But I Thought We Had An Immigration Problem?

One of the issues that Republicans oversimplify, I believe, is that of the “immigration problem”.  I don’t believe that illegal immigrants are stealing jobs from hard working citizens (to any great extent), and I don’t believe they are significantly draining our public resources.  I don’t think the solution is mass deportations, and I do think that deportations would be particularly unjust in the case of children who never knew their homeland.  I am skeptical that building the Great Wall Of The United States on our southern border is the appropriate response.  I think we need some kind of comprehensive immigration policy, and during the discussion, the word “amnesty” should not be banned.  I think we should particularly make paths to citizenship easy for the college educated or those with special skills.  Diversity and immigration have always been a strength.

Oddly enough, though I break ranks with my fellow Republicans on this issue, it may nonetheless be a winning political strategy.  The “working class” (a term I hate but will use it anyway, wrapped in quotes) and at least some minorities (particularly those who gained citizenship “the right way”) may be convinced by the issue to vote Republican when they had formerly voted Democrat.  President Obama is taking a political risk with his recent immigration-related policies.

Having said that, I must also say that Republicans also have some excellent points.  Border security is not merely an issue of immigration, but also of smuggling and violent crime.  The kidnappings, robberies, and killings in Arizona and other border states related to Mexican drug cartels and crime syndicates is a real problem, one scandalously minimized by the national media in the midst of Arizona’s controversial (and, as per a recent Supreme Court ruling on Arizona v. The United States, apparently largely unconstitutional) attempts to improve border security.  I am also sympathetic to the many immigrants who are in the midst of a long process of obtaining legal citizenship status.

But that’s not what I came here to talk about.

One of the things that fascinates me about our immigration problem – a fact which is apparently so taken for granted that it is rarely remarked upon – is that the United States has an immigration problem.

Why is that fascinating?  Let me attempt to fascinate you.  Some 11 million people have been living illegally in the United States (under fear of deportation).  (And who knows how many other millions have immigrated here legally and either returned to their homeland when they had to return or went through the arduous process of obtaining citizenship.)

Some have sneaked here in the middle of the night.  Some crossed deserts.  Some came in rafts.  Some came on legitimate business and then disappeared without taking a flight home. Some paid unscrupulous smugglers to bring them in.  Some came barely knowing the language, others knew not one word.  Some came and were hidden and helped by families, others left their families behind, others knew not a soul.

Why would they come here?  Why would they come to the land of rapacious capitalists, homophobes, religious zealots, misogynists, and – most painful to those of brown skin – racists?  Why come to the belly of the beast?

I would suggest an answer.  While I don’t deny that America has its homophobes, zealots, misogynists, and racists, what it has much more of is this: people who lack a sense of perspective.  The perspective to understand that, relative to other countries and other time periods, 21st century America actually has relatively little homophobia, zealotry, misogyny, and racism.  And even where it exists it is no longer systematic, and, in fact, even the racists have the common sense to keep it to themselves most of the time.  America is a land of tolerance.  The immigrant may find as much tolerance somewhere else – Canada perhaps – but no where else would he find more of it.

Wrong, you say?  They come here despite the racism, you say?  They know they will face that horrible brand of American racism, but they brave it anyway because their homelands are poor, and here, at least, they can find employment.

To which I would say – racism is a rather horrible thing to brave just for economic opportunity.  Add to it the other impediments I mentioned – the language barrier, lack of a social network, arduousness of the journey, separation from friends and family, and fear of deportation.  The economic opportunities must be great indeed to put up with all of that.

Are you telling me that the economic opportunities are that lucrative for a person starting at the very bottom here?  Here in the land of the exploitative, rapacious capitalist?  I had been told that “trickle down” didn’t work!  I had been told that the gap between rich and poor was enormously great in this country.  I had been told that there was no upward mobility any more in America.

So what are the lessons of the fact that we have an immigration problem?  Here are two possibilities:

  • Immigrants to the United States are extraordinarily masochistic
  • Immigrants to the United States are extraordinarily naive and stupid

I reject these conclusions.  The Leftist may be forced to accept them, however, because here are the other two possibilities:

  • Contrary to the Leftist mantra, the United States is a land of extraordinary tolerance and relatively low levels of racism and xenophobia
  • Contrary to the Leftist mantra, market-based economics benefits both rich and poor alike, and American poor are not only better off than the poor of almost any other nation in the world, but those poor (or the next generation) have a reasonable prospect of upward mobility

I accept both of those conclusions.  We do have an immigration problem – it is a complex problem for which neither political party has proffered much of a solution – but boy is it a nice problem to have.

Coda

I just came across a fascinating video on YouTube in which economist Milton Friedman talks about immigration.  In it, he echoes some of my themes above and also some of my musings in the commentary below.  He also makes an assertion that I had never thought of – that perhaps illegal immigration is better than legal immigration.  The reason why is fascinating.

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2 comments

  1. Steve Burri · · Reply

    The federal laws already on the books should be either enforced by the Executive or changed by the Legislative.

    In regard to your last two bullet points- 25 or 30 years ago I read an op-ed column in the old Houston Post by a writer that usually accentuated America’s racism. He had interviewed numerous Nigerian immigrants, both legal and not, and quoted them as rejoicing in America’s opportunity. In conclusion, the writer reverted back to his racism mantra as though he had never interviewed these ‘ecstatic to be here’ folks.

    I also would question your claim that illegal immigration is not draining public resources. Many Southern California hospitals have closed their ER’s because high numbers of illegals have used them without having to pay. Of course, there are so many ways that politicians have tried to turn the ‘safety net’ into a ‘hammock’ and ultimately into a ‘snare net.’

    1. Thank you for your comments. The testimonials of the Nicaraguans that you mentioned don’t surprise me, and neither, sadly does the lack of effect these had on a leftist with blinders on. I didn’t think of my comment that illegal immigration doesn’t drain resources as a “claim” – it was more an intuition. (When I make a claim, I will hopefully make a good effort to back it up!) I think making such a claim, or the converse, is very hard to effectively back up given the complexity of the question and the possibilities for obfuscating the data. I would bet, though, that part of the culpability is the state’s – California likely takes a blind eye position as a matter of policy. Your comments about the evolving meanings of “safety net” are spot on.

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