Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Border Wars



At the outset I’ve gotta admit that my family and I have a lot of illegal friends in our old neighborhood in So Cal. We lived among "wetbacks" for many years. The future of some people we care about depends on how this illegal immigration debate shakes out.

A few thoughts to kick off the discussion:

• The current firestorm over illegal immigration strikes me as a part of a wider culture of fear and polarization that got some deep roots in the country after 9/11. We might end up with better immigration policy if we’d calm down and slow down. There’s an urgency and extremity to this discussion right now that I don’t think is positive. We've been on a 5 year adrenaline high. Time to ease off and start celebrating patience and reflection again.

• Illegal immigration is good economic news for immigrants and for the countries south of the border. Illegals and their families make way more than they could at home and funnel big dollars into the economies of their mother countries by way of cash transfers to their families.

For those of us concerned for the economic uplift of the poor around the world and for the advancement of third world economies, that’s no small benefit. Some might even view it as a godsend. But what about the US economy?

I've looked at various studies and data including a recent Harvard study on the economic effects of illegal immigration. In spite of the extreme claims on all sides of the issue, I think it’s more honest to say that illegal immigration helps certain American industries by providing a low cost and large labor pool, is a boon for the immigrants themselves and their countries of origin, hurts poorly educated native born Americans, and has a very small but positive effect on overall US economic performance. That’s what the concrete data I've seen suggests.

• Basic social decency requires that we provide people—once they’re here—with essential services like health care, education for their children, etc. One Swiss observer wrote about his own country’s immigration challenges: “We wanted a labor force, but human beings came.”

• And Christian people will always want to take the values of hospitality and generosity to ‘the poor’ and ‘the stranger’ seriously. Even if that means committing civil disobedience, which may become necessary for some Christians if certain House bills pass. The LA Catholic Archdiocese has already announced they will disobey any law that makes aiding illegals a felony. Good for them.

• The real challenge that decency and Christian social ethics create is that low skill illegal immigrants don’t pay enough in taxes to cover the costs of the benefits they receive. That money’s gotta come from somewhere. So again, in spite of what a lot of pro-immigration types claim, illegal immigrants are—at least in the short run—a burden on various social services and on state budgets. A lot of people are pretty upset about that.

• Very few people are willing to say it openly, but much of the intensity and fear behind the debate is clearly about a clash of cultures. Some native born Americans simply don't like what they believe illegal immigrants are 'doing' to neighborhoods and cities. They look down on what they believe to be an inferior culture. So the illegal immigration debate is only partly about the "illegal" part of the equation. It seems to me that at least a part of it is rooted in straightforward cultural prejudice.

• I think a whole lot of Latinos got out onto the streets this past weekend because of that clash. And I understand their passion to defend their culture publicly against Americans who don’t understand what good and hardworking people the vast majority of illegals really are.

But why wave Mexican flags while you're at it? Every Mexican flag in an immigration rally guarantees thousands of mid-west and southern votes for the harshest kinds of anti-immigration laws and stokes even more fear and culture clash. Machismo and misplaced nationalism won't cut it.

• What about the Sensenbrenner bill that the House passed and got this whole firestorm started?

Other than turning them into felons, the bill does little to answer the question of what to do with the 12 million illegals already here. On the face of it, the bill would require a draconian 'round up' and expulsion of 12 million people, lots of 'em with kids who are born and bred US citizens. I don't think many of 'em would volunteer to simply get on a bus and go, so we're talking about a mass expulsion at the point of a gun. Very ugly. Fortunately, it will never happen. No sane politician would ever enforce such a law.

The bill would also make social workers, clergy, and medical personnel into criminals for offering aid or comfort to illegals. My wife and I would have been felons if this law had been in effect during our days in LA. It would erect a big wall along the border to keep illegals out.

Those types of walls may say more about the psychological boundary issues of their builders than they do about the common sense of the same :^) Like the Great Wall in China, an astronaut might be able to see this proposed wall from space but it will probably turn out to be largely irrelevant on the ground. Life and labor pools will always find a way.

• I’m pretty confident that a more common sensical and less punitive approach will eventually prevail. I like a lot of the McCain/Kennedy Senate bill—it seems to take the most humane and realistic approach that also makes room for legitimate border control and security.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Dave Toler said...

Thank you for your balanced report. My concern is that the result of "grandfathering in" all the illegal immigrants is going to be a grand march to the welfare office once legal ID is made available, and that means an economic disaster in this country.

