Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Smartest Compromise Possible in the Ongoing U.S. Illegal Immigration Debate: Part II

This is part two of my last post. There will be at least one more part as well. Here is a quick recap of the liberal and conservative main points in case you didn’t read Part I:

On the right:

  1. People should not be rewarded for breaking U.S. law.
  2. People who followed the law and are going through the immigration process legally should not be penalized.
  3. It is meaningless to discuss amnesty if new workers without visas will flood in after reform.
  4. Illegal immigrants do not pay taxes but consume/use costly services and infrastructure.
  5. Not having English as a national language spoken by all destabilizes society and divides us.
  6. Illegal immigrants repress wages for Americans.
  7. Unsecured borders are a real threat to the policing of terrorist threats.

On the left:

  1. Not providing a path to citizenship for people who have lived and worked here for a significant time might create a permanent underclass that does not feel ownership in their country. This could undermine our culture and divide us.
  2. Expelling a large number of workers in a short period of time could seriously damage the U.S. economy.
  3. The current situation is not unprecedented. Historically, the U.S. has had a higher % of immigrants before.
  4. Many families may be split up by an aggressive policy of expulsion.
  5. Demonizing “illegal” workers may cause racism to worsen.
  6. Illegal immigrants largely do the work that U.S. workers are unwilling to do.
  7. Children of illegal workers, many born in the U.S., will be greatly harmed by the expulsion of their parents.

I want to start off with Right 4. It turns out that this is factually incorrect. About 75% of illegal immigrants do pay taxes (Income, Social Security, and Medicare). Stephen C. Goss of the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been quoted as saying the SSA puts the number at 75%. Of course this isn’t true of the guy hanging out at Home Depot, but it turns out that most illegal immigrants are actually employees, and when they are hired they present fake or stolen social security cards. As a result they pay in not only Income Tax, but also Social Security and Medicare taxes for benefits that they will probably never collect. If you want to do your own research, check it out. You can actually get direct sources from the SSA on this, but here is a good article here. So anyway, ixnay to Right 4.

Let’s move on to Left 1, Left 5, and Right 5. Point taken. I accept that it is fundamentally un-American to reinvent indentured servitude. The U.S. has the right to decide that illegal immigrants may stay or go, but there must be a path to citizenship for those who stay. However, this leads to Right 1 and Right 2.

It is very hard to disagree with Right 1 and Right 2. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide want to immigrate to America. Even the best of them should wait to enter legally. The U.S. cannot send a signal that coming illegally is superior. There are also millions of already in queue to enter legally, primarily on family visas. I suggest that as a solution, we agree that any path to legal residence and eventually citizenship for those who came illegally must be sufficiently long to ensure that there was no benefit to them for having jumped in line. Based on an examination of the longest average waiting times for family resident visa applications, I would suggest a minimum waiting period of 11 years before a person who is a current illegal immigrant in the U.S. could become a permanent legal resident. In the mean time if they are allowed to stay or to leave and re-enter, it will have to be on a work visa.

A lefty might suggest that this violates Left 1 and Left 5 – but it does not. The average American lives to 77, and 11 years is only 14% of a lifetime. Paying a substantial price for having committed an illegal act will lead current citizens and legal residents to be less angry. In the end, this will lessen xenophobia, not increase it.

I’m going to assume that so far you reasonable lefties and righties are on board so far. In the interest of agreement, let’s throw each other a bone. Left 3 is more or less true. In 1910 14% of the population was immigrant (legal and illegal). In 2005 it was 11%. This fact shouldn’t change policy, but it is good to keep in mind that we aren’t in unprecedented territory here. There was also extraordinary economic growth in the U.S. in the 1910s. We all like that.

On Left 4 and Left 7 however, not so much. Although many illegal immigrants do have children who are U.S. citizens…it is certainly the right of the deported parents to take their children back home with them. Mexico is not Sudan folks. If parents make the decision to leave their children with other caregivers in the U.S., that is their right as well. As responsible parents they will make the decision that is in the best interest of their family. But it is not the responsibility of the U.S. to be force-fed new citizens based on the qualification that they are able to sneak across the border. This demeans the process, the concept of citizenship, and most importantly is horribly unfair to the millions of relatives, students, professionals, and diversity lottery recipients waiting patiently to enter legally. I am sure that on this we can agree. Uh-huh.

But enough agreement – let’s move onto something more polarizing. Good ‘ol Right 3. I cannot see an argument against this one. In fact, recent U.S. history has proven that if we don’t put some real teeth into a reform bill, a wave of new illegal immigrants will rush in to fill the void created by legalizing the current ones. This exact thing happened after 1986, when President Regan signed a sweeping immigration amnesty bill into law. There was no effective enforcement method available of preventing new illegal immigrants rushing in to fill the economic ecological niche vacated by the new amenstees. So rush in they did, and the law was a disaster. Even Fox News says so here.

So fool us once – shame on us. Fool us twice… We can’t make the same mistake again. Not only is there no point talking about comprehensive Immigration reform without enforcement, but it would effectively increase illegal immigration to attempt it. So if we want reform (and we all do), we are going to have to address enforcement in a post-reform world. Okay? Okay.

I want to take Left 6 and Right 6 together because they are both obviously true. However, let’s add some nuance. American workers aren’t unwilling to do these jobs – they are either unwilling to do them at crappy wages, or unwilling to buy expensive machines that do them when illegal labor will do them cheaply. On the other hand, the huge number of migrants that come in legally on farm work visas seems to invalidate the Right 6 argument. No one really whines about farm work visas. Not so much.

