Once again, the Congress has failed to address the issue. The political tribes have dug in; the trench warfare continues without breakout.
The problem is that we have roughly 12 million people in the country who were born elsewhere and arrived here without benefit of vetting or documentation. Most of them are from Mexico and Central America. We are not going to send them home. There aren’t enough buses.
There are three sources of the problem, all of which have an obvious mathematical component. The first two are external, but partially our fault; the third is 100% on us.
Mexico had its own baby boom, somewhat later than ours. For 30 years, a million young people a year entered the work force. Mexico is an oligarchy. A few hundred families control the society and economy. They run a closed economy for their own benefit. That system was producing about half a million new jobs a year. The remaining half a million came north across our porous border looking for sustenance.
Central America is the drug running capital of the Western Hemisphere. Lots of mountains and jungle provide concealment, and weak governments can’t enforce the law. The math involved is the enormous markup in the drug trade. The rewards are such that violent means are resorted to by those seeking to dominate the trade. As long as drugs are illegal, the markup will be there. As long as there is a huge demand from America’s users, the market will be there.
These drivers led to a situation in the 70s similar to our current impasse. The number of illegals was about 3 million. We attempted to solve the problem by granting them amnesty, with the promise that the border would be closed. The border wasn’t closed. Prospective job seekers could rightly assume that they could walk across the border and get amnesty eventually.
What should we do now?
First, lower the level of shouting. The Mexico problem has largely solved itself. Due to some liberalization of the economy and NAFTA, and due to a dramatic reduction in birth rates, there is a lot less pressure to come Norte. In 2008, 9 and 10, the flow was, on a net basis, probably southward. Border security has also improved significantly. You may have scorn for THE WALL, and the clown who wants to build it, but we need a barrier and effective enforcement all along the southern border, so we can pick our immigrants instead of them picking us. The specification of the barrier needs to vary according to the terrain, but something should be there.
We need to keep the level of legal immigration to a small percentage of the population. About 1/2 of 1% would be a good goal. Throughout our history, anti-immigrant hysteria always comes with large increases in the percentage of foreign born–from wherever. Those who know better always discount the hysteria because they aren’t living next door to the immigrants, except those few who are wealthy, well educated and polite. The unwashed are supposed to get used to new sights, smells and customs without complaint.
We are desperately in need of productivity growth and the economic growth resulting therefrom. The baby boomers are leaving the work force. We have promised to support them and provide free medical care. We don’t have the money. The youth, energy, entrepreneurial drive and technical skills we could glean from a sane immigration policy would go a long way toward addressing the problem. Any foreign born STEM student in our institutions of higher education should get a free pass to citizenship. Anybody with business or technical skills should get a spot in front of the line.
We desperately need to demand that anyone seeking citizenship buy into the American dream. American nationalism is not based on tribe; it is based on ideas. New citizens need to learn English, and know the rudiments of our history and constitutional system. Diversity has some advantages, but it is not a suitable overriding goal. We can add to our heritage, but it is dangerous to civil society to have pockets of enduring foreign culture in our midst. If you want us to adopt you, you have to adopt our rules.
We need to revive the Bracero program. Of course, it will require a politically correct name, but the concept should be the same. Seasonal workers should be allowed to come north to fill jobs that most Americans won’t take. There should be minimum standards of proper compensation and treatment. Labor contractors should be prevented from ripping them off. A low cost and secure method of sending money home to their families should be in place. Their return south should be monitored. The crops need to be picked if we want that oh so organic food on our tables.
We need to limit family migration. Ted Kennedy came up with the idea to get as many Irish into the country as possible. He succeeded. Time to stop it. Spouses and children should be the limit. Other family members can get in line.
We need to vet everybody who comes to stay and everyone who seeks a visa. The world is a dangerous place. There are folks out there who want to kill us. Vetting won’t stop all of them, but it can stop some.
Finally, we need to get over the illusion of comprehensive reform. The trenches are too deep. The issue is too fertile a fund raiser and base energizer. Reforms will have to come piecemeal. Coalitions can be formed for specific reforms. Farm states want workers for the harvest. Tech states want STEM graduates. Border states want a barrier. Even in an era of extreme partisanship, some reform might be possible.