Then we still have the one million or more that will continue to come across the border yeach year from Mexico alone! When does a country say "enough is enough".

It seems we are always extending our torch bearning arm of Liberty to the "tired tempest tossed" from beyond our borders, but at what point are we going to take care of our own who are getting pretty weary of paying the bill for everybody elses piece of the American Pie. It's like the low interest, (if any at all),loans so many legal immigrants are able to get to start new businesses, yet our own cannot even be considered for such a loan. Something is not right here somewhere. And the middle class citizen keeps getting the bill, getting the bill, getting the bill. Is the record stuck?

I don't blame the immigrants for the mess we have inherited. I blame the employers who have opted to pay cheap under the table hourly wages in order to pocket landfall profits for themselves at the taxpayers expense. Its a greed issue at the heart of nation! And we are about to have a major coronary if Congress doesn't wise up!

9:33 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Thanks for the thoughts , Dave. I don't blame illegal immigrants either--they're just people trying to improve the lot of their families.

And I agree completely the flow of illegals has to be slowed down and controlled. Part of the problem is incoherent policy here in the US and part of the problem is poor economic policy and management in Mexico and Central America.

11:25 AM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

What percent of one million are criminal? Gangs drugs etc? I dont believe for a minute these are all hard working folk. Its bad enough in the "legal mexican" community. And where does is stop? When will most of Central America find its way up.....finding holes in Vincente Fox's wall at the bottom of his country? Texas jails will continue to grow( take note they are private institutions now.) Our law enforcement will continue to bust the trucks of mexican dope coming up through I 35 and I 20 driven by illegals to the rest of the country. Ive been through the INS process recently. Its costly and time consuming for a fairly literate :) WASP to get through it properly and legally. ( Canadian husband). If you think the tax code is a mess..........its got nothing on the INS process. And we were just lucky enough not to get lost in a CIA black hole that many honest people get into and never get out of and never attain the citizenship they have worked for, paid for and deserve. I dont have the answer but I dont think Homeland Security has got a great system going for anyone to get in legally.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Well, I don't have specific figures, 3, but from my experience crime is no more prevalent among illegal immigrants than among any group, particularly if you're comparing them with other poor people. Most work full time and often work at multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Those that are criminals and get caught are normally deported immediately so those types don't last long. I saw that dynamic many times.

Criminal activity normally rises in inner city areas when a group is caught in multi-generational poverty and begin to lose hope they can get out of it. New immigrants--legal or illegal--typically are hopeful and hard working. It's the third generation poor of most any ethnic group that tends to fall more heavily into crime. Slum areas populated by new immigrants tend to be much healthier and hopeful places than slum areas filled with native born Americans caught in multi-generational poverty.

Actually, from my experience, I think first generation illegal immigrants are more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators. They're easy prey for criminals and even for employers who know they can't fight back or complain.

4:28 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

Yes, I would be speaking of new mexican immigrants to the fort worth dallas tulsa area.....gang bangers..........caught or not. We call it north side in fort worth. Not sure of the demographic area in tulsa but may also be northside. Dallas leads Detroit in crime. DETROIT. We lead Detroit in crime. The people I worry about will never be on a tax roll, ever. I dont think many in Texas are even worried about the immigrants that do work and care about their families. I understand and agree with you on the part of new immigrants being prey to companies though. A well known trio of restaurants owned by same guy.....the INS came by and found all the help up in the rafters! Big joke here because everyone still eats there...we just nod our heads and say yes, but its the best food around. The word here is that Mexicans are here to take Texas back. I dont see it happening in Fort Worth. The Bass brothers will take care of us :) Bush can visit Cancun and make an attempt to help with the situation but only the truly rich and powerful will be able to make any true changes. And if those changes mean they lose, well those changes wont happen. It will be an interesting show to watch to say the least, eh?

5:15 PM  
Blogger limco said...

