In her recent Washington Post article (“Why should Republicans favor immigration reform?” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2013/04/28/why-should-republicans-favor-immigration-reform/), Jennifer Rubin claims that the majority of Republicans embrace several core beliefs about immigration. I have not met the majority of Republicans, so I cannot definitively address the truth of that particular claim. But I can address the validity of her ideas in and of themselves.
Her piece is a reflective of a mindset widely but irrationally embraced by establishment Republicans. According to their way of thinking, the Republican Party should secure its electoral future by bending far enough to the left on immigration to secure a significant percentage of the new immigrants’ votes.
I will examine each of these ideas individually. But note that two fatal flaws undermine all of them. First, based on the demographics of U.S. immigration it is foolish to assume that a meaningful portion of those who benefit from “comprehensive immigration reform” would vote Republican. Second, today’s immigrants carry ideological baggage that would make many of them questionable members of the GOP team even if they did nominally affiliate with the GOP. This is because our family based immigration scheme disproportionately attracts immigrants from the lower rungs of society in a handful of poorly developed countries with dysfunctional yet theoretically statist and politically centralized governments. Thus, they are naturally (and quite understandably) inclined to pursue all available government entitlements once they arrive in their new homeland.
From this perspective, I will now examine Rubin’s ideas below.
Belief #1: The free market needs to maximize the influx of brainy and motivated people from around the world
Reality: The most brainy and motivated people are not necessarily willing or eager to immigrate at this time. America may still be the land of opportunity, but it is not the only land with any opportunity. In China, for example, many STEM graduates are now voluntarily returning after completing studies in the West simply because they are excited about the changes occurring back home. This is despite the fact that working visas and green cards are actually relatively easy to procure for such graduates when employers wished to petition for them.
It is a well-known fact among immigration experts in the Departments of State and Homeland Security that working visas designed to fill high paying, white-collar jobs with talent supposedly unavailable in the U.S. are actually used to fill marginal, semi-skilled positions or to displace experienced American professionals with less experienced foreigners and those with lower wage expectations. Among private immigration attorneys, it is well understood that nearly every category of employment-based visa is used to hire lower paid workers than are available locally; seminars are offered (some clips are available on YouTube) explaining how to do this without technically breaking any laws.
By placing downward pressure on entry-level wages, the current employment visa scheme actually provides a disincentive for American university students to major in science and technology. The importation of workers with lower wage expectations in these fields artificially narrows the pay gap between American STEM graduates and those with liberal arts degrees. Certainly there is nothing praiseworthy in taking the easy way out, but one cannot exactly blame our college students for choosing easier courses of study when the relative benefits associated with harder courses are diminished by policies instituted by our elected representatives.
Belief #2: The GOP cannot politically or morally survive appealing only to white voters
Reality: We have actually admitted defeat both politically and morally if we make the false concession that any aspect of conservatism is somehow a narrow appeal to white voters. Such is simply not the case. In fact, in the case of our disastrous immigration system, the most severely affected victims are not whites.
Blacks, for example, are substantially overrepresented in the ranks of the unemployed this time, as are Hispanics. They will suffer disproportionately from the further injection of unskilled workers who will further glut the service sector job market. Ironically, underemployed recent Hispanic immigrants will face immediate harm from the push to legalize millions of additional Hispanic immigrants. Few will likely complain, however, as the prospect of bringing in additional members of one’s family is a constant point of concern for members of our immigrant communities, more so than immediate pecuniary gain.
Belief #3: Even imperfect border security is better than virtually no border security
Reality: This belief rests on an assumption that the border security scheme laid out under the Senate immigration proposal will be a substantial improvement over the current setup. But the proposal lets the agency define its own targets and create reports of its own success criteria. This is the same Department of Homeland Security whose leadership currently obstructs both its own special agents and local law enforcement officers from aggressively enforcing our existing immigration laws. But we are to believe they will suddenly be on the level when it comes to these new key performance indicators.
Regrettably, we simply do not have an honest broker with whom to cut this sort of deal right now.
