crime category, with illegal immigrants comprising a majority of prisoners in many border state jails. Each of these categories relates to the others, to some degree.

Border security is the front line of this challenge. Woefully under-funded, and not supported politically, US/Mexico border security efforts have been sorely lacking in effect. Not only have half a million people made it across the border each year, but armed drug gangs with corrupt Mexican military assistance regularly operate on US soil. Combine that with the known terrorist threat of Al Queda, and regardless of the overall immigration issue, something radical has to be done at the border. I think that the Minutemen provided a great service by both protesting the border policy and showing a way towards fixing it.

Illegal immigrants are here illegally, so they're breaking the law. That's an immutable fact. They are also human beings, and deserve respect and humane treatment. That is a fact, followed by a moral judgement. The moral judgement part is open to interpretation. I may feel that it is wholly respectful for law-enforcement to arrest and detain an illegal immigrant (as long as they are addressed as sir/miss), and humanely detain him/her until they are repatriated. Others would disagree. Even Ronald Reagan believed in a form of "amnesty" for illegal immigrants who had been living productive lives here for 5 (?) years or more. Of course, I can agree with both of those points of view. (That's 'cause I used to be a liberal)

Seriously, there are several aspects of this one, starting with the fact that it would be an enormous cost, both economic and cultural, to our nation if arresting and deporting all illegal immigrants was attempted. It could be done, but it would take a "war on terror" depth of acceptance to do it, politically. I just don't see that happening. This also factors into the economic category, mentioned below. Another aspect of this debate is the growing demographic and political strength of the Latino community in the USA. I notice that Democrats seem to be excessively accepting of illegal immigrants, but haven't seen strong Republican leadership in opposition to this (though that seems to be changing). Republicans have been worried about alienating their growing Latino base, which is around 40% in some areas, as Democrats have been trying to let illegal immigrants vote, seeking to counter that trend. Illegal immigrants have some of the most powerful lobbyists in the country, which have already set the terms of the debate as being "humane" at any cost. That cost, which we are straining under currently, must be weighed against the cost of the solution.

The politicians will never get it right, but there is a way to balance these two extremes. I believe there is a way to allow some of the people who have come here illegally to earn a right to a "stay of deportation." This may sound like a fancy "window-dressing" around an amnesty, but I'm just being politically realistic. This would have to be combined with real enforcement of deportation against illegals who don't qualify for deferment. I just came up with that as an example: I only throw it out as an idea, not necessarily the best one. There are other aspects to the "amnesty or expell" debate, which tie in with the next category.

The economic impact of illegal immigration, and the cost/benefit of stopping (or drastically reducing) it is a subject of great debate. On one side,illegal immigrant proponents, business groups among them, say that illegal immigrants do work that no-one else will do, or that the US economy is dependent on them. These are fallacies, though they contain a grain of truth, if you look at a snapshot of today's US economy. There was a time when the US economy was dependent on "blue collar" workers, who didn't always make the high wages that their dwindling numbers make these days. Times change the economy, whether we like it or not. Currently, our national economy is fairly dependent on illegal immigrants, though this will change as well, for better or worse.

Opponents of illegal immigration cite the drain on social services, as well as the prohibitive cost of medical care and education, which is reaching a breaking point. It is unclear if the removal of all those illegal families from the US would save more than the cost of doing so, but the US has a problem in these areas, regardless of the illegal immigrants. There is also the tax problem. Illegal advocates say that they get money taken from their paychecks, but that can only be true if they have a fake social security number. Either way, the economic drain is real, and getting worse.

Though it doesn't only fit in with economics, I would be remiss not to mention the chronic cultural problem of illegal day-laborers. Having 60 people living in a one-family house, and loitering on corners every morning is not compatible with the suburban areas where it is occuring ever more frequently. Again, liberal politicians have tried to provide "gathering areas" where this business can take place. This is a bad idea, because it keeps a blind eye to all of the other issues raised here, especially about how and where are they living in these communities.

