Immigration, One Of The Hottest Post-Election Issues, Will Be Brought To The Floor Of The New York Produce Show And Conference
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 12, 2012
With the election behind us, many issues that were simply “too hot to handle” are going to come to the forefront.
Immigration is likely to be one of these newly prominent issues.
Indeed one interpretation of the election results is that the Republican party needs to boost its appeal to Latinos. Many assume that the best way to do this is to embrace amnesty for those illegals already in the country.
This assessment has its own problems. A close read of the election results indicates that the Republican problem could be seen as more an inability to inspire White voters to come to the polls than it was any boom in Hispanic turnout. It is also uncertain whether changing positions on immigration would be sufficient to change Hispanic voting patterns. Even if it would, would that change be significant enough to outweigh more Hispanic voters? And, of course, amnesty always poses the magnet problem. If you do amnesty once — and this would be a second time as President Reagan did a large amnesty program — then the possibility of a future amnesty will, in and of itself, attract more illegal immigrants.
In any case the issue is likely to become a hot one, and soon. It is also an issue where the produce industry has interests.
We got wind that a triumvirate of Cornell’s finest were working on an immigration project, so we signed them up to present at The New York Produce Show and Conference. Then we sent Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more and to get a kind of “sneak preview” of their presentation:
Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
and Director of Horticultural Business and Policy Program
Assistant Director at New York State Agricultural Experiment Station
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Senior Extension Associate
Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
Q: Thank you for coming together to discuss your latest research that you will be presenting at this year’s New York Produce Show. Brad has captivated past attendees with a study of generic produce promotions, as well as exploring branding strategies by analyzing the marketing effect of different names on apple varieties. Could you tell us more about this year’s topic?
Brad: We’re just starting a new grant project focused on a critical issue to the industry that has become highly politicized during the election cycle. The working title of our talk is “Labor Policy and Labor Management Options for Producers of Specialty Crops in the United States.” [Editor’s note: you can read related background research here and here.
Q: Will you be evaluating how the outcome of the election could impact immigration reform and labor policy?
Brad: Absolutely, now that the election results are in, we will use the talk to assess the impact of the election on these matters. There will be some discussion on actions taking place nationally and also what states are doing on their own, guest worker programs, and the importance of immigrant labor in specialty crop agriculture.
Marc: To frame it, this is such a complex issue and a long running issue as well. It goes back 25 to 30 years or more… indeed to the beginning of the Republic. There have been many frustrating policy failures, which most of our constituents have lived through. How do farmers deal with this, and how can we help them succeed?
There is the policy-component element, the regulations and enforcement, and the impact in different states. On the promising side, people are taking courses of action to learn to cope with policy, finding other mechanisms or different labor sources, an enlightened resources element.
Brad: We think this issue is very important in the Northeast. It’s the Number One issue specialty crop producers bring up in the Northeast and for that matter across the U.S. I thought it would be an interesting topic for the show. PRODUCE BUSINESS did its cover story in December 2011 on the Top 10 Trends determined by interviewing produce industry leaders. Among all the topics, including food safety, the Number One issue was immigration reform and the need for legal farm labor. The question of having enough labor resonated as a serious concern.
Tom: I heard an interesting report on NPR [National Public Radio] while driving in for this interview. There were not enough workers to pick apples in New York State. The bottom line for farmers is that they live in fear of not having enough workers when they need them. Business is going to be harder if farmers have to avoid immigrants not authorized to be in the U.S.
Q: Are there ways to alleviate this problem?
Tom: Growers want to plan ahead to have enough workers but are not sure what the labor force will be. That’s where we have to have alternatives. They want answers.
Marc: Farmers are asking, “Even if I need to hire immigrants, how can I minimize risks? Agents are swarming in on my farm. What are my best options?”
Just the regulations involved with H-2A will change, depending on what Administration is in power. The state department role is extremely confusing on top of the program itself being a burdensome exercise.
Brad: H-2A is the federal guest-worker program in the U.S., which allows a certain number of seasonal workers to come into the U.S. for limited timeframes. I believe the stay is 8 to 10 months.
Q: Is the H-2A program effective?
Marc: It is underutilized. There are 1.2 million workers in the country coming here from overseas. Less than 10 percent of fruit and vegetable workers are working through this program under the U.S. Department of Labor. The state labor departments coordinate with the federal labor department. The first line of content is the state. Growers apply for a permit at the state level, and it is approved at the federal level.