Union representatives speaking on behalf of employees of both ICE and Border Patrol have actually spoken reasonably on these matters. Though I am generally not deferential to the views of government employees’ unions, I would feel more comfortable if those unions—speaking on behalf of their professions—had a say in defining success criteria. But the Secretary of Homeland Security has repeatedly refused to have them involved in the latest rounds of discussion on the implementation of immigration reform.
Finally, let us touch again on the concept of incentives. It was our last amnesty that provided incentives for the last two decades of unchecked illegal immigration. If you amnesty a larger number of people this time, you provide an even greater incentive to illegal entry by telling an even larger group of offenders that their illegal conduct was really no terrible offense in the public eye. This alone threatens border security by motivating more people to attempt illegal border crossings or to acquire visitor visas and overstay. As much as I will like to see a border wall completed, if we simply eliminated the incentives associated with illegal U.S. presence, we probably would not need a wall.
Belief #4: Bringing 11 million people out of the underground economy into the free market and paying income tax is a positive thing
Reality: It is much easier to evade Homeland Security than it is to evade the IRS. Whatever my other complaints about illegal immigrants, they are not immune from income taxation. Nowhere on your tax forms will you see any question squarely addressing the legality of your presence in the U.S. One of the common uses of taxpayer identification numbers is to collect from those who are unable to secure Social Security Numbers, including illegal aliens. Some commentators seem to think illegals all work in basement sweatshops for crumpled stacks of dollar bills, but the reality is more embarrassing from a security standpoint. Genuine identification is so easily obtained that illegals are often able to maintain “on the books” employment with appropriate withholding for income taxes. Some may ask, “You mean nobody at the IRS checks this?” No, they do not.
Furthermore, simply paying income taxes does not make one a net taxpayer. Most of those in the lower half of the annual earnings spectrum, untaxed or taxed, extract more value in federal and state benefits than they contribute. By amnestying millions of illegals, we will greatly increase the pool of people legally entitled to seek such benefits.
And that is not a positive thing.
Belief #5: National security is improved by getting a handle on who is here, who leaves in a timely fashion after their visas expire and who has a criminal record
Reality: We already have imperfect means available for doing much of this, but our elected and politically appointed leaders have not to leverage fully leveraged existing resources. Criminal records are generally linked to digitized fingerprints uploaded into an interstate database under the oversight of the federal government. Thus, we have fairly reliable records of those who have been arrested within the United States, even if they use attempt to change their identity to avoid detection.
Tracking legal stays and illegal overstays is another matter. We do track foreigners’ entry into the U.S. when they undergo initial inspection at airports or official border crossing stations. Because we do not have exit controls at these same ports entry, we have embarrassingly always had trouble tracking departures, making it difficult to track individuals’ stay lengths and to conduct trend analysis on the behavior of representative groups.
Prior to 9/11, I had always advocated legislation that would put immigration officers with fingerprint scanners at U.S. airports to track departures, as is done in countless other countries. However, we now have plenty of uniformed employees at our airports that could easily perform this function – the TSA. They are already responsible for checking travel documents before passengers are allowed into departure gates. No additional personnel would be needed in order to operate a standard digital fingerprint scanner and passport reader at the entry to each airport’s departure area.
I admit this is far from a perfect solution, and I would rather see this duty fall on Homeland Security where it belongs. But please take note of the broader idea implied – smarter utilization of our existing resources can yield significant improvements in security. The federal employees we already have are simply not being utilized to their full potential.
Belief #6: The status quo of non-enforcement is unacceptable.
Reality: Citation of this belief as a reason to back something like the present Senate proposal necessitates that one ignore the effects of amnestying the millions of illegals who have already gained substantially from their abuse of our existing system. We will inspire great disrespect for the rule of law by once again sending the message that our immigration laws, which can already be broken without criminal penalty, can also be broken without any administrative consequences as long as one is willing to lay low, sit quietly and wait for the next periodic amnesty.
The status quo certainly is unacceptable, but that is a reason to support enforcement first. Any proposal from the Senate or House that does not include this as a first principle is not worthy of serious consideration. Hopefully the GOP leadership will realize this before it is too late.