Sunday, September 23, 2007

As Stephen Colbert might say if I was one of his staff writers, “I feel dirty from mucking about in the cottony waters of immigration truthiness.” Before you read this post you might want to go back and read the last two. Or not. Anyway, how do we make it both harder to enter the U.S. illegally and less profitable after illegal entry? Four words: Fence, Enforcement, Fine and Amnesty. Don’t count the ‘and’.

Fence. We make it so that the chance of passing that fence without interception is 9% instead of 90%. If we can do this, it will not make much financial sense to attempt illegal entry. Two chain links separated by sensors and a lot of space. Rapid response teams every few miles. It is totally doable and completely necessary. Arguments that this will increase xenophobia, undermine human rights, or dehumanize latinos or immigrants are specious. Knowing that everyone here came legally will put us all on even footing.

Enforcement. Finding a way to punish employers that hire illegal immigrants is at least as important as making it harder for illegal immigrants to enter the country. Fixing one of these problems without fixing the other will not solve the problem. The fundamental problem in achieving this relates to our previous discussion regarding statutory prohibitions on information sharing between the I.R.S and D.H.S. Also social security numbers are a century old technology that is insanely ineffective. It is time for biometrics, period. This will fix everything. There are obviously privacy issues, but they are solvable by hashing (a non-reversible hash obviously) the biometric data and then encrypting it. The encrypted hash would be passed for verification or embedded on ID cards. If the code was compromised (identity theft), then the citizen could apply for a new hash. Once we have biometric IDs, law enforcement of right to work becomes trivial. If it takes 9 tries to enter the U.S. once successfully, and the average illegal immigrant is caught and deported after a year, it simply will not pay to try to cross the border.

Fine and Amnesty. We’ve talked stick – here is the carrot. The U.S. economy obviously depends on its current illegal workers. Deporting them all, even over a long period of time, would not be in our best interest. This is an understatement…it would cause horrific inflation and would make it difficult for most businesses to operate profitably. Think colossal blunder. So if we can’t remove the current illegal workers, but they got here, well…illegally, then what should we do? Here is my answer.

After Fence and Enforcement are up and running, we publish the following plan and then implement it, making it clear that all steps will be followed:

Step 1: All illegal immigrants must register with the D.H.S. within 12 months. Failure to do so will result in missing the opportunity to apply for a Conversion Visa. There will be no exceptions – if you are an illegal immigrant in the U.S., and you do not register in 12 months you will permanently lose the opportunity to obtain this visa. This will mean certain deportation.

Step 2: Those illegal immigrants registering and passing a criminal background check are issued a Conversion Visa. The terms of the Conversion Visa are as follows:

a. Within 2 years of obtaining a Conversion Visa, the visa holder must return to his or her country for at least a week. The purpose of this element is trust building. If the visa holder does not return within this period, the visa will expire and the holder will be permanently unwelcome.

b. After travel back to the home country and then return to the U.S., the trip will be verified by inspection of the Customs stamp in his/her passport. Upon return to the U.S., the Conversion Visa will become a “Yellow Card”. A Yellow Card confers permanent right to work and residence in much the same way as a “Green Card”, with the following exceptions:

1. Yellow Card holders may apply for U.S. citizenship after a period of 10 years. This long period is in deference to the millions of foreigners that are legally waiting to immigrate to the U.S..

2. Yellow Card holders (even after they obtain U.S. citizenship) permanently forfeit their right to collect Social Security retirement benefits, but they must continue to pay Social Security Tax. However they are eligible for Medicare/Medicaid. The lifetime forfeiture of Social Security benefits is a substantial fine – paid to the U.S. government for having broken the law.

That’s it. Fair compromise, full citizenship eventually. S’up?