I agree with Wordcat that we need to slow down to find a solution to the immigration problem. The reality is that there are millions of illegal immigrants here and they are not going to leave and no government program will be able to make them leave. In my experience as a teacher of many of these kids there are many Americans who will never deny these people an education, health care and food to eat. Finding a solution to the "problem" will require finding many solutions because this is a very complex issue. I lived for years in a neighborhood that was mostly illegal immigrants and I advocate that we need to find ways for these people to work here and to contribute to the tax base of their communities. They already pay sales tax, just like everyone else, and if they work legally they could also pay income tax. The new idea by the conservatives is to have prisoners work in the agricultural industry and send the illegals packing. Are they getting desperate in their arguments? I can hardly imagine how much it would cost in tax payers money to supervise a bunch of convicts set loose in a strawberry field. Do they imagine they'll all be chained together as in the chain gangs of old so no one escapes? I personally think the immigrants from the south have enriched our country and will continue to do so. I know the flow of illegals has to slow down and would like to see contructive plans to make that happen. I think a guest worker program with the possibility of becoming legal is closer to what will work. Declaring everyone a felon and then doing nothing about the 12 miilon criminals at large seems ridiculous. These 12 million illegals are likely to have at least 12 million legal relatives here. They aren't going anywhere and the government needs to plan their strategies around that reality.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Yeah, I saw the prison labor argument, limco. Some pretty crazy shit going on right now. Excuse my language but that's the truth. Makes me wonder if the conservatives have a political death wish.

10:33 PM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

Why is this issue so pressing now at this time? Seems that status quo has worked for along time. I hate to seem to buy in on conspiracy theories but I always wonder what is really going on when the press has us all thinking about a certain issue. When our attention is turned to illegal immigration what is going on that we should be concerned about? I think I will choose to keep up with what is going on in the Muslim world. That to me is the bigger threat. Singapore, honour killings, torture of women etc. Peace

9:42 AM  
Blogger jon said...

arrgh - my computer made my last message go away. I will try to post something reasonably similar to it and see which one shows up.

"And Christian people will always want to take the values of hospitality and generosity to ‘the poor’ and ‘the stranger’ seriously. Even if that means committing civil disobedience, which may become necessary for some Christians if certain House bills pass."

I'm not sure I can think of a better justification for civil disobedience. I love what Cardinal Mahoney had to say, and I stated in both of our class discussions on the subject (with different groups of students) that I would do the same.


"But why wave Mexican flags while you're at it? Every Mexican flag in an immigration rally guarantees thousands of mid-west and southern votes for the harshest kinds of anti-immigration laws and stokes even more fear and culture clash. Machismo and misplaced nationalism won't cut it."

Very much agreed (although it's more than midwesterners and southerners that are negatively influenced by that). I cannot think of a worse way to change the opinions of the fence-sitters in the wrong direction than to show allegience to one nation while you are trying to gain citizenship in another.


"On the face of it, the bill would require a draconian 'round up' and expulsion of 12 million people, lots of 'em with kids who are born and bred US citizens. I don't think many of 'em would volunteer to simply get on a bus and go, so we're talking about a mass expulsion at the point of a gun. Very ugly."

Which is why the pro-"pseudo-amnesty" and guest worker Republicans keep telling the anti-immigrant Republicans that their ideas are ridiculous.


"Fortunately, it will never happen. No sane politician would ever enforce such a law."

Unfortunately, Tancredo does not fit your definitely of sanity, and he leads a caucus with almost 100 members.


"My wife and I would have been felons if this law had been in effect during our days in LA."

As I would be right now.


"I like a lot of the McCain/Kennedy Senate bill—it seems to take the most humane and realistic approach that also makes room for legitimate border control and security."

I like it a lot too, but I'm not quite as confident about it prevailing. Is there anything that you don't like about it? If you have something you want to take out of it or rewrite I'd like to hear your thoughts.

6:05 PM  
Blogger jon said...

"It seems we are always extending our torch bearning arm of Liberty to the "tired tempest tossed" from beyond our borders, but at what point are we going to take care of our own who are getting pretty weary of paying the bill for everybody elses piece of the American Pie. It's like the low interest, (if any at all),loans so many legal immigrants are able to get to start new businesses, yet our own cannot even be considered for such a loan. Something is not right here somewhere. And the middle class citizen keeps getting the bill, getting the bill, getting the bill. Is the record stuck?"

To be honest, as long as the programs are actually helping the tired and poor, and as long as the middle-class that is footing the bill still has more overall opportunity than those poor, I don't see where Christ would have a problem with this situation at all. Now, it's always better to get people to give voluntarily than to force them to give, but I think this country does good enough by its middle class people to afford some useful help to the poor.

6:08 PM  
Blogger jon said...

"I dont believe for a minute these are all hard working folk."

Every statistic I have seen showed that the labor-force participation rate of undocumented males is the highest of any demographic group in America - well over 90%

6:13 PM  

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