Tom: I think an important point is that under the Obama Administration, H-2A has become more cumbersome and more difficult to get workers. Farmers want more qualifications and experienced people, and the Labor Department is saying you don’t need that experience.
It is more difficult to use in the past few years, and people don’t want to give up a guaranteed flow of workers and have them be legal. There is a ying and yang about doing the program. It’s unwieldy and costly. There is much more tension, even though it’s a small percentage.
Marc: It is very trying and only applies to seasonal workers. Dairy farmers can’t use it at all. Farmers have options. They can try to find people on their own. The challenges and roots of any guest-worker program go back to all the political conflict.
Q: Could you underscore the conflicts?
Marc: For farmers, they want to minimize risk and make sure workers are legal, and flow is efficient and timely. If you are an advocate involved in policy and justice, you don’t like guest-worker programs because they are set up as second-class citizens… and by the way, you should be hiring U.S. laborers. The longstanding desire to be just is always there. And people who administer the program are serving different interests.
Tom: The process is expensive and messy, negotiated by farm management groups and worker groups. When it gets down to it, speaking as worker advocates, you will put requirements into the program to protect workers, such as experience ratings, and what kinds of qualifications workers need.
Marc: In the farmer’s perfect world, you can bring back the people you know, and the most experienced, understanding sometimes that they are not available and there will be turnover.
Q: How does the H-2A worker selection process actually work?
Marc: Sometimes people running the program accept workers from Puerto Rico because it is part of the U.S., or they focus on more local workers. You have to more or less accept who they send you, for whatever reason they say. The Labor Department has much more control than the farmers do on who they’re hiring.
Tom: Worker advocates push for the ability of the worker to move around to different jobs. The primary objection of worker advocates is that a worker be indentured to one employee for the season.
H-2A is one class of visa, but this is true with others as well. There is competition with people hiring cousins and brothers of workers they already know have skills they want and do this all off the radar — a black market of sorts — until the Labor Department takes them away. We have a legitimate legal system that conflicts with this other one.
Q: What are the legal ramifications? How strong is enforcement? Does it differ significantly based on the state in which you are operating?
Marc: Immigration Control Enforcement (ICE), a group within the Department of Homeland Security, seems to be most prevalent in border states; think Texas and Arizona with Mexico, but New York is one because of Canada. There has been a big influx of federal funding over the past six to eight years, and you see ICE on the Canadian border.
Tom: What has happened is that ICE has increased 10 times since 9/11. Per capita, ICE has more of its enforcement resources, and you’ll see more visitors showing up on your farm.
Q: Are you saying the impetus for the increased enforcement is security-related? Aren’t there other political motivations in play?
Tom: ICE is questioning numbers of H-2A applications. Part of it is that unemployment is much higher in the U.S., and political pressures are much bigger. The Department of Labor is forced to ask the question, “Do we have U.S. citizens willing and able to do the work on specialty crops?”
Q: Do Americans even want these jobs?
Marc: The answer is no. Things haven’t changed, but politicians are forced to ask. It’s an extra hurdle convincing the Department of Labor. Tom is waging the argument that people assume these jobs are being taken away by foreigners: All you have to do is have these people go away and pay more and you’ll increase the employment rate.
Tom: I look at our surveys and other state surveys, and it is not uncommon to have wages around $10 an hour in our industry. If you compare this to other industries, the notion is false that farm workers are paid below minimum wage or are cheap labor.
Brad: This brings us back to the parallel challenge of managing human resources well. We still need to harvest that crop every year. Tom has been working on this for decades; extension programs to help farmers manage their workforce.
You need to know the value of workers, how do you treat them well and best pay them. Part of the H-2A program is a wage formula, with transportation and housing requirements.
Q: Are standards within the grower community generally uniformed, or are there major differences based on state, commodity groups, size of operation, individual company business practice, etc.?
Tom: There is a spectrum on what housing you provide, wages, hours, like any business. Within H-2A, there are prescribed requirements. Other than that, it’s uneven. Some companies are progressive and enlightened. At the other end, there are bad actors that make it difficult for everyone.
Marc: It’s a difficult challenge to get the people in the middle and the low end to do the practices of the top percent. There are so many examples of companies doing the right practices. People in the top 10 percent to 20 percent are doing quite a good job. Some people muddle along, and others do bad things. It covers the whole spectrum, and as Tom says, the goal is pushing the best practices.
Q: How important is H-2A to a grower’s operation now?
