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 





Illegal immigration – USA and Mexico

18 10 2006

Immigration control is a global challenge, and yet not one developed country has developed a good workable and acceptable legal immigration plan that eliminates illegal immigration.

There are political solutions, and then there are real solutions.

Immigration between nations occurs when there are marked differences in economic wealth or living conditions between two regions. In order to eliminate massive immigration, wealth (and it’s distribution) of the economically disadvantaged country must improve or the wealthier country must lose it’s wealth.

The long-term solution to immigration will be found in changing economic conditions, policies and the creation of opportunities in the disadvantaged country.

A short-term solution will be found by building walls and increasing border enforcement (This is effective where the border areas are limited and can be totally controlled).

The current immigration situation between Mexico and the US has become a political football, and it appears political solutions are all that matter.

It’s time for both countries to work and invest in real, long-term economic solutions to solve fundamental problems in order to help and protect both countries. The US is facing a problem, and Mexico should assist their neighbor in finding solutions.

The Mexican perspective:

  • There are many opportunities and jobs available that pay much better than in Mexico.
  • There are no jobs available in Mexico for the majority of immigrants.
  • Going to the US is a “rite of passage” for many Mexicans in certain areas. Most return to Mexico after 3 – 5 years.
  • Many cross the border illegally to meet family members already in the US, and have jobs waiting for them once they arrive. Most immigrants have jobs in the US.
  • Most of the immigrants come from rural areas in Mexico, with low levels of education.
  • Mexican immigrants in the US send enormous sums of money to support family members in Mexico. Petroleum sales bring Mexico the most foreign currency income, followed by money sent by Mexicans in the USA (not all illegal immigrants) to family in Mexico.
  • For many Mexican state governments, this injection of foreign capital is very important for maintaining local economies.
  • Crossing the border illegally is dangerous and life threatening, and in many cases expensive.
  • US employers are open and supportive to employing illegal immigrants, and in many cases provide false identification and protection to the workers.
  • The majority of the millions of illegal immigrants currently in the US are working, and spending money in the local US economies.
  • The legal immigration mechanisms available (visas) reject those who are economically disadvantaged (the ones with the highest need to immigrate).
  • Mexicans believe that the US has the sovereign right to restrict and control immigration.
  • They would like to see a realistic legal migration program created.
  • The immigrants in the US pay sales taxes, and they consume goods and services in the US.

The US perspective

  • Illegal immigration takes jobs away from US citizens.
  • Illegal immigrants use social, health and welfare services paid for by US taxpayers.
  • Illegal immigrants bring crime, drugs and violence to communities.
  • Illegal immigrants don’t speak English and don’t learn English, and are forcing communities to spend money on bilingual teachers and government programs.
  • Illegal immigration can be stopped by building a wall or by enforcing the border.
  • Illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes.
  • US agricultural businesses cannot survive with competitive prices if illegal workers are eliminated. Legal immigration will increase labor costs.
  • Elimination of illegal immigrants will cause substantial increases in the costs of food, restaurants, hotels, construction and certain consumer and industrial goods and services. Immigrant labor is needed to maintain the US economy.
  • The US Border Control has stated many times that the solution is in enforcing and penalizing US employers that hire illegal workers, not by penalizing and deporting the illegal immigrant.
  • The US government and state governments understand the economic situation and provide political solutions for voters, but understand that the total elimination of immigration would severely hurt the US economy. A legal immigration solution must be implemented.
  • There is a fundamental dilema. America is the land made of immigrants, and yet now must begin to control this immigration. Huge uncontrolled borders, wealth and opportunity, and willingness of employers to hire undocumented workers combine to make the US an attractive immigration destination.

Opportunities and possible solutions

If we agree that the illegal immigration problem is a consequence of economic situations and differences in the distribution of wealth, then the following ideas are possible solutions. None of them are easy, all of them have costs, but they are the only real long-term solutions to the immigration situation.

  • US government and businesses coordinate with the Mexican government and business sector to invest in economic development projects in the areas in Mexico with the highest degree of poverty and immigration.
  • The Mexican government must aggressively work and invest in order to improve opportunities and wealth in their country, especially for the economically disadvantaged.
  • US businesses push for immigration reform that allows for temporary workers and legal immigration. The program would increase costs to the US employers, and the workers would be paying taxes.
  • US government makes laws and enforces them against US employers that hire illegal immigrants.
  • US government finds a method to legalize current immigrants that have been and are working in the US.

Related Links

Observations on illegal immigration in the US, possible solutions

How to do business in Mexico, Parts 1 – 28

Official government websites of the Mexican States

The definitive dialing guide for calling Mexico

Top States in Mexico for for doing business – World Bank Report 2007