Immigration

I hate the subject of immigration. Much like abortion, the mention of the word immigration is enough to end rational discussion in a heartbeat. The issue is charged by history, geography, cultural differences, cultural loss, mistrust, racism, and callous political pandering. Just like abortion, I hate writing about this subject, but it is a topic at the front of our democracy.

I hope to have a good and rational debate on this topic, so I would ask everyone to put as many of their preconceived notions, political leanings, and cultural predispositions down, and step away. The format for this post will be familiar to RM regulars; I will lay out some facts framing the discussion in bullet point form, then state my position on the issue. I really do hope for a long thread in the comments section, and will also post a discussion on Facebook. As an editorial note on the structure of this blog, allow me to remind you that this post (and most others) are longer than two paragraphs….click on “continues here” to read the full post. When you are done…make a statement; attack, support, debate. All responsible comments are welcome!

As in most of our political discourse today, there is a large body of misinformation in play on the subject of immigration. The following list is an attempt to define the outer skin and inner structure of this debate before my later statement of position on its resolution.

  1. This nation (outside of native Americans) was founded and grown by immigrants who came without an invitation. The millions of Irish, German, Italian, Russian, and Jewish who came through Ellis Island did so without a visa. There was no law at that time labeling them “illegal”…but they came without permission and were definitely not wanted. Please do refer to ALL of the newspaper reporting from the early 20th Century…you will find that most of the headlines are being recycled in today’s press.
  2. Most of the immigrants that came through Ellis Island did not learn English. It is manifestly difficult for adults to learn a new language. Most of the (rather limited) data on the topic suggests that Mexican immigrants are just as likely to learn English and insist that their children speak it as other current groups of immigrants, as well as those that came through Ellis Island.
  3. The immigrant wave of the early 20th Century had an equally large negative, short term financial impact on the country. There are two areas where illegal immigrants cause negative financial impact; under reported federal taxes and a lack of health insurance. The earlier waves of immigration were not burdened by health issues. The difference between then and now lies in local taxation. Latino illegals do pay the taxes that substantially support schools, fire protection, police protection, and public utilities. The predominate source of funding for these areas comes from property and sales taxes. Illegal or not, everyone pays sales and property taxes (yes…someone is paying tax on that house or apartment they live in, and you can bet that the cost is being passed along).
  4. The market for false employment documentation has a particularly peculiar effect on taxes and spending…illegals (and their employers) will be paying FICA taxes into the system. These workers will likely never collect the benefits, a fact that serves as a small but real offset of loses incurred on the medical side.
  5. The two immigrant waves had a similar effect on the job market; immigrants took jobs that established citizens typically avoided, which benefited business by lowering labor costs (more labor supply, lower wage levels). Lower wage earning citizens (especially those with less education), lost jobs to the immigrants. The mix here is toxic…business makes more cash while less educated citizens go on unemployment.
  6. Culturally, both waves caused huge disturbances in the social strata and dramatically transformed neighborhoods. The community in Las Vegas that I grew up in is now predominately Hispanic; it really doesn’t matter how nice (or legal) the new arrivals are, the loss of a familiar neighborhood structure will cause tension. When the new arrivals have a different view about what is acceptable….well, just close your eyes and think about homeowners associations. An amusing parallel to this problem is the old sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillys”.

With the framework in place, I can move on to the specific issues that legislation should address. In laying out these issues, I am working under the assumption that the two extremes are not on the table. Extreme one would be pretending that we don’t have a problem; extreme two would be ethnic cleansing and a Mexican-American version of the Berlin Wall. Here are the issues:

  1. The cultural tension of immigration and a language gap needs to be overcome.
  2. All individuals living in the United States need to participate in the payment systems supporting governmental services at every level.
  3. Negative externalities in public health caused by a lack of medical care or the importation of sanitation and living standards not on par with the United States must be eliminated.
  4. The economy must be shielded from the effects of massive changes in the growth rate of the population.
  5. The crime wave associated with all mass-migrations (illegal economies breed violence and well…illegal activities), must be blunted by concerted action from both sides of the border.

The United States of America was built by immigrants and has thrived with the help of diversity, but it cannot accept an unlimited number of immigrants and yet maintain its prosperity. This statement is made in the full knowledge that all peoples who are courageous enough to pack up an go towards and unknown land on the promise of a chance…just a chance, are worthy of calling themselves Americans. We need a good fix (and everyone will have to give something up folks)…so here is the Rational Middle’s humble answer:

  1. For efficiency and clarity, the United States shall identify English as the official language of the government, public utilities, education, law enforcement, and commerce. Naturalized citizens shall have a working knowledge of English.
  2. The teaching of a second language to all students in primary school shall be a national recommendation.
  3. The naturalization process shall be closed to all peoples in the country illegally, but a process up to and including permanent resident alien status shall be adopted by the immigration and naturalization service. Individuals shall have 6 months from adoption of the measure to apply for the process; those who fail to apply, or who enter the country after 6 months are subject to immediate deportation. This measure shall recommend an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that children born to individuals in the country illegally will not be citizens; the secretary shall have the authority to rule on humanitarian exceptions.
  4. New arrivals to the border shall be eligible for entrance into the process for resident alien and eventual citizenship. The targeted allowance for legal immigration shall be raised from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 per year, with half set aside for North and Central American immigration.
  5. Subject to the cooperation of the governments of Mexico and other Latin American nations on enforcement issues, wire transfers from the United States to Mexico and other Latin American nations shall be limited. Business to business transactions between properly registered entities operating transparently will be allowed without limitation.
  6. The budget for Homeland Security shall be modified in the following ways; a tenfold increase in funding for cross-functional teams composed of the FBI. local law enforcement, the DEA, the CIA, Customs, INS, and the Border Patrol that will be tasked with finding and eliminating cross-border criminal activity on the Mexican border; a doubling of funding for traditional border enforcement operations; and funding sufficient to allow the use of  DOD assets in reconnaissance applications along the length of the border.
  7. Businesses will have 6 months from the measure’s signing to assist employees in the process for obtaining permanent resident alien status. Businesses will face criminal liability for employing illegal aliens without following established protocols beginning 12 months after the measure’s signing.
  8. The status, stability, and economic viability of the nation of Mexico shall be regarded as a matter of national security on the level of Pakistan.
  9. Resident aliens who do not have private insurance must register for premium-supplemented Medicaid; where through payroll deduction a 5% tax will be used to supplement the full cost of Medicaid coverage. The state portion for this section of Medicaid shall be 33%, with the Federal Government assuming the liability for the remainder uncovered.

So there it is. I have tried to address the principle challenges involved in the current debate, mindful of our heritage as immigrants and the reality of this new economy. The piece on medical coverage is, I believe an original idea. I found it intriguing that, within the health care debate, our zeal to keep federal taxpayers from supporting immigrant medical care placed the burden for costly emergency room visits squarely on local taxpayers. A good rule of thumb when thinking about budgets, finance, and economics; scale is good…spread a cost over as large a pool of cash flows as possible and you will do well.

While it is certainly Anglo-centric, the notion of English is a simple one; it is far more efficient for the smaller group of incoming immigrants to conform to a language than for an existing country to become bilingual. A point to consider; one of the areas in which our nation is falling behind the world is our ability to communicate. Most other countries teach multiple languages at a far earlier age than we. Regardless of ethnic pride,teaching multiple languages early is an economic opportunity at least. It is the inability to communicate, in everyday speech and culturally, that separates our democracy from a sound resolution to immigration. For better or worse, my attempt at communication is now permanently embedded in virtual space.

The Rational Middle is listening….