Our “immigration“ problem is undoubtably of our own making. By that I mean that without Americans and American businesses hiring illegal immigrant workers there would be no problem. But we do hire them, employing them as a kind of second class workforce. A workforce that can be paid far below the legal minimum wage, sometimes as low as what Chinese or Indian workers are paid.
It’s a conundrum that we are competing against low cost foreign nations with our own low wage workers. However it’s very clear that we are utilizing this resource and leveraging it for our own benefit. The by-product of this activity has created an American second class. How strange is it that the “land of the free and home of the brave, where all men are equal…” has a lower class. An untouchable caste suitable for factory or farm labor that can be disposed of (deported) at will.
Recent estimates measured the current illegal immigrant population at somewhere between 18 million and 30 million. That’s as much as a full 10% of the population, far too many to deport economically. And although there is some hue and cry to do exactly that, the economic damage would be massive. These are food and hospitality workers, factory and field help, maintenance and manual laborers employed because they are cheap and available. The economic reality is that they are working because we need them and we’ve come to depend on them. Mass deportations is something we dare not try just as a major recession is finally easing. So what do we do?
These immigrants have dreams, else they would not be here. Dreams of a better life than they had from whence they came. They have joined our communities, are attending our schools, harvesting our crops, working our factories, serving in industries of all types. In short they’ve quickly become part of our nation. All that separates them from American citizens is legal status. Why not use some of our famed ingenuity and take advantage of the situation?
Our immigration systems is old and tired, badly in need of repair. We simply do not have the manpower, money or will to guard our borders like castle walls. Nor would that make much sense in the modern world. Today countries are beginning to merge for benefits and resources, keeping their sovereign status and still leveraging the flexibility of collective power. The EU is an excellent example of this. Still in it’s infancy the EU has rescued several of it’s member states who would have completely succumbed to the depredations of the recent recession. The EU will emerge form this struggle stronger than ever. Maybe we should think about that example.
What does America really require from it’s illegal citizens? Is it stiff penalties and prison or is it some more lasting benefit to the country itself. It seems a strange solution to throw away these millions when they contribute to our strength. Why not leverage these people instead?
Putting aside all thoughts of punishment for the moment, let’s talk about opportunity. The clear opportunity here is to capitalize on this “problem.” One of our difficulties is that we do not even have a clear count of the so called illegal immigrants. That’s easy to remedy, all we need to is create a easy to acquire working visitor visa, available at any border post. The only requirement is registration, an ID search to stop truly undesirables, and regular proof of employment verified by an employer.
This accomplishes two important goals, registers visiting workers and locks in tax revenue. We get a good count and some badly needed money for the country. With the Baby Boomer generation falling off the employment roles and drawing on Social Security, wouldn’t it be nice to have some fresh revenue coming on? This has to be a simple and enticing process so we can get as many currently illegal residents on file as possible. It also could be renewed yearly, just by showing up at a local post office. Once we know who they are, they can be fairly taxed.
The second step is to provide a clear path to permanent citizenship. In this case processes like the “Dream act” are on the right track. It requires proof of accomplishment and benefit to America. Becoming a citizen is not for everyone, and probably should take at least 10 years of residency and employment. There are a lot of wrinkles to be ironed out with a policy like this. What happens to the invalid grandmother for instance, who is a dependent, or what about an exception from full time employment for immigrant mothers who get pregnant? Not to mention expulsion for immigrants who commit crimes, something we have absolutely no handle on at the moment. It’s all complex but doable.
Policies like this need to address the real reasons that we’ve had such a surge in illegal immigration in the first place. We certainly should consider a different set of minimum wage regulations for working immigrants, not to create a permanent second class, but rather to foster employment and revenue. It’s important to note that with out a viable path to full citizenship, we would be creating a permanent lower class which is still un-american as far as I can tell. This would mean strict guidelines for employers as well, so as not to undercut our own citizens ability to work.
These kind of reforms would pave the way for greater cooperation with our Southern and Northern neighbors, and provide a way to measure the transition of people from one country to another. Most of all it would serve our own employment and documentation interests
The situation as it stands is untenable. We are unable to implement any registration or reforms with millions of undocumented workers. The wild cries of “No Amnesty!” and “Close the borders!” do nothing to solve this problem. We simply cannot afford to build a wall around the U.S., nor can we simply arrest and deport all undocumented immigrants. Complaints of jobs lost and free healthcare for illegal immigrants are groundless unless there are solid numbers to back them up. As of now our estimates of the illegal immigrant population could well be followed by the words “plus or minus 100%” This is a national security issue as well as a national economic issue. We simply need to get a handle on this situation and it starts with documentation and facing it directly.