Monday, May 3, 2010

Further Comments on Immigration

My newspaper, the Financial Times, has carried two interesting columns on immigration, a topic I addressed last week.

The first, from Christopher Caldwell, points out that
opponents of [Arizona's new] law promise to resist it through boycotts and court challenges. It may indeed be overturned. But such action is unlikely to be decisive. Challenges to its constitutionality focus only on a handful of policing elements that could easily be purged in replacement legislation. The bill is long, detailed, carefully crafted and extremely popular.

Caldwell is skeptical of the grounds on which a legal challenge might be fought:
The nub of the constitutional questions surrounding the bill is that the federal government, not the states, sets immigration policy. Does this bill usurp federal authority? At the most basic level it does not – it leaves to Washington the determination of who is and is not legally in the country.

He also points out the strange twists some protests have taken:
Democratic congressman Raúl Grijalva has backed an economic boycott of his own state. His district has a Hispanic majority. Only 34 per cent of his constituents are non-Hispanic whites. (Which makes it hard to see how singling out Hispanics for racial profiling would be possible even in theory.)

The second, by Clive Crook, notes that the Arizona law does not differ so widely from the federal statues it seeks to support:
Federal law already requires non-citizens to carry their documents at all times. It is an offence not to. The law’s arcane and sometimes surreal provisions impose many other demands, some more onerous than others. These rules are so weakly enforced that few legal immigrants are even aware of them.

His description of the current system is scathing - and accurate:
A moronic compromise has been struck, one that has achieved the worst of all worlds. To satisfy public opinion, the federal government promises to exert tight control of immigration – then fails to, because it is unwilling to enforce its own laws. And it is right not to enforce them. Apprehend and deport more than 10m illegal immigrants? That would require totalitarian powers and cripple the economy into the bargain. But voters then feel they have been lied to, which they have. Their distrust of Washington increases year by year, making an intelligent solution to the problem ever more difficult.

This pathological bargain has also skewed the pattern of immigration. Illegal unskilled immigrants pour in and fuel a grey, tax-evading, sub-minimum-wage economy. Immigrants with skills, willing to pay taxes but disinclined to evade the law and the border patrol, are shut out.

Ask any US high-technology company how this crimps its productivity – and forces it to send jobs abroad. (Let those workers pay taxes to other governments. It is not as though the US needs the money.) The shortage of highly trained people pushes up the US wage premium on skills, so economic inequality worsens as well. Yes, they thought of everything. I defy anyone to propose a regime more stupid than this.

Finally, he notes what elements are needed for a successful reform package:
The three essential components of the needed reform are easy to see. First, more effective enforcement at and especially inside the border, including credible policing of companies that hire illegal immigrants. Second, wider channels for legal immigration, including a guest worker programme that allows temporary migration sufficient to meet the country’s needs. Third, conditional amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the US.
Without laws that are enforceable and enforced, most voters will oppose amnesty, because they will suspect – and in this case it really will be a reasonable suspicion – that the next amnesty will not be the last.

It is a rare day that I can read not one but two pieces in the London-based FT about my home state. Let us hope that all this media attention and the growing debate will finally lead to some comprehensive, workable and just immigration reform.
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