Two of my favorite quotes apply to our broken immigration policy. The first appeared in the old comic strip, Pogo, which I miss immensely: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” That is, often times we tend to blame external sources for problems that actually originate from within ourselves.
The second quote comes from 16th Century military history: “Hoist with his own petard.” A petard was a small explosive device used for breaching fortifications. Petards, which typically contained five to six pounds of gunpowder with a slow burning fuse, were put in place against a gate or wall of the enemy fortification. When the fuse was lighted, the Pétardier rushed away to escape the destructive force of the petard. Frequently, the device blew up prematurely and killed the Pétardier; hence, the phrase, “Hoist with his own petard.” The meaning of the phrase with respect to our immigration policy, therefore, is to be harmed hoisted, blown up by our failure to develop and implement rational criteria for immigration into this country.
Supply and Demand
In many respects, legal and illegal immigration as well as transfer of illicit drugs across our borders, especially the southern border with Mexico, follows classical economic theory of supply and demand. I mention illicit drugs because, frequently, these products are lumped together with illegal immigration as a rationale for closing our southern border. Nevertheless, if so many U.S. citizens did not use illicit drugs (demand), the impetus for bringing these products into our country (supply) would disappear or be markedly reduced.
A clear-eyed assessment demonstrates that we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out the problems we face with transport of illicit drugs into this country. The profit margins are simply too high. We should recognize that we are the enemy vis-a-vis illicit drugs and that we truly blow up ourselves with the failed attempts to control the problem. We should focus instead on dealing effectively with our societal problems that lead too many citizens to use and to depend upon illicit drugs.
Thus, a segue into the problem of illegal immigration: If the demand for services illegal immigrants offer at low prices were not so high, the supply of such persons would diminish. A frequent description of why we need illegal immigrants to harvest our crops and work in food processing industries relates to the two-part proposition that (a) U.S. citizens will not perform the required “stoop” or repetitive labor, even at wages of $17/hour plus benefits according to recent media reports, and (b) We need to pay low wages to immigrants so that low prices for our foods will be maintained.
We face a moral dilemma: In our desire for low cost groceries and other services such as garment production, house cleaning, and yard work, we are willing to take advantage of people who have no option but to work for low wages. In some respects, an argument could be made that, by allowing immigrants often illegal into this country to perform tasks many U.S. citizens will not undertake, we institute and perpetuate a form of modern day economic slavery. On the other hand, if freedom of choice is maintained, I don’t oppose hiring people at prices for which they’re willing to work. I strenuously object to governmental actions designed to set minimum wages. We should, therefore, allow the marketplace to be the controlling factor. Yes, I know our unions oppose such a philosophy.
We need to set definable and achievable goals for immigration into this country before we discuss mechanisms to control the process. First and foremost, do we want to keep all illegal immigrants from entering this country and to expel the 11-12 million already residing amongst us? If so, we should consider how to effectively close our borders, especially the southern border with Mexico. As I wrote in my previous post, closure of the borders and expulsion of all resident illegals seems impractical, inhumane, and can only be accomplished at great financial costs plus a willingness to endure massive amounts of negative reactions. Furthermore, implementation of this goal necessarily means we’re willing to accept higher prices for our groceries and other services. Have we thought though this outcome?
Perhaps a more achievable goal would be to implement a markedly better method of controlling immigration. For instance, we might establish a viable guest worker program for seasonal immigrants to be employed in harvesting our crops. These workers could then move into and out of this country dependent upon the work available. Seasonal worker permits granted each year would have a time limit on how long these individuals could stay in the U.S. Violation of the time limits would result in immediate deportation and prohibition from ever legally returning to the U.S.
Controlling immigration would also require all employers, corporate and individual, to use the e-verify system before hiring immigrants. Yes, corporations want to keep labor costs low and have already demonstrated a profound unwillingness in many instances to utilize the e-verify program. Hefty fines and harsh prison sentences for failure to use the e-verify program should focus employers’ minds on obeying the law.
We also need a rational policy that will allow persons with high tech, entrepreneurial, and other skills to enter and remain legally in this country.
A Bottom Line Conundrum
This post only scratches the surface of our broken immigration policy; however, progress and, hopefully, resolution depends upon our solving a bedeviling confluence of priorities, principally from the Democratic and Republican parties. Democrats have two vested interests in maintaining the current immigration system: (a) The influence of labor unions agitating for higher wages to be paid for agricultural and other presently low cost jobs in the manufacturing and service sectors, and (b) Political gains, i.e., votes, to be garnered from immigrant citizens and those who might become citizens through some form of amnesty. The Republicans also have vested interests: (a) Preserving the low wages paid to agricultural, manufacturing, and service workers, especially for illegal immigrants, in order to keep high profit margins in place, and (b) Demonstrating to the conservative base that most, if not all, immigrants are not welcome in this country so that white U.S. citizens may remain in political and economic power.
I will close this post with the remark that we truly have a “Confederacy of Dunces” regarding our broken immigration policy, a confederacy that we ourselves have formed and continue. So, how do we break this confederacy? I haven’t heard a rational approach from any of our presidential candidates. I have heard a lot of obfuscation and bloviation. But, we made the problem, we need to solve it forthwith in a rational and humane manner.