Marc: H-2A is a small slice. Some employers say they get buried in paperwork, workers don’t show up on time and it’s a huge burden. Others say it works for me. Why the difference? The employers that are successful hire someone dedicated to the management of the H-2A program, and they spread that work over more acres. There are different ways to manage the program.
Tom: When you have immigrants working for you and you’re not sure if they are legally in the U.S., you are concerned. You feel you’re taking a lot of risk. We have managers who say they try to use more local people, or try to mechanize to reduce reliance on laborers or the H-2A program. The strategy part from a farmer’s perspective is very important. Marc and I have spent a lot of time on this.
Brad: This is a good segue to our latest research project. We were just awarded a new grant under USDA’s AMF Specialty Crop Research Initiative. The way a crop grant works, each state is given a budget. The amount of funds allocated depends on industry in that state, and ranges from $250,000 a year to $19 million in California. It’s a competitive process.
The USDA announced the proposals they’ll fund. In New York, 10 projects were funded. Tom and I and a grad student received one. The title of our grant is similar to the title of the talk we’re giving in December at the New York Produce Show: Labor strategies and policy discussion focused on issues in New York. However, our talk will appeal more broadly across the U.S.
Tom will be speaking at the 2013 Becker Forum, which looks at labor management. He will focus on ways to cope with few laborers from Mexico. It will be held January 21 in Syracuse, New York, and attracts about 150 specialty crop producers in the Northeast.
Q: What reforms in labor policies do you think should be enacted to best help producers of specialty crops? How likely do you believe these reforms will take place? Immigration reform is fraught with contentious debate…
Brad: Plans moving forward must be to think more carefully about labor management solutions, looking at how federal policies have evolved, and understanding state policies that diverge from federal policies. We need more guest worker visas and reforms. Unfortunately, it is a very controversial topic and politicians tend to stay away from it.
Tom: Unemployment is a real problem politically; this drumbeat of no amnesty is pervasive enough that people who do want policy to change are hesitant to act.
Q: You emphasized earlier that the H-2A program has become more cumbersome under the Obama Administration, yet isn’t it ironic that he also is fighting to pass the Dream Act and opening the door to amnesty for young people who have lived here their whole lives?
In the same regard, Mitt Romney, at least during the Republican primaries, took a harsh stance against the Dream Act and any type of amnesty program, yet he says he is a strong proponent of the free market. Then there are heightened concerns with economic volatility and unemployment, and fears that illegal immigrants are stealing jobs from U.S. citizens, and of course, the issue of securing the border… Aren’t there contradictions and dichotomies here?
Marc: History goes back to the early to mid-90s. I come from a dairy farm where for years the thought was about hiring Mexican workers. An evolution toward a different labor force started taking place. Tom was promoting new management, sponsoring trips to Mexico to learn the language, and getting the most out of a new resource.
Then down the line, probably 9/11, everything changed to a security focus and fear. A good thing promoting a labor force turned into a liability, and since then, it has been far more difficult to promote a normal approach to managing work on farms. Couple that with the historic resentment that a part of the population has against Mexicans and illegal immigrants, and you have a political firestorm.
Q: Doesn’t this political firestorm also create gridlock?
Tom: When President Obama was elected, immigration reform was highlighted as one of his top issues. Yes, H-2A is more cumbersome. But in terms of changing policy, it is striking how similar his administration’s website looks to President Bush’s on immigration reform, security on the border, and the way to stay here legally.
Marc: There has been a push-back on immigration reform in Congress. The President is challenged to work with the division. If you want any kind of reform, you first have to pay attention to security on the border and then maybe you can go on to address the economics of it. Even then, the President has faced a maelstrom since the last congressional election with the Tea Party folks. Still, I believe the leadership is now on the right track, but it is a difficult nut to crack.
Brad: Marc is talking about division in government, but even in the industry, there is not a consensus. Go to different states and the farm bureaus and guest-worker programs and labor policy issues are very different in emphasis. In places like California and Arizona, there are more words in policies about guest workers and immigration reform.
Then in the middle of the country, where much labor is mechanized, other issues dealing with droughts and ethanol and energy policies are more important there. Immigration labor reform is a non-issue in certain parts of the country. It is hard to have reform when there isn’t a national request for a policy shift.
Q: Isn’t there a way to find common ground?