PS...A lefty would (did) say (yeah that’s right I’m talking to you Greg Becerra) that making Mexico’s economy stronger will help solve the problem. No. Even if that were to happen the problem would cascade and there would be just as many illegal immigrants coming through Mexico from Guatemala, Honduras, etc. Any weak economy in the world is going to create this problem. To boot, even though Mexico’s economy has gotten much stronger over the past decade the disparity is still huge. According to the CIA world factbook, in 2006 Mexico’s per-capita income is a fourth that of the U.S. 20 years ago in 1987, it was a sixth. The actual numbers for 1987 are $26,668 vs. $4,656 in real 2000 U.S. dollars (reference here). Illegal Immigration from Mexico is at least as large of a problem today as it was 20 years ago. It will continue to be a problem for at least several decades. And that is just Mexico.


Manimala said...

Has your representative responded to your plan?

Old-Things said...

Hiya Manimala,

I have not sent my immigration outline to my senator yet - I am waiting to see what other people say about it first. If others have good ideas I will incorporate them first.

Rib said...

It's very intriguing. I want to like it, but it also makes me a little squeamish... the George Orwell quote, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” springs to mind. It would create a permanent, government-sanctioned second class of citizen, which just feels wrong.

I'm also very wary of biometrics, not because of the privacy issue but because of the identity theft issues you touched on. I don't fully understand the encryption method you are advocating (my CS husband will not be pleased with me), but I just know how much of a pain it is when just your (easily changeable) SSN is ripped off. I can't imagine how much it would suck to have someone steal/replicate your fingerprints, retina-scan, body-heat print, etc. It sounds like your solution might be a reasonable one, but it's still a very scary thing to me.
And the idea that knowing that everyone who is here is legal puts us all on equal footing just seems naive. Xenophobes are xenophobes, and they aren't going to feel better about all the fur'ners just because they know it's likely they are here legally.
I just don't know how you get all the politicians in Washington to agree to screw over all their benefactors and buddies who make their riches exploiting illegal workers. There are powerful lobbies that aren't going to be happy about that...

It's a very thought-provoking idea though... deserves a lot more discussion and thought.

Old-Things said...

Hiya Rib. Forfeiting future SSA benefits is a fine for an illegal activity. There is no other restriction on citizenship rights. People are fined all the time for illegal activities. I reject your contention that this in any way creates second class citizens.

Legalizing illegal workers will not fundamentally change the supply market for labor. The same people will be here doing the same work. For this reason I doubt there would be resistance from the corporate side. It limits their liability without increasing cost.

Try to learn more about using a one way hash on raw biometric data. This does not result in anyone knowing what your retina/fingerprint looks like, and you could change the hash if your ID was compromised. It is funny to me that people are so resistant to this, given how horribly broken SSN s are and how much financial risk this exposes us to.

Hounds Good said...

I don't agree with the "yellow card" idea entirely. There should be no irrevocable right to work. It still grants people who have entered illegally a reward, where there are people who have legally been trying to enter the country with the same job skills have been denied. Thank you for a detailed and thought provoking article.

Pat said...

While it's clear that current immigration policy is a colossal joke, I still find the idea of building a "Berlin Wall" in my Texas backyard to be repulsive. There is no fence that will work and in addition to the human rights issue, such a fence represents a danger to wildlife habitat.

In the long run, I think a more liberal "open door" for temporary workers and new residents would be to everyone's benefit. We also desparately need to modernize the INS, get it fully computerized, and hire enough competent staff to process applications.

Most of all, we need to grow up as a nation from an attitude of isolationism and xenophobia.

william.bonner said...

This is the single best, most thoughtful and fair answer to the immigration problem that I have heard of. It addresses the rule of law while still being compassionate. It is vital that we balance the two.

Navs said...

The first thing that comes to the mind is the external factor in this illegal immigration issue. Event if the US brings out various means of tightening the entry points and so on, there remains an external factor of unscrupulous agents from the poorer countries enticing people with hopes of a good life and trying to bring illegal immigrants under various guises into the US.

So, the point is that this issue can be tackled only if countries on a whole, say in some multilateral forum like the U.N. bring in some commonly accepted laws and regulations.

