I think this may be the best protest poster I've ever seen. It captures very well the problem of dynamic inconsistency that plagues any attempt to rationalize or improve the nation's immigration laws. The full article reports on the 500,000 people who protested in Los Angeles against legislation passed by the House that:
[W]ould make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, require churches to check the legal status of people they help, and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border.It further quotes the President in a way that illustrates the problem quite succinctly:
"America is a nation of immigrants, and we're also a nation of laws," Bush said in his weekly radio address, discussing an issue that had driven a wedge into his own party.I start from the basic premise that a nation needs to define its borders and establish the rules for who is a citizen and who is not. Once those borders and rules are set, some people can be identified as being in the country illegally. In order to discourage illegal immigration, the nation's laws must promise severe punishment for those who are so identified. But here's the rub. Once an illegal immigrant has become an otherwise law-abiding resident, the nation should provide as much support to that person as possible. And once the illegal immigrant has a child in this country, all bets are off. Say what you want about the woman in the photo, the kid poking her in the eye is innocent in all of this and we do such children no favors by deporting or jailing their parents.
I am convinced from having worked on this briefly toward the end of my time at the CEA and from the President's remarks that the administration has its heart in the right place on this and is trying to make some progress on a very challenging issue. There are two parts of the President's rhetoric that I continue to dislike. The first is embodied in this statement from the radio address:
Finally, comprehensive immigration reform requires a temporary worker program that will relieve pressure on our borders. This program would create a legal way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that Americans will not do. [Emphasis added.]That last phrase is a decidedly non-economic statement. Americans will not do these jobs at the prevailing wages. The appropriate response is to let the wages rise, so that the market clears without resorting to workers from abroad. That means that more Americans will do them at the higher wage and that fewer employers will demand the services. That's the way we deal with other markets--I see no reason why we should systematically undermine the wages of low-skilled workers in urban and border areas by refusing to enforce immigration laws. So I disagree with the assertion that reform should involve a guest worker program specifically to allow such jobs to be filled in some exceptional way.
The second issue is whether any reform is perceived is an amnesty. Here's the excerpt from the radio address:
One thing the temporary worker program would not do is provide amnesty to those who are in our country illegally. I believe that granting amnesty would be unfair, because it would allow those who break the law to jump ahead of people who play by the rules and wait in the citizenship line. Amnesty would also be unwise, because it would encourage waves of illegal immigration, increase pressure on the border, and make it more difficult for law enforcement to focus on those who mean us harm. For the sake of justice and for the sake of border security, I firmly oppose amnesty.Okay, I oppose amnesty as well, for all of these reasons. But if we oppose amnesty, then we haven't addressed the twelve million people who have a version of the story that the woman in the picture is trying to tell.
So, as the House has done, we have to lead with the punishments. I would leave the churches out of it, at least at the start. I would start with extreme fines for employers caught violating the law--fines that are several orders of magnitude greater than any economic benefit that could be gained by hiring illegals at a lower wage than citizens. This applies to large employers and household employment of domestic workers alike. My next targets would be the smugglers who bring illegals to this country and anyone found forging documents that establish citizenship. Jail time, severe and mandatory. I think that laws to deny illegal immigrants access to driver's licenses and other non-essential benefits of citizenship are generally a good idea.
That's about as much prevention as we can do without looking to deport moms with kids. I don't think there is much we can do on that margin, except to deport those who are apprehended if doing so does not jeopardize their children. But most illegals will not likely be apprehended, because they don't break any other laws (and there's nothing beyond lip service about devoting more resources to doing so in the radio address). Those who are here are probably here permanently, unless they leave voluntarily. So there are two more steps we can take.
The first is to work on the border. I have no problem with fences. I am willing to pay taxes to support the increases in border security required to keep as many illegals out as possible. Let the problem get no worse than it currently is. The second is to increase the limits on legal immigration. Who needs the complications of a guest worker program? We are unlikely to enforce the exit requirements, and I see no reason to have two classes of resident formalized in this way. And perhaps a greater pipeline of people coming in legally and enjoying the benefits of citizenship would be the inducement necessary to get those living as illegals to change their status.