Tag: Immigration

The Amnesty that Dare Not Speak Its Name

So Obama gave his big speech last night about immigration. The big change is he will extend temporary legal status to about 4-5 million illegal immigrants. To qualify, they will have to have been here five years, have US citizen relatives and have not broken the law (I mean, other than the ones they broke getting here). There is no path to legal status, a green card or citizenship (at least, not yet). And, of course, the next President could undo it.

I’ve made it clear where I stand on this: we need to make it easier for people to legally come here and work; we need to make it harder for people to come here illegally; people who came here illegally should not be moved to the front of the line when it comes to getting legal status. The underlying problem is that we have a broken immigration system. We have a system where coming to America to work involves a long, drawn-out, frustrating and expensive process and becomes a big driver of illegal immigration. Until we fix that, illegal immigration is still going to be a problem. I’m also sympathetic to the arguments that our immigration policy shouldn’t break up families or send people back to countries they’ve never lived in.

But …

All that having been said, I still don’t like what the President is doing.

First, he is doing this by executive fiat without any consultation with Congress. Now I absolutely agree that Congress has dropped the ball on this. Over and over again, they have refused to do anything about our immigration mess. But this does not make the President’s unilateral action wise or even constitutional. Our Constitution does not have a “Congress are being assholes” clause. In fact, the Justice Department informed Obama, they day before his speech, that his actions were of dubious legality. When your own justice department tells you that, that translates into plain english as “this is fucking illegal.”

Even if you assume that he has the authority to act here, that still doesn’t make it right. He’s not even giving Congress a chance to do something about immigration. Obama told the last Congress to stall on immigration until after the election. He has not given the lame duck Congress a chance to act nor has he given the new Congress a chance to act. If he were doing this six months into a Republican Congress, he might have a point. But then again, the new Congress is unlikely to give him the kind of immigration reform he wants. Thus, the petulant act.

Second, Obama can dress this up all he wants. He can claim this isn’t an amnesty. But as noted Matt Welch — a supporter of massively expanded immigration — this is amnesty. When you say you will not deport people who break the law, that’s pretty much the definition of amnesty.

My fellow supporters of vastly increased legal immigration to this country do not, I believe, further their cause by retreating into soft-focus euphemism (DREAMers!) or sidestepping uncomfortable language just because it has proven politically effective for people on the other side of the issue.

If you recognized the existence of more than 10 million unpermitted residents in this country as the product more of prohibition than of criminality, and acted upon that insight foremostly by expanding and deregulating legal immigration, then I predict the word “amnesty” would start to lose some of its negative potency. People really resent line-jumpers when the queue stretches back as far as the eye can see; speed up that process and our national debate would look a lot more reasoned and thoughtful.

Exactly. I lived in Texas for four years. We had a lot of people who did work for us that I’m sure were of questionable legal status. They worked hard, they took care of their families, they obeyed any laws unrelated to immigration. But they were still law-breakers. I want to see them get a chance to come to this country legally. I do not want to see them get that chance ahead of people who have obeyed the law.

The laws against illegal immigration aren’t like a law against free speech or for discrimination. Coming to this country illegally is not an act of civil disobedience. This is a serious business.

Finally, the President’s verbal gymnastics did not persuade me; they annoyed me. He argued very well that we need immigration reform. He didn’t persuade me at all that this was what we needed McArdle:

As an act of rare semantic derring-do, this was a towering achievement. As a political speech, I don’t think it was very effective. It puts one in mind of the debate in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which ends when one side manages to prove that black is white — and gets themselves killed at the next pedestrian crosswalk.

To be honest, it’s not clear to me that the president was trying to be persuasive. He seemed, rather, to be triple-dog-daring Republicans to jump off the bridge with him, and if history is any guide, they will probably oblige. But there’s a real risk that Democrats will come to regret having the president jump first.

(McArdle also points out the significance that his speech was only broadcast on Univision. And that is a key point. A lot of this speech wasn’t about advancing policy; it was about trawling for latino votes. Expect the ability of the next President to undo Obama’s amnesty to become a big issues in 2016.)