Now here is an important point. According to the SSA about 75% of illegal immigrants pay taxes. That means they had to show a Social Security Card to become an employee. Which means they used a fake card with a real number (meaning they stole the number), or just used a fake number. So we can fix this right? No, not really. The IRS is not allowed to share information with the DHS/SSA in a way that is sufficient to determine who is using a fake number. I delved deeply into this issue. The bureaucrats have tried many times to setup an information sharing system that allows employers to check if their new hires are legal or not. Not only have all attempts at creating this system failed horribly, but it is the opinion of most of the people involved that statutory prohibitions on information sharing due to privacy issues make it effectively impossible to fix the problem.

In other words, a social security number is the only way to see if someone is legal, but the government organizations that have the best answers to the “Is he/she legal to work?” question are not allowed to answer the question. And because the quality of the answers from the organizations that *are* permitted to respond is so poor, there is no way to require employers to use the reply at all. The cackef**kedly botched prosecution of Tyson Foods for hiring many illegal immigrants showed this unambiguously. If you read my source here, note the only important sentence: “On March 26, 2003, Tyson Foods was acquitted of all charges in the case brought against them by the U.S. Government.”

So let’s review. As per 1986 – if we have a general amnesty, then we will have an immediate new wave of illegal entrants rushing in. This is because we have no border control.

Our employers don’t know who is legal anyway, because the majority of illegal immigrants use fake or stolen social security numbers and U.S. privacy laws prohibit the IRS and DHS from talking to each other. We could fix this problem with biometric-based ID for all U.S. citizens and residents, but privacy laws prevent that also.

We are f****d guys.

We are not willing to include biometrics in all ID, which is nice because that is an actual solution that would magically disappear the entire problem. So given that we will not do this – all we can do is cut a deal with those who are currently here illegally while at the same time making it harder to get here for new would-be illegal immigrants. And that brings us to Right 7: border security.

Fencing is one of the touchiest subjects in this discussion, and I have no idea why. I have heard equally intelligent, equally well-informed people say, “There has to be a fence” and “A fence is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. To solve this one we need to think outside the box a bit. Better yet, we need to build a massive, multilayered, high-tech, roboticized, sensor-laden fence around the box. By the way, Microsoft Word thinks that ‘roboticized’ is a misspelling of “Robotic Zed”. F**k it – let’s hire Robotic Zed to patrol that f***er too.

The fundamental problem is one of economic disparity. A skilled laborer from Mexico can make 3 or 4 times more doing the same work by moving north. That is a heck of an incentive. We here in the North do not want that skilled laborer to come here illegally, but it is clearly in his best interest to do so. There are not many ways to make it less likely that he will come. We can either make it less easy for him to get here, or less profitable for him to be here.

So far I’ve tried to address everyone’s concerns. BJeezus I’m tired. If you feel strongly about something I didn't mention in the Left/Right list, please post a comment. I'll try to address it. Tomorrow I will actually propose a practical solution.


Winghunter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Winghunter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Old-Things said...

Hmmmm...I think you quoted an entire article from a right wing propaganda site. Come on man, learn to think for your own self. Mexico taking over parts of the U.S. with force? My cat understands international politics better than you do.

If you are going to say something, at least think about it first.

Old-Things said...

Yeah I'm sorry wing hunter. Your post is just too hateful and stupid (and long) to leave stand. If you want to argue a xenophobic point of view at least think about it enough to couch it in terms that could make sense to a rational mind.

Mike said...


We would like to do an interview with you about your blog for . We'd like to give you the opportunity to
give us some insight on the "person behind the blog."

It would just take a few minutes of your time. The interview form can
be submitted online at

Best regards,

Mike Thomas

Rib said...

Wow... I'm so curious about the deleted comments. My brother, the censor. ;)

Through the allergy-fog of a brain filled with snot, I'm with you so far.

As far as the biometric IDs go, people I have lots of respect for, and you don't think are crazy, are very scared of biometric IDs. If you think it's a pain having your identity stolen when it's just a number, imagine how much it would/will suck when it's your fingerprints or retina scan or body heat scan that has been stolen... there's just nothing you can do about that, ever, for the rest of your life. Ick. It all sounds a bit like someone's been reading too many cyberpunk novels, but lots of intelligent, thoughtful people think it likely/probable if we move to biometric IDs.

I'm looking forward to reading your conclusions.

Greg said...

Mexican immigration, I argue in my post Invasion of the Job Snatchers, has become popular again because of NAFTA and its results.

You're doing good at summarizing and discussing some of the buzz that is going around, but so far you are lacking anything on why there is high Mexican immigration.

NAFTA should have included a free interchange of workers as well as free trade of other resources. You really can't have free trade by limiting any one resource. So NAFTA should have included a new worker visa system for North American workers that allow North Americans to work legally in any North American country. But it lacks this because free trade isn't the real reason for NAFTA.

We might also consider amending the 14th amendment so people born in the U.S. are not automatically U.S. citizens. We are old enough now where we could add a requirement that at least one parent must be a U.S. citizen also. Many immigrants attempt to get here illegally in order for their children to be U.S. citizens.

With these two changes, this would eliminate a bulk of the reasons to migrate here illegally.