This is practical, as the illegal immigration problem exists in many countries across continents like UK, India (yes it is hard to believe but India also faces this problem of illegal immigrants from countries like Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh) etc.

tracey said...

Interesting plan and well thought out. I think that part of the problem is the reputation of the US as the "land of the free and easy." It certainly entices people from other countries who are not so fortunate to dream of a better life, and to cross the borders any way that they can. To be really effective on all counts of limiting illegal immigration, we need to include the value that the American image has on immigration. Whether or not it is true is not really the issue, the effect it has on enticing people into the country illegally is.

Bluenostalgic said...

Albeit a well thought out plan, I can't help but feel overwhelmed with the current immigration problems that our country faces. At some point the door must be closed. When the door was opened there was plenty of land for the free and the brave. That land is dwindling and at some point one must take care of their own. Anyone keep up with prophecy? New World Order? One Government? It's all falling into place folks, whether we resist or take our place in line.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever stop to think that the true problem with illegal immigration stems from how difficult it is to come to America legally in the first place? You mention how all of these other people in the world are patiently waiting to come legally, but don't you think that if they had nothing to lose in terms of jobs or life in general, that they would be just as illegal given the chance? I agree that there must be something done with the illegal immigrants now, but for the future the country should consider making immigration easier-not in terms of safety, but in terms of beaurocracy. Did you know to immigrate in from Canada on a work Visa takes at LEAST three months? From Canada? It's little brother! That is ridiculous. It doesn't even gaurentee three months for sure, it could be longer-much longer. How is it possible for anyone to plan their lives around it? Not to mention, you have to wait outside the country until you get your VISA unless you want to void your application. We are talking for at least three months, maybe even a YEAR. I think there needs to be serious changes in the policy to make becoming a leagal immigrant more possible and probable in the first place.

wspirer said...

It might not be the most popular idea, but a fence is a necessity. We have no other way of securing the border...and at the very least it will slow down the flow a bit.
I like your "conversion visa" idea as well. Giving up your rights to Social Security is a small price to pay for getting to stay here, as far as I'm concerned.
Well said and well done "Old Things Under the Sun"!

Kiril said...

Let us look at the issues at two levels. One being the moral and the other the practical or pragmatic one.

There a huge number of illegal immigrants in the US who come here in search of a better life monetarily. It is not that they want to come to the US for better Health care. So the main driver is money.

We also want to punish them for having come illegally yet on the other hand admit that the US economy will collapse with out them . We claim that Social Security could get 130 billion dollars from them.

So why rock the boat. Let it sail since everybody wins.

Now as to the persons waiting to get into the US legally allow them in two categories :(immediate access) giving them rights only a small niche above that of the illegal immigrants. With conditions that they will never become US citizens but can only work here with no minimum pay guarantee but medicare while they continue to pay all taxes and Social security but no benefits.

And the others who want citizenship must wait in line.

Thus this gives the US a work force with which it can start to compete with China and at the same time people who really work to get legal citizenship do not feel cheated by the system.

James Chen said...

As an Immigrant that came here legally I do share the concern that some people are cheating (in a way) to get here. For example they didn't have to camp at a US Consulate, interrogated with questions, and the countless pages and waiting for visas and other forms to be completed. But then again, by me coming here legally, my parents were able to find high paying legal jobs, which in turned has given me an incredible oppertunity of growing up in a upper middle class family. Illegal immigrants however are not afforded the same oppertunities (at least job wise) they are forced to take low paying jobs and work long hours, knowing that they will most likely be doing jobs like these for a long long time. Now living in a society like ours we need immigrants, influx of labor and talent especially during a time when education in our country is going to sh#t. Without people like my parents (mom does Real Estate Investments and dad does consulting) there would no influx of knowlegde and innovation and there wouldn't be anyone to motivate people here who've already been established to do bigger and better things. Also without the influx of cheap labor, especially the ones that legal americans do not want to do, we would not be able to sustain our way of life. Granted there would be more jobs but seriously what is really going to happen to the Farms? I'm from Fresno (central valley, CA) and have seen the neccessity for illegal immigrants. What America need to focus on is education, the threat is not comming from illegal immigrants taking away $2 an hour jobs, its threats from overseas countries that are pulling away from us in areas of science, enginerring, and education. They are the ones that are going to be taking away the real jobs, the high paying jobs. One day we're gonna wake up and realize all the while we were fighting illegal immigrants we're gonna realize we won, not because of our politics or tatics, but its because America then will no longer be the place where fortunes are made and dreams are realized, but a place full of legal Americans working in low end jobs because that's all their education will allow them.