The final, and to some, most crucial aspect of this debate is the criminal element. Being here illegaly necessitates some criminal behavior, even by the most honest person. Fake ID is a major concern to law-enforcement, while liberal politicians would extend "documentation" to illegals. That seems well and good for decent, established persons who have been productive, law-abiding residents. Unfortunately, many illegal immigrants are filling jails around the country, while the politicians have prohibited police from even asking them about their status. These so-called "sanctuary cities" are violating federal laws, and not adequately protecting their citizens.

Further, the gangs that help bring people here often use them to expand their criminal activities. Their families back home can be threatened, or they have no other means to get by. Gangs like MS-13 and others are a national menace because of our lax immigration policy. Drug gangs have bought Mexican protection, and our border is becoming a war zone. I'm starting to think that they have bought some U.S. protection, judging by the reaction to this latest incident. Something has to be done about this situation.

This is a rough outline of the debates I have been hearing on this very complex issue. I'm sure I've overlooked someone's "pet aspect," and feel free to comment. It's definitely a much bigger issue than critical media response or political action on it would suggest. I hope that is changing.

PS: It's interesting to note that this was 2/3 done before the above-mentioned border incident, which actually inspired me to finish it. Hat-tip to Jay from STOP THE ACLU.



Tony Herrera said...

Some 5 million Mexican farm workers immigrated to the United States between 1942 and 1964 via the Bracero program. The need for the Bracero program was a result of the World War II shortage of laborers in our factories and farms. Although the Bracero program ended in 1964 the post war boom in our economy created a situation that allowed us to turn a "blind eye" to illegal immigration because our industry had by then developed a reliance on cheap labor.

I am an immigrant from Mexico having arrived in 1969 when my parents emigrated to California. My parents would later ontain legal residency for our family. I'm fortunate to have all of my immediate enjoy legal or permanent residency in the United States since all arrived prior to 1986 and thus if they had not achieved permanent residency by then were granted amnesty. We have all comfortably assimilated into the American culture and mainstream and in fact over 90% of them have become US Citizens. Nevertheless our families are at odds when it comes to the issue of immigration reform and finding a workable solution that we can agree upon. The fact that my own family which I would expect to relate to the immigrant experience is itself at odds about the immigration debate illustrates to me just how difficult it will be for legislative bodies to find a viable solution to this problem.

The point I try to make is that the 1986 Simpson Mazzoli Act which provided amnesty to some 6+ million undocumented workers, was our first attempt to resolve the problem of illegal immigration, but failed as real immigration reform, because it did not provide realistic means to levy fines and sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants. The illegal immigration market is much like the drug problem, which is that if a market exists for such goods and services, someone will always step in to fill that void.

The end result is that industry and farmers have managed to keep congress at bay and prevented it from enacting real reform and workable immigration programs.

Unfortunately the immigration debate has continued to separate us and now results in our "scapegoating" of immigrants both legal and illegal as the very source of our every problem.

The fact remains that we have allowed 20+ years of unchecked illegal immigration which now results in some 10+ million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. The immigration debate leaves us with a monumental task that will be difficulty to resolve unless we accept the fact we created this problem within the past 20+ years and it has resulted in a given level of dependency for the U.S. on immigrant labor. We would serve ourselves well by addressing such dependency and work towards a solution that is the least disruptive to our economy and acknowledges the contributions of immigrants to this nation.

Chris said...

Thanks for those great comments. You further the debate by illustrating the extent of the divisiveness it engenders, and the lack of political will to solve the issue we are debating.

Kittybrat said...

You have laid out a good foundation for the immigration debate today.

I know the wages in the US are around 800 times that of Mexico, so if you were trying to feed your family, what would you do?

Chris said...

I would try to make myself as productive an individual as I could be, I guess. I don't believe in illegaly working in my "rich" neighbor's back yard, especially if it is starting to hurt him or her. When the neighbor says "get out," he expects the police to come throw them out. JKust because the authorities haven't responded doesen't mean the illegal worker is right.