Friday, June 1, 2007
One way to get clarity on foreign policy issues is to turn the dynamic around. Pretend you are a citizen of the other country; what would you think and what would you do?
If you were an Iraqi, four years after you were invaded by a foreign power because it had been attacked by people who shared your religion and general geographic area but not much else (sort of like the United States retaliating for Pearl Harbor by attacking Korea), and you had seen your cities destroyed and your friends either dead or displaced, what would you do? Better yet: What would most members of the current administration suggest that you do? What would be the patriotic thing to do?
Put like that, it’s pretty easy: You should resist. You should join the heroic underground. You should take back Cleveland by force, and lay waste the enemy’s headquarters in Miami. You should hum “America the Beautiful” while harassing enemy soldiers marching from Stockton to San Rafael. So we should not be surprised when residents of other nations do what we would do in similar circumstances.
Now suppose you’re an illegal immigrant. Why did you become an illegal immigrant? It wasn’t a childhood ambition; it’s not fun working in a strange nation far from friends and family. Economic necessity brought you here. It’s the market economy in action; people go where the jobs are. Border, schmorder — I want to feed my family.
So now there’s this complicated plan. If the current bill passes as written (and the odds are that it won’t, but the new bill won’t be any better), you have several choices. If you’re here because you overstayed your visa, too bad; the bill doesn’t apply to you, you’re still illegal. If you crossed the border illegally, you can apply for a guest worker visa and stay for two years, then go back to your country of origin and wait one year, then come back here for two more years, and then go home, plus you pay money, plus you have essentially no workplace rights. That sound like a plan to you? Didn’t think so.
Or you can apply for a “Z visa,” which will cost a lot of money with no guarantee that you’ll get citizenship. If you do get citizenship, you won’t be able to bring your parents over, or your grandchildren, plus you’ll have to tell the government exactly where you are. Meantime, you can immerse yourself in the wonders of the brand-new points system, which allows you to earn points for advanced degrees, special skills, although … I’ve lost you, haven’t I? You’re not buying. Of course you’re not.
Understand: The new immigration bill isn’t designed to solve anything. It’s designed to give the appearance of solving something. This bill has sections that provide members of Congress with talking points no matter what their political beliefs. It’s a political document. It’s not meant to be an instrument of policy.
Then why craft a bill at all? Because companies large and small need the workers. Because companies large and small need a fig leaf to cover their practices, which will go on no matter what happens in Washington. Are people who hire illegal aliens in favor of “amnesty?” Not the right question, because it’s a political question. People who hire guest workers are in favor of profits. They’re in favor of low wages. Once again, it’s the wonders of a market-based economy. All questions are economic questions.
So here we have an unworkable scheme that almost everyone will ignore anyway. In one way, that’s a good thing, because we need the workers. Agribusiness needs the workers, so there’s the guest worker program. Silicon Valley needs the workers, so there’s the points program. I have heard various estimates about how many jobs illegal immigrants take away from American citizens; I’m not sure anyone knows for sure what the real data are. I do know that not many citizens are willing to become migrant laborers or busboys or stone masons or janitors or nannies or maids, at least not for the wages that are being paid.
So complaints about immigrants are essentially xenophobic raillery. Are the illegal immigrants a burden on our welfare system? Yup. But, passing a law that makes you feel good, or makes someone feel good, is dangerous fun. We have lots and lots of laws against illegal drugs, and what have they gotten us? A gigantic prison system that stresses the public budget far more than illegal immigrants do, plus — we still have drugs!
Immigrants are not drugs; they are human beings. They offer services and they spend money. They raise families and create communities. Heck, if the Native Americans had had border guards, we’d all be illegal immigrants. We’re all in this together; maybe we should start acting like it.