Anonymous said...

Your plan sounds really cool. However I wish to add that illegal immigrants with a criminal record should also be considered for the Yellow card. Other wise it is just going to drive them deeper underground. It would be better to be able to tackle them with a carrot and stick approach then just ostracize them.

I totally agree the should be much better liaison between the DHS and the IRS.

The lifetime forfeiture of Social Security benefits is also a nice penalty for having jumped the line.

Ellen Christian said...

You really bring up some good points in your posts. I agree that our immigration situation as it stands today needs some serious attention. However, I'm concerned with your suggestion of the biometrics ID. The creation of any kind of national ID system just gives the government way more control and information about our lives than they really need to have. I see that opening up another box of problems.

Starlene said...

You present both sides very fairly, and I applaud you for making this issue so easy to understand. Finally, I feel like I understand both sides of the issue. I do think that you should send your representatives your plan. Of course, you may just get the typical form letter back thanking you for your interest, but then again, you might get a bigger response. I say, go for it. You know your stuff!

you da mom! said...

speaking from the standpoint of an american whose family has been here for generations, i think it is easy to wax intellectual about what to do to solve the illegal immigration problem when you've never had to live on the other side of the fence. don't get me wrong. i think your plan is well thought-out and i think it could actually be a good one. i think most of the problems with this issue stem from racism. white americans resent mexicans and don't want them here because they don't speak english and their culture is different, etc., etc. what they don't realize is that all the cities in which they live (santa cruz, amarillo, santa barbara, san rafael, la jolla and on and on and on) are spanish names, many named after MEXICAN figures. why? because they were here before we were.

M said...

Are we going to build a fence at the northern border too? I find the idea of a huge fence through Texas, etc to be really repulsive like Pat said. I also totally object to biometrics being involved in the hiring process. I don't want my employer to have THAT much info on me. I for one am not really concerned about the illegal immigrants that are working anyway. As you pointed out, many of them pay taxes to Social Security that they will never receive benefit from. I would like to see a simplified registration/visa process for workers. If someone can come here and prove employment, even if they can't prove citizenship, I am be fine with their residing in the US.

Jake S. said...

Going back to the mid 80's, I was part of a large corporation that moved three factories from Chicago down to Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. I remember then how the average Chicagoan Union worker was getting paid $16 per hour before the layoffs and the subsequent move, and the Mexican Nationals only being paid 57 cents per hour, yes, CENTS!

The Corporation had displaced one hundred factory workers in the midwest and replaced them with 375 Mexican 'employees' at a pittance of the wage and they were still screaming that they were losing money! On top of that they were able to pollute the environment at will, as the Mexican Government easily turned their collective heads as their palms were greased with dollar bills.

Exploitation happens on both sides of the border, the Machiladoras do to the Mexican Nationals as the Illegal Immigrants do unto us.

Tim said...

I think you have outlined a well thought out and considered plan.

There are a couple of things I would probably like to respond to:

1.Forcing biometrics won't work. Social Security numbers have been forced before and you state that most simply present fake ones. Someone will find a way to fake biometric ID's. Anyway, employers who want cheap labor will be only too willing too look the other way when employees don't have a biometric ID.

2.Forfeiting permanently all future social security benefits! In your last post you stated that 75% of all illegal immigrants have actually been contributing to social security even though they are not entitled. How could you possibly take the benefits away from them?