Marc: Distilled down, you have businesses and farmers, as Brad says, divided regionally. You have the folks who don’t like immigration period and want people sent home. And then others want the Dream Act and to make sure people are treated well if they are here for no fault of their own. Dream Act folks and others have common ground that agriculture should have with larger political groups.
Tom: We talk about coalition-building. We need to work within agriculture, and agriculture has to link itself to more influential allies. We could certainly do coalition-building in this state. Farmers are not used to doing this.
Fruit and vegetable growers can be set in their ways. If farmers are not used to taking on political issues, they are going to be less effective. There is some learning to do in this respect. The blessing of being independent helps farmers succeed, but it is also a curse. Building allies is crucial.
Marc: We can do this through a grassroots effort and be effective in our own communities, connecting with the chamber of commerce, building bonds at church, and working together. It doesn’t mean a New York farmer needs to be in cahoots with a farmer in Texas.
In a talk I recently presented, I address states that have passed down legislation under the presumption the federal government is not doing their job, thus taking it upon themselves. Alabama is a good example. In places where there are large specialty crop sectors like Georgia, there are show-me-your-papers laws. Workers don’t show up. They leave the state, and Arizona is the beginning of this move toward restrictive laws.
In California, people pushed back, saying we can’t have anything like Alabama. No enforcement agency can ask you for papers. Aggressive actions were taken to build a fortress around California so that no such law comes in. There is a problem with these restrictive state laws. There should be federal jurisdiction. It doesn’t work with 50 different regulations. But there is frustration with the federal umbrella.
Q: What solutions will you propose when you address attendees at the New York Produce Show?
Tom: All this state activity has created fragmentation and made this more difficult. We’ve been thinking about this issue for a long time, the role of H-2A and the rise and fall of immigration reform. We want to provide management options for people thinking about labor policy, introduce other types of management systems, refugees as workers, and discuss the future for mechanizing these jobs.
We have machines for harvesting and processing vegetables. When that was introduced, it was a big deal in the 1960s and 1970’s. Now we’re seeing mechanization for the harvesting of fruit crops. What impacts could there be down the road?
For the H-2A program in New York State, we look to the Canadian model, which is a little more open, with a greater proportion of seasonal workers — about 30,000 people in the seasonal agriculture worker program. And, of course, there are guest-worker models in Europe, with workers brought in from Poland, Czech Republic, Turkey, and it seems to be working better than what we have in the U.S.
Marc: I’d like to leave people with encouragement to be proactive on the immigration policy side. The dust will settle after the presidential election and a new Congress is put in. The media keeps this in front.
People who support the Dream Act are strong and growing. Agriculture is organized, but there hasn’t been a way to get a bill to the floor. The congressional leaders in New York State understand these programs are a problem.
Being proactive politically is important.
Tom: I would agree with that completely. We need to be engaged on two fronts: proactive on the policy side, and, second, to understand what best practices are needed to work in this environment and then implement those best practices.
Perceptions need to change. Some people have the belief that the industry can use H-2A to solve the problem. It’s not adequate to accommodate the needs of agriculture. In addition, there is the idea that agriculture is filled with employers who want to exploit these workers. It is an idea that is false. Yes, there are bad actors, but in most cases, these workers are part of the family and valued. They are highly appreciated, and you can see that pan out in the community.
Brad: People not involved in agriculture have no grasp of working with perishable crops with a seasonal labor force and getting that labor force back each season. The timing is so critical. When you think about the skill it takes and how people throw around the idea that it is possible to use unskilled labor.
Tom: There is a radio personality in upstate New York who suggests farmers in need of labor just go to the unemployment office, assuming anyone can do this work with no experience. It’s a mistaken belief. Labor has been, and will be, the Number One issue for specialty crop producers in New York and many other states. It’s their top cost.
The issue of labor and produce is clearly important. At the recent PMA convention in Anaheim, Rainier Fruit Company decided to use the video presentation it receives as sponsor of a general session to highlight the issue of labor shortages for harvesting. Mark Zirkle, President and Director of Operations at Rainier, made his case plainly: Fruit was going unharvested due to a lack of available labor and producers need help.
Clearly there are two parts to this issue. The first is to help producers harvest their crops today. Understanding the most effective ways to use existing programs such as H2-A is a big part of that, and so this workshop can be absolutely crucial.
The larger issue is the policy question of how to handle immigration, guest-worker programs, etc. We’ve written quite a bit on the subject of immigration, and we have traced the trade’s efforts to get a guest-worker program enacted.
Those efforts have so far been unsuccessful.
