Observations on illegal immigration in the US, possible solutions

25 05 2007

 What are we going to do with illegal immigration and illegal immigrants?

How do we stop illegal immigration?

How do we control immigration?

Take away the angry rhetoric, xenophobia, unsubstantiated claims and statistics and we see an problem that is global in scope and range.

It’s an economic issue. It’s a political issue.  It’s an emotional issue.  It’s a human issue.  It’s a moral issue.  There is no absolute “right or wrong” or “black and white”.

Poor people want to improve their condition and look toward wealthy countries as places of opportunity and employment.

Wealthier countries cannot allow uncontrolled immigration and growth if they wish to sustain their economic advantage and growth patterns.

Who has the right to live and work here or there?

There are two important issues at the heart of the issue:

1.  A country (government) has the right to close, defend and control their borders and all immigration.

This is a no-brainer, of course a country can do whatever they want with their border, immigration and foreign trade. It is their right to make the rules and regulations that govern their territory and for those who wish to enter the country.

Of course we have to remember that the US border consists of over 12,034 km of land boundaries and 19,924 km of coastline.

This makes total enforcement of the border a difficult if not impossible task. Keeping people out of the USA with walls is not possible.

Controlling the border, monitoring legal immigration  and enforcing laws to control or eliminate illegal immigration for the benefit of the country and it’s citizens is the goal of any good immigration policy.

2. What to do with existing immigrants currently living and working in the country?

This is the tricky one.

The US has clear laws and policies regarding illegal immigration, they have been in place for years.  The lack of enforcement and lack of application of the laws has resulted in 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the USA.

Solutions and Alternatives for existing illegal immigrants in the USA

1.  Provide Citizenship.  Allowing “fast track” to citizenship for existing illegal immigrants in the US sidesteps or ignores laws in place that were never seriously enforced over the past years.

Legal challenges, fairness issues, political problems all prevent this solution from being proposed, evaluated and accepted.

Arguably the best, fastest, cheapest solution that will not disrupt the economy in the short term.

Another problem to consider is that of trust.  Will an illegal immigrant trust a government program that brings them out of hiding and identifies them?

The next issue, if all the illegal immigrants sign up and become US citizens are they paying their taxes, are their employers withholding taxes?  If not there is a new legal challenge, the identification of tax evaders at the business and personal level.

2.  Find them and deport them.  Enforce the current laws.   Tracking down and deporting all illegal immigrants is not logical or cost effective due to the estimated amount of immigrants in the US. (10,000,000 to 20,000,000 according to some estimates).

It is the best political solution, makes headlines and polarizes people.  The idea that “we are just enforcing the law” is heard by followers of this strategy.

Unfortunately it also disrupts the economy at the local level when communities or workplaces are singled out for “raids” and massive deportation.

If there were a method to identify and return all illegals to their countries quickly the US economy would fall into a huge recession or depression due to the sudden and massive loss of labor.

If the US had been enforcing their immigration laws over the past years they would not have this situation.

But they didn’t do this enforcement in the past, and now what?

3.  Make new legislation prohibiting interaction and financial transactions with illegal immigrants. Good political solution, great headlines but does little to stop the underlying economic differences between the US and other countries (the reason why people immigrate).

New laws do not stop or slow down the entrance of illegal immigrants.  The fundamental problem continues, and is now criminalized further (reflect on how effective the laws were during Prohibition and currently against drugs in terms of stopping their use and commercialization).

Creates an underground economy (housing, fraudulent documents and I.D., etc.)  and increase the opportunities for illegal immigrants to be exploited and organized crime to get involved.

Creates an atmosphere of distrust, fear, xenophobia which creates violence, prejudice and hate between ethic groups and socioeconomic groups. Turning the average citizen into the police, judge and jury is not recommended.

If the current laws are not enforced, do we need to make more?

4.  Create a temporary permit or permission to allow immigrants to work.  This makes sense if there is a need for immigrant workers in the US economy. It allows them to work, pay taxes, and participate in the infrastructure.

The major problem here is that the US employee does not want to pay taxes, benefits and competitive wages to low wage workers.  This is not because they are bad people, it’s because to be competitive they require the lowest costs possible, and taxes reduce their competitive advantage.

The lawmakers will not be able to determine how many individuals should be allowed in yearly, or for how long.

Paying taxes is not an issue for the illegal immigrant.  Getting a job that pays is an issue.

The enforcement of immigration “after the border” should be focused upon identifying those businesses who hire illegal immigrants and don’t pay the corresponding taxes and benefits.

This is hugely unpopular with politicians, because businesses are filled with voters. It is easier to confront individuals with no rights, no legal protection and no right to vote than it is to confront US citizens with the power to vote you out of office.

Every US agency that deals with the Federal or State economic development has voiced the opinion that immigrant workers are a required and essential part of the US economy and necessary for future economic growth.  Required and essential.

5.  Do nothing   This was the unofficial policy for many years.  Border control was present and legal immigration controlled but illegal immigration control was not enforced 100%.

The general US government view was that supply and demand would control the flow of required illegal immigration.

The economic and political cost vs. benefit of eliminating this necessary source of low cost labor was considered, and the reaction was tolerance and silence.

This is changing rapidly with the upcoming 2008 US elections.  It is an emotional issue and a polarizing issue with US voters, and emotional polarizing issues wind up being central issues during Presidential political campaigns.

The immigration issue is a hot topic in Europe, and new political faces are emerging worldwide trumpeting the issue of “preserving the culture” and “controls on immigration”.

It’s a sign of the global times, we are now able to quickly migrate anywhere.  Our government and society’s abilities to accept new immigrants is being challenged and overloaded.

We need to look at the fundamental causes of immigration, and determine long term global actions that will eliminate the need for people to leave their own countries.

At the same time evaluate current and new immigration policies and laws with a single focus; what is the best for the country, it’s growth, it’s future and it’s current citizens?

Related Links

Illegal Immigration – USA and Mexico 

American Immigration Resources on the Web 

Can’t make a decision 

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