In general I think you should take into account an illegal immigrant's background and history when deciding how to treat them. Have they been in paid work, raised a family and been a good member of society, or are they a drug addict, criminal gang member. You can't possibly treat them the same.

Paul said...

I can think of a number of issues regarding your comments.

First of all, illegal immigration is a big business, and a lot of businesses do not want illegal immigration to be stopped, thus neither party really does much about it.

As for beefing up the fence to prevent immigration, this gets Mexico mad because it doesn't allow them to use us as a safety valve for their failed policies instead of allowing the resentment over starvation to boil up and maybe cause another revolution.

I don't necessarily trust the idea of using biometrics for verification because of two issues: (1) the possibility of using this information, once acquired, in ways that those from whom it was collected would not have approved if it was known that they were going to do that (otherwise known as "mission creep") and (2) the possibility of misidentification of people because of database errors and mistakes. Biometrics will not "fix everything"; if you believe that, I'm sure you think the Department of Motor Vehicles and the United States Postal Service are sterling examples of high-quality performance and accuracy.

Do you really think you can seriously get all aliens to register with DHS? In the absence of seriously draconian measures - and by draconian I mean the death penalty - you're not going to get it. Too many of these people came from countries where armed militias in rebel groups and the military roamed the countryside looking for anyone to rob, rape, kill, or pillage. The possible threat of deportation is not likely to scare them by much.

Pat said...

Why must we be so obsessed with the punishment aspect, even when it may be cutting off our noses to spite our faces? Why not err on the side of compassion while forming a workable and sane immigration and guest worker policy? Sadly, I rarely see a solution that worries much about human suffering, just the black and white of legal/illegal in a greyer sort of world.

As for a border fence, I say a thousand times no. It's a collosal waste of money and unless you plan to dig down to bedrock and shoot down small planes on sight, it won't work. It is harmful to wildlife environments as well, but what bothers me more is the feeling it gives. I rejoiced when the Berlin Wall came down and I mourn that my beloved country wants to build another one.

Yes, immigration policy is a joke, but can't we be compassionate as well as practical?

Sarah said...

I'm not too sure about the fence idea. True it would keep illegal immigrants from entering in the first place but I've read there's an ecological impact it could have. Though what I read wasn't completely thorough I believe a study would have to be done to see what kind of impact it would have. Also the fence brings to mind the Berlin wall. Since you did suggest "rapid response teams every few miles" perhaps just stick with that istead of the fence and provide more patrolling and cameras monitoring the area that are then monitored with human eyes constantly where if they see any suspicious activity the "rapid response teams" could be deployed quickly.

I agree with your enforcement idea of punishing employers who hire illegal immigrants. Instead of hiring these illegal immigrants they should request work services from all the prisoners sitting around doing nothing, and that would only be the ones in the prison system due to non-violent crimes.

As to your Fine and Amnesty idea I agree that those illegal immigrants already in the U.S. should have to pay heavy fines in order to stay here. They shouldn't be rewarded for getting here illegally when, like you mentioned, there are plenty of people trying to get into this country legally.

Cycles said...

Most of the people in this country today are descended from immigrants. Should America have closed the door before your ancestors arrived? Should there have been double fencing and guards stationed for rapid response? Would you be happy as some kind of lesser person in a country owned and run by native Americans, so called "Indians"? Imagine for a moment if the native Americans did precisely what you are suggesting in an effort to protect their economy and culture. Perhaps, the planet and the people would be better off. Maybe you are right, your timing is just off by a few hundred years. They had thriving culture, economy, and societies for their time. Even then they had numerous tribes and nations of their own. The Iriquos and Lenape were uniting nations the old fashioned way (by conquest). Whose to say your approach would produce a better result? Think about it.

Morris said...

I think another key issue that needs to be addressed is the whole "keeping the jobs inside of the US issue". Sure illegals are going to try to come here, that is just a given, however, one day they are going to come here and find that all of the work has been outsourced to third world countries.

