"Overall spending on enforcement activities has ballooned from pre-IRCA levels, with appropriations growing from $1 billion to $4.9 billion between fiscal years 1985 and 2002 and staffing levels increasing greatly. Resources have been concentrated heavily on border enforcement, particularly the Border Patrol. Spending for detention and removal/intelligence activities multiplied most rapidly over this period, with an increase in appropriations of over 750 percent.”I think we can all agree we haven’t gotten our money’s worth. In spite of our efforts, 11 million illegal immigrants currently live underneath our radar. Both the human and economic dimensions of this issue are complex. A new immigration policy that combines compassion with rational innovation is in order. Sadly, our political class appears incapable of rising above the passions, fears, and even greed of their respective constituencies.
Corporatist Republicans prefer cheap low skill labor from our southern border. Migrant workers from Mexico and elsewhere toil in menial jobs most Americans don’t want. Their labor allows American CEO’s to either widen their profit margins or offer more competitive pricing.
Another issue for businesses is high skilled labor. Our education system is not producing enough qualified graduates in the technology sector. Consequently, prior to 9/11 businesses were relying on H1-B Visas to recruit 145,000 high skilled employees from overseas per year. In 2004, that number was capped at 40,000. The business community complains that unless they’re permitted to recruit qualified employees from other countries, they will be forced to relocate overseas – further reducing the number of jobs for Americans.
Meanwhile, organized labor is understandably concerned that low skilled migrants are reducing wages for American workers, while high skilled foreigners are filling desirable jobs. This facilitates insecurity and resentment, as Americans believe they’re competing for a shrinking pie.
Parents in states such as Arizona and New Mexico resent the allocation of resources for teaching students of illegal immigrants. Not to mention the various social services they’re eligible for at taxpayer’s expense. Even the most pro-immigration among us must acknowledge the strain during an era of Republican fiscal mismanagement.
There is also the issue of national security in a dangerous world. It’s simply too easy for individuals with hostile intentions to enter our country and use our own freedoms against us. We learned that the hard way on 9/11. How many of those 11 million illegal immigrants are threats to our society, have criminal backgrounds, or coordinate with terrorists? Even a small percentage can have a catastrophic impact.
Culturally, social conservatives feel besieged by change. Signs in hospitals and schools in both English and Spanish alarm them. They resent multilingual education in schools and claim that America’s national character is endangered. Personally, I think they’re racists.
Their use of words such as “amnesty” and “enforcing the law” is a canard designed to gloss over racism. When it comes to domestic surveillance conservatives are more than happy to ignore the law. However, people with a darker shade of skin speaking a different language must be criminalized for their existence? I don’t think so. Such an approach would
result in chaos and is morally reprehensible. It will only serve to force illegal immigrants deeper underground.
For the Democrats this issue is less divisive. Labor may not like immigration but they really have no choice but to stick with Democrats. Many members of organized labor are Hispanic as well. While some black Americans resent jobs going to Hispanics from across the border as well as a reduction in their wages, the GOP will not benefit from their discontent. Immigration will not be enough to overcame a half-century of Republican racism.
So it’s easy for Democrats to sit back, blast the Republicans for their cruelty and utter sound bites about securing our borders while making it easier for immigrants to become citizens – and future Democratic voters they hope. Everyone remembers how former Republican California Governor Pete Wilson engineered a come from behind victory in 1994 by exploiting proposition 181. Since then California has become a lost cause to Republicans in Presidential elections. Democrats are hoping for the same in southwestern states such as Arizona and New Mexico.
Nevertheless, on this issue Democrats would serve themselves and the country best if they put forward a sensible plan that facilitates consensus. That means supporting President Bush against the xenophobes of his party who appears to be wavering in deference to social conservatives. However, it also means challenging the Bush Administration to extract concessions from the business community.
I propose that the Democratic caucus approach President Bush with the following:
- Trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA have eliminated jobs in our hemisphere. Migrant workers would not be coming here if they had jobs at home. A security fence will not prevent migrants from entering our country as long as they can’t find jobs back home. Let’s restructure NAFTA and CAFTA so it no longer stifles job creation in our hemisphere. We can also work with leaders in the hemisphere and devise an aid package that increases in proportion to the decrease of migrants crossing our borders. More prosperous neighbors will translate into a reduction of human traffic.
- Eleven million people are already providing needed labor but we have no accounting of who they are. Far better to make it easier for migrant workers to publicly reveal their identities and give them a path to citizenship if they’re willing to earn it. Threatening them with jail is counterproductive and will overburden our courts and criminal justice system. However, any prospective guest worker must be pre-qualified before entering the country. Those corporations who benefit from cheap labor should be required to pay a “due diligence” tax to determine if any migrant workers pose a security threat or have a criminal background. Otherwise we’ll continue to have illegal immigrants living in this country that are not properly screened.
- The importing of guest workers is preventing wages from keeping up with the cost of living. If the business community wants to benefit from cheap labor outside the country then it is reasonable to demand American workers keep up with the cost of living. Therefore, the minimum wage must be raised at regular intervals. We can allow the business community to import inexpensive guest workers for menial jobs and raise the cap enabling employers to recruit high skilled workers with H1-B Visas. In return, President Bush and Congress must sign on to increasing the minimum wage every year based on the cost of living and inflation.
- That children of migrant workers are attending our schools is a fact of life. Social conservatives are simply going to have to get over it. I would rather these children grow up appreciating this country and learning to be contributing members of our society. Today’s child who receives special attention while learning our language may become a premier surgeon saving lives in our hospitals tomorrow. All the more reason to increase funding in education that builds more schools, recruits more teachers, and reduces class size so all children be they English speaking or not get the education they need to become actualized members of society.
SIDEBAR: I cross posted this topic on My Left Wing last night and was pleasantly surpised to learn it was designated a "recommended diary." Click here to review comments from that community as they come in. As of 8:00 AM Eastern Standard Time there was only one.
SIDEBAR II: I'm also including a link to my cross posting of this topic on Daily Kos. Although not a recommended diary by that community, the comments both favorable and otherwise make for interesting reading. Click here to review them.