So what should Republicans do? The most common tactic I hear is recession — using the budget process to defund the President’s actions. I would support that but I think it’s small. A better idea would be for the Republicans to pass their own version of immigration reform and dare the President to veto it. Force his hand. Force him to choose his executive fiat over the legal and constitutional moves of the Congress. Show that Republicans are not a bunch of anti-immigrants racists; they just want the law to be obeyed.

The First Salvo on Immigration

The Gang of Eight (I guess) release the outline of immigration reform today. Let’s go through it.

1. Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;

Putting aside the proclamation, they propose increases in the border patrol and tracking entry and exit for visa holders. It will also allow current illegals to come forward, pass a background check, pay back taxes and fines and acquire probationary legal status. If they continue to pass checks, they will move to the back of the line for eventual green card status. There will be special dispensations for people who came here as minors and agricultural workers (the latter put in place, no doubt, because of reports of food rotting all over the west when no one was around to pick it).

I suspect this provision will be the most contentious, but it is a fairly obvious tradeoff: enhanced border security in exchange for a path to citizenship. The striking thing is that they are trying to improve the number of people protecting the border rather than building a ridiculous and useless fence — although I suspect the fence will come when some campaign contributor needs a federal contract.

The effectiveness of this will depend on well they do on the other provisions. To wit:

2. Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;

We desperately need an overhaul of our nightmarish immigration system, which is complex, slow and expensive for legal immigrants. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: if you make it easier for people to come her legally, fewer will come here illegally. More illegals will go back and get in line.

The interesting provision is that they will give a green card to anyone in the sciences who gets a Ph.D. from an American University. While it has been fairly easy for STEMs people to get visas, getting a green card is notoriously difficult.

3. Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,

This is the second part that makes the “path to citizenship” work. If illegals can’t compete for jobs and have an easier way of becoming legal, the problem will eventually abate. I suspect, however, this will prove very difficult to implement. And it’s not going to do much about the guys standing around at Lowe’s who will work for cash.

4. Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.

This mainly is about allowing more flexibility with low wage and agricultural workers.

Overall, the outlines are about what I expected. Provisions 2-4 are fairly uncontroversial, depending on the detail. It’s the first provision that’s going to provoke a battle. I’m not fond of the path to citizenship myself. As someone who is married to a green card holder and has been through the stress and expense, I’m disinclined to allow an easier path for those who broke the law.

But I also recognize that we have a Democratic President, a Democratic Senate and a Republican Party that is hemorrhaging votes. If we get better border enforcement, cleaner immigration law and a employer verification system, I’ll take the tradeoff. It will be a massive improvement over the current mess.

Post Scriptum: I should not that illegal immigration has dropped substantially in the last five years. But that little to do with policy and everything to do with the crappy economy. When the economy improves, those numbers will spike again.

Arizona Immigration Law, Reloaded

A mixed decision:

The court ruled that Arizona cannot make it a misdemeanor for immigrants to fail to carry identification that says whether they are in the United States legally; cannot make it a crime for undocumented immigrations to apply for a job; and cannot arrest someone based solely on the suspicion that the person is in this country illegally.

However, the court let stand the part of the law that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain, if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is unlawfully in the United States. Even there, though, the justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenges. The court said it was “improper” for the federal government to block the provision before state courts have a chance to interpret it and without determining whether it conflicts with federal immigration law in practice.

Depending on how you break it down, the decision was 5-3 (Kagan recused). Alito would have upheld some provisions; Scalia and Thomas the entire thing.

I would probably side with the majority in this case, simply because I think immigration law is a federal issue. If they are failing to enforce the law, then we need to elect people who either will enforce the law or make one that is more enforceable. I can understand Arizona’s frustration. But I prefer to follow the Constitution. (In the end, this is a less important issue as the moment; illegal immigration has cratered with the economy.)

Obamacare should come Thursday. So that’s three more days for the liberals to try to preemptively try to make the decision illegitimate. I’ll tweet the stupid writings.

Update: The Court also ruled that juveniles as young as 10 years old can not get life sentences without parole and that Montana can not over-ride Citizens United. I agree with both decisions.