As a writer, I can tell you this has affected me severely. In 2005, I was managing to make $12 per 450 word article, 2006 it dropped to $7 for the same thing, now in 2007 I am lucky to make over $3 for the same quality.

I compete with American companies who basically hire non-US citizens everyday to do our jobs and am so sick of it!

Lovez said...

In my state, they are pulling people over and if you don't have a license, then you automatically lose your car. Our local impound lot has filled up overnight and I bet this is making illegal people think twice before driving around town. Good post.

Greg said...

Hey I never noticed this post. It has my name in it. I'm not exactly a lefty, but I'm not exactly a righty either.

Building up Mexico's economy would help with illegal immigration despite your claim to the otherwise. You can't really just compare per capita because the economies of the U.S. and Mexico are very different. You also have to compare accessibility to goods and services which Mexico is still far behind, and health statistics will factor in to a lesser degree.

Building up an industrial base is generally the first step in development which is what NAFTA has encouraged at the cost of losing those industries in the U.S. Eventually this will create consumer need of more services starting with education and health. Then this will spur the economy further and financial services will grow which will in turn help investment in further industry and technology.

Politically, Mexico is ripe for a big economic expansion in the next 20 years that will out rival anything they've seen in a long time. They'll probably see at least a per capita reaching 8k in 10 years, and maybe 15k in 20 years. That is assuming Mexico politics continues to move away from corruption and they get their drug wars under control.

This still doesn't compare with the U.S., but it will slow the Mexican immigration into the U.S. significantly. As far as your argument that we would still have to contend with immigration from farther south, even if this were true, immigration numbers would still lessen from just the decrease from Mexico. But the Mexican economy would buffer some of the influx. Many would stay in Mexico as what occurs today.

What many people don't realize is that the current situation is that many people migrate into Mexico and don't go any further north. This pushes Mexicans into the U.S., increasing the Mexican rate of entry to the U.S. This adds to the numbers that would migrate here anyway because of economics or reduced hardships.

Industrial revolutions can take 100 years so when I talk about building economies to the south, we can see some short term effects (a lot of these will be a drain on the U.S.), but the long term effects (50-100 years) will be the most significant. Even with us doing little, immigration should start to taper off because many South American nations are entering strong growth periods so should start to draw some of the migrating workers.

In any case, the issue of immigration is a lot more complex than wasting money to build a wall. It involves security in Central and Northern South America that effects migration; the security and stability of the Mexican economy; and the U.S. trade policy to name major factors.

We are in an odd economic position in the U.S. lately because we are gutting our industrial base. This was the bread of the low education U.S. worker. Low end services were traditionally done by immigrants as long as the U.S. has been a nation. Now our industrial workers are competing with immigrants for low end service jobs. Clinton 1 warned that we need to educate America so the industrial workers could shift into upper end service jobs like finance and technology. Accessibility to money for school was increased and it is easier than ever to get into a local college. But it is difficult to change someone so we must look for change in future generations.

The U.S. economy is going to be going through some tense years. The shift from industry to service based jobs will start to show. Already we have the real estate bubble popping because people are getting jobs (low unemployment), but for less money (shift from industry to low-service), so are losing homes resulting in less disposable income for luxury items. So the next thing we should see after this bad real estate market is a big drop in consumer spending. When this happens corporate profits in a lot of sectors will also fall, and the rich will start to feel the effects also. Only at this point, when people shift their spending habits and start saving again will the economy have a chance of an upswing. I'm thinking something like a mild recession for the next 10 years, maybe a really bad year or two.

The growing economies of other nations will probably keep us ok economically because we will be servicing them, assuming we stay competitive academically with East Asia and Europe. Politicians will continue to blame immigration, but education will and should be more important to us. Health care should be a close second. Immigration isn't something you can wall yourself up against. It is better to work with your neighbors than build huge fences.

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