In previous posts I’ve discussed the illegal immigration situation and offered a couple of directed suggestions that might help to reduce the problem. But it’s fair to say that cutting off access to medical facilities and schools won’t solve the problem completely; only a comprehensive strategy can do that.
However, as the folks in A.A. say, before we can solve a problem we have to admit that there is one. For every person who agrees with my analysis of the situation there’s another, like Jay Johnson-Castro, who disagrees or downplays the issue. How can we be certain what is right? It’s not as if illegal immigrants are stealing from us or anything, is it?
Actually, yes, it is. Not stealing in the common sense of burglary, grand theft auto, or armed robbery – there’s little conclusive evidence that illegal immigrants participate in traditional crime at higher rates than Americans citizens – but by redirecting governmental and charitable goods and services towards themselves, illegals place a burden on an already straining system. The effect is to add additional, unplanned for costs to the budget in areas where resources exist in plenty and remove scarce resources from areas where they do not. In both situations, the result is the same: the people who paid for the system are not getting everything they should from it. Their contributions are, in effect, stolen. And so there is a problem.
In any controlled system, there are levers that administrators control to tune the instrument and make it produce a desired result. If we assume that the desired results are lessened illegal immigration and increased documentation of legal foreign nationals, what adjustments to policy can be made to bring these effects about?
Broadly, the categories of tools that government has at its disposal can be described as incentives and punishments. Both must be used to motivate and discourage participants in the system from “gaming” it, as illegals and the businesses who employ them have done to-date. How should the carrot and the stick be wielded? Consider that the absence of a carrot is just as important as a slap with a stick.
Let’s start this discussion with the illegals themselves. Like the rest of us, illegals respond to their environment as they perceive it and we can understand, at a macro level, how they will react to changes in the system.
Stick – Deportation
It’s illegal to come to the U.S. without a visa and illegal to overstay one as well. The most obvious punishment is that of deportation and it’s one that should be used whenever possible.
At the moment, it is not used as often as it could be for the simple reason that local law enforcement alternately is indifferent to these crimes and/or told to ignore them. If deportation were more certain, the sheer hassle of coming here would reduce the number of illegals who do.
Doing so costs money – the Texas Department of Criminal Justice estimates that is spent $132 million to incarcerate illegal immigrants during the 2005 fiscal year. Certainly deportation is only a part of the solution, but it’s an important part.
Denial of Carrot – Essential Services
As discussed previously, illegal immigrants should not be allowed access to governmental and charitable services. These are scarce resources paid for by American citizens and should be reserved for those whose contributions made them possible.
Doing so can be seen as cruel by the short-sighted and certainly will be by the deliberately obtuse. But in fact denying illegals access to services is a necessity if we want to improve the quality of service that we, the taxpayers, receive.
In the long term, Mexico and other immigration departure points would be better served by developing their own resources. Some eminent Mexican politicians, like Guillermo Ortiz, governor of the country’s central bank, agree. He told a Texas newspaper keeping more Mexicans at home would force Mexico’s government to create jobs there, rather than relying on the demand for laborers in the United States. Ortiz is correct: this is exactly the end-game we need to get to.
Carrot – Increased Access to Legal Status
The truth is that illegal immigrants provide a service, namely labor, for which there is a demand. That means they are or can be useful, positive contributors to American society so long as their participation is under our government’s control and direction.
What is needed is a legal means for foreign workers to legally enter the country and a regulatory mechanism for verifying their legality and tracking their compliance during the period of their stay in the U.S. President Bush has proposed a plan that included a guest worker program, but that legislation stalled in Congress.
Whatever plan is eventually enacted – one will be, sooner or later – explicit language regarding the disposition of illegals already here must be included in the act. Those people must participate in the new system, but the fact of the matter is that they’re not going to do so if there are negative repercussions that are not offset by something, either positive or even more negative. That’s simply human nature. So what can we do?
A clearly delineated path to legality is essential to bring the current crop of illegals into the system. Given that they are already here and presumedly have “sponsors”, a large percentage of today’s illegals ought to be candidates for obtaining legal status. For the best of them, it should be clear that they’ll come out of the new process with an improved legal position and that this new status will help them lead a better life.
Stick – Denial of Legal Status
A new immigration act cannot be all kindness and amnesty, however. Enforcement and consequences must be part of the plan as well.
Given that the U.S. would be providing a legal means for a large number of migrant workers to work in America, to obtain essential services, and to more fully participate in American life, this legal standing seems like a carrot of significant worth.
In that light, it makes sense to use that the possibility of not obtaining that valuable carrot as a stick. In short, current illegals who don’t come forward and participate in the plan or those who are later caught breaking immigration laws should be denied, permanently, the possibility of obtaining legal status.
Summary re Illegals
Given a clear, fair chance at obtaining legal worker status, I think that many illegal immigrants would put aside their fears of deportation and come forward to participate in such a plan. Not all, not by a long shot, but a significant number would, particularly if there were real negative consequences for continuing to flaunt the law.
These negatives must include seemingly harsh measures such as denial of health care, access to education, and other governmental services. It must also be stressed that breaking the law will necessarily result in a permanent denial of the enhanced legal status granted to foreign workers who apply, live, and work legally in this country.
When taken separately, none of these things will work. Only when all of these facets are combined together in a single integrated plan do we have a chance at success.
So how do we get there? Not by building walls in the desert, although this is worth doing as well. Instead, the problem must be analyzed, logical, effective solutions implemented, even when they are unpopular.
The contributions of all participants in the current, broken system must be considered and accounted for. This analysis has not yet done that.