Work Americans Won’t Do

See, this is why I think you create a guest worker program before you kick people out of the country:

After enacting House Bill 87, a law designed to drive illegal immigrants out of Georgia, state officials appear shocked to discover that HB 87 is, well, driving a lot of illegal immigrants out of Georgia.

It might be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.

Georgia needs about 11,000 low-skill low-wage workers to harvest its crops. They can now find only a fraction of the hands they need, thanks to illegals leaving the state. The governor — being a politician — is unable to admit that they fucked up and is suggesting that they hire convicted criminals (seriously). Georgia farmers could raise wages to hire Americans, but that would make their crops more expensive than neighboring states.

In short, they’re fucked.

First thought: this just shows how badly our system of unemployment and food stamps and other aide needs to be overhauled. Many people who are out of work won’t take these jobs because the pay would not make up for the loss of governments benefits. I’m in favor of keeping people from starving when they’re out of work but it should be child’s play to taper those benefits so that work, any work, always pays. And work is work. If someone is out of work, they should be willing to take any job they can find. I know picking onions isn’t on anyone’s career path. I would be miserable doing unskilled labor. But if I were hiring and heard someone had made ends meet by working a farm in the hot Georgia sun, I’d be more impressed.

(I’m under no delusion that this attitude is common. Our country has come to prize career path and “relevant experience” over fortitude, commitment, responsibility and a good work ethic.)

Second, it’s worth re-iterating what I’ve said before on the subject of immigration. Rather than just restate it, I’ll just quote myself:

When it comes to immigration, most people’s priority is to “seal the border”. Whether this is wise or not, I’m dubious that it’s even possible. Penn and Teller demonstrated that it takes minutes for illegals to tunnel under, cut through or climb over a border fence. We have a very very long border with Mexico and our attempts to seal the border are always and must be reactive—responding to new ways people find to get in after they’re already here.

No, the first step in fixing our immigration problem has to be the creation of a guest worker program—a way for people to easily, cheaply and legally come into this country for temporary or seasonal work. Such a system would work the problem, producing gigantic immediate benefits:

1) It would stem the flow of illegals across our border by shunting the otherwise law-abiding into the guest worker system. This would make it much easier to seal the borders. Think of it as diverting the river before you damn it.

2) It would shift millions of immigrants from violent coyotes to safe border guards and immigration officials, depriving drug gangs and other thugs of money, victims and smugglers.

3) It would make it easier for people to leave their families in Mexico, since they know they will be going back. This would alleviate the mythical “anchor baby” problem while giving Mexicans an incentive to improve their own country.

4) It could raise revenue. If people are willing to pay coyotes $1700 to smuggle them into this country, will they not be willing to pay $1000 to come in legally? Or $500? We could be talking about a few billion in revenue, enough to help fund the border patrol and pay for the necessary bureaucracy.

5) Call it the Law of iTunes: when you make it relatively easy to obey the law, people will obey it rather than break it. When businesses can hire immigrants above board, when immigrants can work without fear, that creates a massive incentive to obey the law. Illegal immigration will never completely vanish. But this would reduce it dramatically and allow us to concentrate our efforts on people we really really don’t want in this country—like violent psychotic criminals.

6) Part (5) will have the side effect of sending illegals currently in this country back to Mexico. Once there is an easy legal way to hire immigrants for temporary work, the labor market for illegals will dry up. Without work, many will head back to Mexico to get in line.

7) With workers properly documented, this will make it much harder for them to vote in our elections or collect social benefits.

Part (6) is appealing to me personally. As the husband of a legal immigrant, I don’t want illegals jumping the line.

Our current immigration law makes it almost impossible for our country to get the low-wage workers it needs and makes it almost impossible for people to come here legally for low-wage work. The line for visas in Mexico is over a million names long. That’s not because of Mexican bureaucracy; that’s because of our insanely complicated and arbitrary immigration laws.

Georgia has now clearly demonstrated why we need to fix the immigration law before we enforce anti-illegal statutes. They have crippled their agricultural industry and political stubbornness prevents them from going back on their bad decision. Let’s not follow their example. Let’s fix the law first.