Monday, May 01, 2006

Immigration: Some Thoughts

It’s a sad state of affairs when even an issue like immigration breaks down along partisan lines. Republicans – the President notably and impressively excepted – take a tough stance: they want the borders sealed and violators deported. Democrats…well, Democrats haven’t said much, but I’m not sure whether that’s due more to their recognition of the complexity of the issues involved or internal disorganization and lack of leadership.

Immigration is not a problem with an easy fix like Social Security or gay marriage or 45 million uninsured.

In this day and age, where terrorism is a prime concern and porous borders allow for the trafficking of dangerous drugs and weapons, higher levels of security are called for. Most illegal aliens enter legally – that is, they enter on valid passports or tourist visas, but they stay long past the expiration date. When I was a resident alien working in Switzerland, I was required to register with the local police in the precinct where I lived. Would civil libertarians in the U.S. object to such practices? Presently we certainly don’t have the resources to either track the whereabouts of legal tourists or hunt down the ones who stay too long; would conservatives object to the necessary increase in federal spending to achieve that?

The vast majority of illegal aliens are also not Al Qaeda affiliates: they are poor people seeking a shot at a better life. They’re escaping local violence, oppression, rampant poverty and economic depression, and they’re willing to take jobs that, as has been frequently pointed out, Americans refuse to do. The places they come from are so terrible that they are willing to risk their lives to get here. They don’t mean America any harm, they only want to accept the invitation stamped onto the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We should criminalize them for this?

Of course not, answer conservatives: there’s already a legal way for people to enter the country. People need to play by the rules. Yes, but the bureaucracy is broken there, too, and not because it’s too big. The 9/11 hijackers were here and had bank accounts, driver’s licenses and were enrolled in flight schools. Two of the hijackers got their visas approved six months after the attacks. The government’s immigration policies are such a mess, the red tape so thick and the delays so long, that we have dead terrorists getting visas and gardeners getting deported. I’ve often wondered if Immigration couldn’t be restructured along the lines of a credit card company, capable of reviewing thousands of applications per day and tracking thousands of accounts. It would take some money, though. Maybe we could start with the $10 billion Senator Frist thinks we should hand out to taxpayers as a gas rebate.

Sojourners, a progressive Christian organization, reports that “62% [of illegal aliens] have taxes withheld from their paychecks, and 66% pay Social Security. Their payments to Social Security totalled $7 billion in 2004, and in the same year they paid $1.5 billion to Medicare. Ironically… these workers usually don't take advantage of these programs, fearing the INS will be alerted to their presence in this country.” So maybe immigrants aren’t the drain on national resources they are accused of being.

Whatever the case, it’s not a crime to dream of a better life and be willing to work for it.

I have two recommendations for stemming illegal immigration. The first is to overhaul NAFTA so that the “F” stands for fair, not free. The United States needs to show leadership, and work to improve the national economies of countries like Mexico. Corporations can’t treat them as merely a supply of cheap labor; fair treatment, benefits and a living wage are the rights of people who live outside the U.S., too. People wouldn’t come here if they had a good reason to stay where they are.

Second, if we want to go criminalizing people, we need to go after the businesses that take advantage of illegal immigrants by employing undocumented workers, paying them less than the minimum wage, denying them benefits and robbing the government of the taxes it deserves.


Time said...

The words from the right would have us think that being in this country illeagally is the same as robbery, rape, or murder.
Lets start by impeaching the head crook and working our way down a true list of criminal priority. Our unemployment rate continues to go down while the immigration continues to go up; who's jobs are being taken?

little-cicero said...

I think you're overstating the partisan nature of this debate. It is only a small portion of conservatives that actually wants to make illegal residence a felony. Tom Tancredo does not want to do so, no one in the Senate wants to do so. That clause was placed in a bill by Democrats, not Republicans- Republicans took it out. I don't know why this happened, but I'm guessing that it was to make conservatives look bad.

So put that aside and you have a debate of nuance. Earned legalization vs. Wholesale legalization- there is not much difference by which to divide by partisan lines.

That and the fact that the only viable bill at this point is sponsored by McCain and Kennedy. The only opposition from Republicans is nuanced- it's over the intensity of the screening process.

Jarred said...

From CNN:

"The provision making illegal immigration a felony was part of a bill pushed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican."

little-cicero said...

You scared me for a second there, but read a little further down in that very article and you'll see this:

"Sensenbrenner, who sponsored the provision making illegal immigration a felony, said last week that he tried to remove it from the bill in December and remains open to making the change as the House and Senate try to reach an agreement on a final bill."

With Frist and Hastert opposing it, there should have been no problem getting this bill thrown out, right? But that didn't happen so soon.

Responding to charges of stalling the bill to make Republicans look bad, all Kennedy had to say (before pontificating about making hardworking families into criminals) was "Actions speak louder than words, and there's no running away from the fact that the Republican House passed a bill and Senator Frist offered one that criminalizes immigrants,"

It smells like stall and ridicule tactics to me!

Jarred said...

Actually, LC, I was merely pointing out that the bill was originally written by a Republican and included felony charges. This is in contradiction to your claim that "That clause was placed in a bill by Democrats, not Republicans."

Also, if you do a bit more research, the reason that Democrats "blocked Republican efforts to take out the felony charges" was that the Republican solution was to replace them with misdemeanor charges, whereas the Democrats were insisting on no charges at all. Quite a different position than the picture that's being painted.

little-cicero said...

You're right, in that particular charge I was wrong, but the motive is certainly there to stall the bill, and I see no alibi. If the Dems are unable to even make this a misdemeanor, how the heck to they expect to carry out the second prong of the supposed solution, enforcing the law. I don't think they do...if they could they would give illegals amnesty, but this bill is the next best thing!