We would say that they have been unsuccessful because they have not really been persuasive.
To start with, since we have three Cornell economists presenting, we hope they will start out by explaining what, exactly, it means to say that no Americans want to do this work.
In every other situation, a need for more resources of some type is dealt with in the exact same way: If there is not enough steel, we allow the price of steel to rise to a market-clearing level. This causes three things to happen: 1) The higher price attracts more production. New steel plants are built; existing plants start to add shifts; techniques that increase production that wouldn’t pay at lower prices are put into effect, 2) The higher price depresses demand. Cars get more expensive, etc. 3) New technologies become cost effective, so they make cars out of synthetics, etc.
These same dynamics function in the labor market as well. We get people to leave their families and live on platforms in the Arctic Sea, in deserts, etc. How is it possible that harvesting produce is the one occupation in which markets don’t work?
It just doesn’t make any sense.
Now, maybe $10 an hour is not sufficient to attract labor. Maybe the right number is $20 an hour or $100 an hour. Or maybe labor markets value something beyond an hourly wage. When we used to operate an import company, we needed salespeople and other workers who worked without limit during the Chilean season — seven days a week, often 12 or more hours a day. But we found we could not get such people on a seasonal basis.
We had to offer year-round employment with benefits. We barely had any work for these people off-season; just a few tropicals and exotics to work with. But hiring them year-round was the price we paid to have them available when we needed them.
Since harvesting is physically demanding work, perhaps paid vacation is the key to attracting workers. Maybe that is a long paid off-season or maybe it is a three-day work week when in the thick of things.
Obviously it takes time for people to gain proficiency in any job, so probably no wage will produce immediate competent employees, but there is every reason to believe that on farm labor, as on all other markets, there is a market-clearing wage at which supply and demand would come into balance.
So it simply cannot be to say that Americans won’t do the work, so what the industry must be saying is something different. Two possibilities:
1) That if we were to transition to an all-U.S.-citizen labor force over the next five years, the wages we would have to pay would so increase the cost of produce that it would depress consumption.
2) That if we were to transition to an all-U.S.-citizen labor force over the next five years, the wages we would have to pay would so increase the cost of production that production would substantially move overseas and the U.S. industry would be destroyed. So under this scenario, we would have to either impose massive tariffs or accept a dramatic shrinking of U.S. production agriculture.
Either of these claims would be more intellectually coherent than a claim that produce-harvesting labor is somehow exempt from market forces. Very possibly, making an intellectually coherent claim would actually move the political needle by making policy-makers address the real issues. Right now, the claim simply lacks credibility, and so people think the industry is crying wolf to avoid raising wages.
The wild card in the whole conversation is automation. At $10 an hour, the proposition is probably marginal. But if we have to give every harvester a three-bedroom condo with central air, swimming pool and tennis court, full medical and dental, a defined benefit pension plan and a Cadillac, then this area will attract a flood of R&D dollars, and many things not feasible at $10 an hour will quickly become feasible.
On the broader question of immigration policy, it is not at all clear what the position of the produce industry is. Do we favor more legal immigration? Less?
The ambiguity is itself telling. It appears that working in produce harvesting is so far down the list for immigrants that simply increasing legal immigration by 10% or 20%, or any other remotely politically feasible number, would not produce the labor force that the produce industry needs.
It does seem to us that this is more than a little problematic — why should our jobs be so uniquely terrible that even legal immigrants wouldn’t want them?
In any case, this leads us to guest-worker programs. Although it is true that those who advocate under a “social justice” banner may not like these programs because they treat these individuals as “second class” to others who come to the U.S. to work, it is also true that any possible solution to this problem is unsatisfactory.
As we already mentioned, simply increasing the number of legal immigrants will not provide a produce-harvesting work force, and providing other inducements, say a path to citizenship to those who harvest produce for five years, is odd. It singles out harvesting produce as an essential national task — sort of like getting foreign translators in the military — and such a characterization would have little support.
One can argue against discriminating against produce harvesters in a path to citizenship although some would favor the rich or well-educated immigrants. Still,we never know from where greatness will come from in future generations, and we are, after all, the nation that proclaims on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
It is hard, however, to urge discrimination in favor of produce harvesters. Every year, we send newly minted PhDs just trained in our world-class universities back home when many would like to stay. Is there much of a public policy case for favoring produce harvesters over these highly educated workers when it comes to offering a path to citizenship?
