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    What you will expect to see here are discussions of politics and tangentially economics. This blog will do its best to present a rational look at the world of today, how the modern world came into place, and the issues that are currently being discussed in the public realm.
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Illegal Immigration

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/02/21

Illegal Immigration to the US

Illegal immigrants come from many countries, though Mexico and Cuba probably constitute the majority due to proximity. They come because their home economies are awful and because a hard worker cannot achieve success. The come illegally because the US bureaucracy cannot process enough applications to admit them properly or because there are hard limits defined. They are felt to be desirous by American businesses because these are people who have a desire to work hard for a low wage, cannot sue the company, cannot complain about long work hours or few breaks, nor can they collect many of the benefits that a company would usually have to provide. So far as a business is concerned, they get a better worker, for less money.

The argument for legitimizing illegal immigrants essentially comes down to, “They are already here. They are working hard, they’re not causing crime, our own ancestors came as immigrants, and it’s all part of the national identity to accept the poor and needy from abroad.” Certainly, I do respect that. I think much of the anti-immigration movement is no less racist than the people who tried to keep the Chinese out or the Irish out. Though it should be noted that the Chinese and the Irish generally did enter the country legally and came in small enough numbers to be properly vetted and passed by our bureaucracy.

There is an inherent difference between accepting legal and illegal immigrants. Personally, if we had the people to man it, I’d have no issue with increasing the number of employees of the US immigration service and accepting a greater number into the country. If Mexicans want to legally enter the nation, accept low-paying jobs, and work hard, I have no onus against them.

The problem with illegal workers is that they do not get the basic protections that a legal resident does. Accepting illegal immigrants as illegals is specifically creating a second class citizen who does not have the full protection of law. You are saying that if you are a Mexican, you don’t deserve to work less than 40 hours a week, you don’t deserve social security, you don’t deserve to complain about sexual harassment by your boss. Only true Americans who aren’t willing to work as hard for as little money–who have done nothing more than be born over this bit of dirt instead of that one–deserve all that.

Personally, I have no interest in creating a second class citizen. If we’re going to allow some group of people to not have the full protection of modern society, we should do that to Americans not to Mexicans or Cubans. Why does Billy-Bob the unemployed alcoholic deserve full minimum wage, social security, unemployment, etc. but Pedro, the guy holding down 2 jobs and living in a small room with 20 other guys, not deserve those protections? That’s just silly.

There’s also the issue that, in this case, how does Billy-Bob ever find employment? When the Irish or the Chinese entered the US, there wasn’t any particular difference in education between the immigrants and the locals. Thomas Jefferson, back in 1826, owned about 6,000 books and by doing so possessed perhaps the sum total of all human knowledge at that time. And for nearly all occupations, almost none of that was useful. You could rise to the top of the world with nothing more than common sense and a good work ethic. That isn’t so true today. Mexicans coming into the US have almost certainly never had a computer. They haven’t studied chemistry or physics. Only something like 70% of Mexican students complete elementary school (i.e. under the age of 15). Attendance of school between ages 15 and 19 is between 34% and 55%. All illegal immigrants can only compete at a certain level of income and they can never feasibly rise above that. Their children may be able to, but not the parents. This makes the bottom layer of American income excessively wide compared to any other nation.

If the US was still a factory nation this would likely be a boon–and probably it was previous to the 1950s–but now most businesses in the US need skilled labor who can speak English, work a computer, and do some basic algebra. What low-income jobs there are which don’t require these skills can be adequately done by our own poor. Immigrants from Mexico, Cuba, and other such nations keep poor Americans out of work and prop up dying industries.

The problem with slave labor or any other excessively large body of cheap labor is that it makes it hard to move to modern technologies, which means that the local economy doesn’t advance with the rest of the world. This was a problem for the American South and even ancient Greece and Rome. Instead of seeking better methods of production, expanding the number of workers is seen as easier and more cost-effective, but ultimately hinders actual growth since the limit at which the population or will expand is based on population growth rather than technological. They don’t invest in the development of new technologies, and once other nations or regions have upgraded to newer technologies and surpassed them on the market, you’re left with a large body of useless laborers with nothing to do and no obvious position to put them in, as well as having to go into debt upgrading your production methods at a time when you’re already doing poorly on the market.

