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Pundit’s Mailbag — ‘Unworkable’ Immigration Plan

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, May 22, 2007

Our piece Compromise Reached On Immigration Reform, But The Battle Is Far From Over brought these comments from an experienced industry hand:

“It ain’t going to work”. Require all illegal immigrants to return home to ‘touch base’, pay $5 grand, and then fill out the paperwork for re-entry to the USA? Who thinks of this stuff?

Today, we live in a complex, globally integrated society. Unfortunately, too few people are able to connect the dots of the ‘macro’ benefits and contributions of immigration, legal or otherwise, across all national borders. You might as well shut down the State of California if every ‘illegal’ were forced to repatriate. It is not going to happen.

If there were no ‘economic benefit’ immigration would not be an issue. Why is the stock market booming? Why is the USA at historically low rates of unemployment? The economic answer is that there must be profits being generated from labor’s (legal and illegal) contribution to the national GDP. I have read a lot about the ‘cost’ of illegal immigration, but no one seems to be willing to state the ‘profit’ gained from the same. However, I do not want to get caught up in figures; as it is said, “figures lie, and liars figure”.

How to deal with the movement of what is essentially “human capital” back and forth through a set of artificial borders (lines on a map) has now become a complex, ‘human’ issue.

A close friend of mine, of Italian decent, has a help-wanted ad from our historical past that said, “Negros $1.00/day, Irish $.50/day, Italians need not apply”. It will take human understanding to resolve how this country will chose to manage the contributions of human capital in the future. At this point in US history, the ‘incentives’ to allocate human capital are skewed to, in fact, ‘promote’ immigration, not discourage it.

I do not believe it is possible to ‘legislate’ people into starvation or a life of permanent poverty. We ‘preach economic opportunity’ for everyone, but some really don’t mean it. To the chagrin of many, the ‘free market’ mechanism is allocating resources to their optimum macro-economic benefit.

Luckily, by the accident of birth, I was born white in the USA to English-speaking parents. But, if by accident of birth I were born in Mexico and was presented the opportunity to earn $10 a day in Mexico, or $10 an hour in the USA, you could not deny me entry either, legal or otherwise.

I think comedian George Lopez caught the essence of the dilemma when he said, “So, you want to build a wall at the border to keep Mexicans out? Well, you better build the wall FIRST before you kick them out, otherwise, there will be no one to build it!”.

I suspect if the Powhatan Indian Nation had had a Department of Immigration and Border Patrol Department, they would have sent the settlers of Jamestown back to England 400 years ago.

Today we ‘celebrate’ the anniversary of the foundation of Jamestown, the Queen comes to visit, but no one talks about the diseases brought to the North American continent that wiped out two-thirds of the existing ‘native population’, or the environmental havoc created that changed the landscape forever. It seems to depend on your momentary perspective.

No one ‘checked the immigration status’ or denied entry to the hundreds of thousands of slaves brought to our country until we fought a civil war over the issue. Today their descendants are now ‘citizens’ So what do you do with the sons and daughters born in the USA to immigrant parents?

At times there seems to be an eerie, racial similarity to the statements of some anti-immigration proponents who characterize illegal immigrates as merely ‘low wage, untrained labor capable of only menial tasks who are a drain on social resources’. However, this nation was partially built on labor’s contribution to “King Cotton”, tobacco and sugar production. Today, perhaps it is “King Salad”?

For better or worse, all humans act in ways to better their individual existence. I believe that policies that can integrate the positive use of human capital to the benefit of a global society will be far more effective than ‘drawing a line in the sand’.

Immigration is such a complex and important issue that to confront it from a produce-centric standpoint is a little odd.

Our correspondent today approaches the issue from a broader economic perspective. Yet even this leaves questions unanswered.

Economic questions as to who are the really valuable immigrants. Moral questions as to the appropriateness of restricting people to certain occupations. Deep cultural questions … such as do we be believe democracy is eternal, something that will always survive regardless of from where immigrants come or what they believe?

For this Pundit, the problem is not so much with the immigrants as with our own culture. We are no longer willing or able to insist that people learn English, to demand a melting pot in which ethnic hard edges are meted down as people become Americans.

Much focus has been put on illegal immigration, but there is reason for substantial concern that many legal immigrants seem not to be interested in citizenship.

There is little question that, as our correspondent writes, this new plan “won’t work,” but many in D.C. just want a bill. Republicans particularly seem to think that clearing this off the agenda will help them in the next election.

On the other hand, and for the opposite reason, many Democrats seem to want to keep the issue alive.

The one thing that is certain is that this bill can pass or this bill can fail and, either way, we will need another one a few years down the road.

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