Of course, on a strictly financial basis, many would accept the idea that the industry is not sustainable without labor from abroad, and, even more, that social justice is better served by providing work opportunities rather than automating the work. So many would accept a guest-worker program.
The problem, however, is that the federal government has been so manifestly unable or unwilling to enforce existing immigration law that many people of goodwill are unwilling to do anything because they are not convinced that any restrictions on immigration agreed to in the structuring of the guest-worker program will be enforced.
In other words, negotiations are impossible because agreed-upon terms will simply be disregarded. One has to say that people who think this way have a pretty strong basis for their arguments.
In many cities, there are hundreds and thousands of housekeepers who are in the country illegally. They did not crawl over the Mexican border or pay a smuggler to get them in the U.S. They arrived in the country perfectly legally, often on tourist visas, and simply didn’t leave when that visa expired. As far as anyone can tell, the U.S. government does nothing at all to locate these people and deport them.
So what reason is there to believe that someone brought into the country on some kind of guest-worker visa will be, in some way, forced to leave the country when that visa expires? What will happen if they do not? Will there be an immediate “All Points Bulletin” put out and a bounty offered on their heads? This all seems unlikely. Yet if one doesn’t do these things, is it really a guest-worker program at all?
If we want political support, it is also important in proposing a guest-worker program to make sure there is no possibility that taxpayers wind up subsidizing these workers. This means they each need non-deductible health and dental policies while they are in the country, plus an assurance they will have housing and adequate food and clothing. They need insurance whereby if they were to die, the insurance will make sure their bodies can be shipped home for burial. Few proposals for guest-worker programs have addressed these legitimate public policy concerns.
Then there is a big structural matter. Under the Constitution, a child born in the U.S. is an American citizen. So what do we do if a guest worker has a baby while in the U.S.? Throw the parent out while the baby gets to stay?
This Constitutional requirement, by the way, provides a built-in solution to all the existing illegals in the U.S. Impractical visions of deporting 12 million people that are thrown around politically are not necessary.
If we act seriously to end new illegal immigration, the existing problem ultimately solves itself. The children of illegal aliens are American citizens with all the rights and obligations of all U.S. citizens, so gradually the problem will diminish as the new legal generation supersedes the old illegal generation.
It is obviously not a perfect solution, and we have examples of blameless babies born outside the U.S. who were illegal immigrants when they were two-weeks-old. Still, imperfect though it may be, the Constitution, in its genius, does not allow for a permanent cadre of illegals.
The whole issue of immigration is contentious, because it revolves around three different visions of America.
On an economic basis, if we want the largest country, most influential in the world, with the highest GDP, we want a very open immigration policy. On the other hand, if we view our goal as increasing incomes for those people who happen to be U.S. citizens today, one could cogently argue that by restricting immigration, we constrain the supply of manpower and thus increase the value of untrained labor.
We have to add some caveats here, because it can also be argued that a larger, more influential and powerful country can swing more weight in the world and thus secure us better terms in the global market and that this is likely to help all Americans.
On a budgetary basis, many who would be perfectly willing to have more immigrants recoil because, in our social welfare state, many of these immigrants will get free public services. These range from actual relief programs — such as food stamps — to benefiting from public policy choices — such as the law that a hospital must treat a sick person even if that person has no ability to pay.
Although the aggregate statistics are contentious — for many this is an individual matter. No individual should be able to come here and be a drain on the public finance.
On a socio-political basis, many who would otherwise welcome immigrants refuse to do so, not because they object to immigrants, but because they object to the way American culture socializes immigrants. These people, for example, recoil at programs designed to allow English as a second language and want immigrants to be immersed in English right away — considering English to be a kind of glue that allows our democracy to function.
They want to see citizen and citizenship programs in public schools that extoll the virtues of our country, our history and our Constitution. In other words, they believe America is something unique in the world and want to make sure that new immigrants will carry forward this vision.
Overlaying all this is the post-9/11 security concern. Clearly most Americans believe we need to control our borders and know who we are letting in the country because there are people out there who wish us harm. For many, even talking about immigration policy, without first moving to secure the borders and enforce existing law, is a massive distraction from Job One.
And all this is only the substantive issues… add to the matter demogoging politicians on both sides of the aisle who look to play on prejudices and fears and personal self-interest, and it is not very surprising that we haven’t found a solution.
We thank Brad Rickard, Marc Smith and Thomas Maloney for presenting on this topic. It is bound to not only be informative but to stimulate a firecracker of a conversation.
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