So even though we could simply bypass making illegal immigrants a second class citizen and instead make some sort of rule like, “Feel free to all citizenship rights, all ye who can make it here!” The US, being a modern nation, no longer interested in being a factory or plantation nation and knowing it to be harmful to growth to try to do so, still shouldn’t make such a law. Encouraging free-for-all immigration, itself, would probably be harmful as well. There is a rate at which foreign groups can be reasonably assimilated and of course you do want to be able to be a bit choosy about who you accept. That’s simply an issue of feasibility, and it’s the same restriction that we have had since our inception; we’re still the country with the greatest number of immigrant ancestors (without going back thousands of years). We’re not talking about banning immigration nor lessening immigration, we’re talking about protecting legal immigration, just as it has been.

How to Prevent Illegal Immigration

Life in Cuba and Mexico is certainly not ideal but, ultimately, the concern of the US is the US. And as I pointed out in Pax Americana, keeping America competitive and growing economically at an even or greater pace as other modern nations is quite possibly of global importance. But, for every bit that our own nation is a better place than the locally situated Cuba and Mexico, the greater the incentive there will be for Cubans and Mexicans to try and cross over. Expecting to get the number of illegal immigrants down to zero is foolhardy. We’re seeking a reasonable decrease for a reasonable cost, not some sort of all-out preventative measure.

The problems we are facing in this, though, are:

1) At least in regards to Mexico, the border is very large and unpopulated.

2) There are many Americans who see themselves as profiting by the cheap labor–regardless of whether this remains true in a long-scale, macro-economic sense. You are essentially trying to end slavery, all over again. As you might note, resolving that issue took brute force of war to accomplish. Already, several of the largest cities in the US have decided to ignore Federal and State law and not seek to find nor prosecute illegal immigrants.

There are many calls to build a wall or otherwise patrol the border better, but I suspect that these calls are mostly coming from or guided by the people of the second group. They are aware that this is both unfeasible and costly, and hence brings money to the region while in no way preventing illegal immigration. An unprotected fence is easy enough to climb or cut through, and a guard which patrols once an hour is easy enough to watch go by and walk behind. Not to mention that roughly 50% of illegal immigrants came across the border legally, saying they were taking a one week vacation, and then never left. When 50% of everyone isn’t even sneaking in, talking about fences and patrols is silly. Once you start looking at the prices for these endeavors–particularly in light of how effective they will be–the whole thing becomes laughable.

But because of issues like local police ignoring the issue in sanctuary cities, your average citizen turning a blind eye to the lines of Mexicans sitting outside of Home Depot, expecting the passage of laws to “crack down on the problem” is also going to be largely ineffective. Going through every company and double-checking all their paperwork and auditing their books is going to be a very labor intensive and costly task. Once you find businesses which are employing illegals, prosecuting them is difficult since they can simply state that they have no reasonable way of knowing who is and isn’t legal, if the employee had a social security number and other forged documents–not to mention that the fines which can be imposed are not substantive.

As you might guess from my previous blog, I would personally hold that the first step to be taken is to remove the barrier for Americans to compete. If you can legally hire an American for the same amount as an immigrant, you’re fairly likely to hire the American: He speaks the same language as you. You might hire the Mexican instead, because he seems to have a better work ethic or whatever, but the option is at least there. This will, alone, be your most likely weapon to all-but stop illegal immigration, and yet have almost no impact on the US.

Secondly, is to stop letting Mexicans visit. If we know that 50% of illegal immigrants are overstaying their visas charge them for the purchase of a visa until very few people take this route. Yes, this will increase the number of people who sneak over the border, but it won’t be 100% of them. The harder you make anything, the fewer the number of people who will do it. It’s hot and dangerous to cross the border. It costs money to hire a coyote. Some number will choose to not make the attempt if it’s any harder than driving down the highway and lying to customs about your intent. And once you have the income from selling visas, you have money to spend on more people to hire just to search down illegals or expand the bureaucracy that processes green card applications and so forth.

Thirdly, make fines for hiring illegal immigrants larger, so it’s worthwhile for national or local government to pursue.

Fourth, and something I will pursue in a future blog, is to work towards lowering the litigiousness of American society. Even if you lower the wage for an American worker, you still risk his inherent likelihood to sue you when you hire him. By raising the bar for raising suits, the drive to seek illegal employees drops yet again.

All four of these options are free or self-paying, and all will be effective. The long-term result would be an increase to the growth of the US economy, without any decrease in legal immigration, and possibly an increase.



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