The immigration brouhaha

So immigration reform is stalled in Congress and pro-immigration demonstrators fill the streets again (this time wisely wielding American rather than Mexican flags). Everywhere you look, conservatives are decrying a lack of will to really do something about illegal immigration. Many are outraged over proposals to offer amnesty and legalization to illegal aliens who have lived in this country for some time, claiming that such a measure rewards people for breaking the law.

But most Americans, it seems, do not share that outrage and are deeply conflicted on the issue. The Washington Post reports:

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that three-quarters of Americans think the government is not doing enough to prevent illegal immigration. But three in five said they favor providing illegal immigrants who have lived here for years a way to gain legal status and eventual citizenship. The idea received majority support from Democrats, independents and Republicans. One in five Americans embraced the House bill, which includes no guest-worker program and would make felons out of those in this country illegally.

(See also this post by Nick Gillespie at Hit & Run.)

So what’s going on here? Why don’t more people nod in agreement when the Sean Hannitys and Bill O’Reillys sputter, “But they broke the law!”?

Maybe because they instinctively understand the peculiar nature of the law in this case.

The other day on the morning show Fox & Friends, one of the show’s regular guests, the DJ with the fittingly repulsive nickname “Mancow,” jeered at the rallies in support of illegal immigrants by announcing that he and some friends were organizingly a rally in support of “illegal murders.” Ha, ha. Actually, this dumb joke highlights something important. There is, of course, no such thing as legal murder. Murder is illegal by definition. Immigration is not. The same act — entering the United States — is legal for some people and illegal for others, sometimes depending on something as arbitrary as a lottery.

Let’s say that the government decided that we have too many lawyers and imposed a quota on how many law licenses can be issued each year. Let’s say there were thousands of people who had graduated from law school and passed the bar exam but had to wait for years to get a license to practice law because of the artificial quota (or had to enter a lottery for a license). Would the public be terribly upset if some of them practiced law illegally? Probably not.

Or, for a more realistic example: how many of the same conservatives who are enraged by the idea of amnesty for hardworking, decent, otherwise law-abiding aliens who came here illegally would be in favor of the government jailing — or even putting out of business — a woman who had run an unlicensed day care center out of her home, assuming that the children in her care were safe and well-tended?

How do we get around the fact that many illegal immigrants have made positive contributions to our society? (Check out, for instance, this account posted by Andrew Sullivan.)

Americans feel particularly conflicted on this issue because so many are descended from immigrants in a more or less recent past. Here, the Sean Hannitys will interject: “But they came to this country legally!” And here, I turn over the floor to John Tierney, trapped behind the Times Select wall:

Ángel Espinoza doesn’t understand why Republicans on Capitol Hill are determined to deport Mexicans like him. I don’t get it, either. He makes me think of my Irish grandfather.

They both left farms and went to the South Side of Chicago, arriving with relatively little education. My grandfather took a job in the stockyards and lived in an Irish boardinghouse nearby. Espinoza started as a dishwasher and lived with his brother in a Mexican neighborhood.

Like my grandfather, who became a streetcar motorman and then a police officer, Espinoza moved on to better-paying jobs and a better home of his own. Like my grandfather, Espinoza married an American-born descendant of immigrants from his native country.

But whereas my grandfather became a citizen, Espinoza couldn’t even become a legal resident. Once he married an American, he applied, but was rejected because he’d once been caught at the border and sent home with an order to stay out. Violating that order made him ineligible for a green card and eligible for deportation.

“I had to tell my 4-year-old daughter that one day I might not come home,” he said. “I work hard and pay taxes and don’t want any welfare. Why deport me?”

The official answer, of course, is that he violated the law. My grandfather didn’t. But my grandfather didn’t have to. There weren’t quotas on Europeans or most other immigrants in 1911, even though, relative to the population, there were more immigrants arriving and living here than there are today. If America could absorb my grandfather, why keep out Espinoza?

Italics added.

In my case, of course, I relate to the issue even more personally than John Tierney. I am a legal immigrant myself. As many of you know, I came here with my family in 1980 from the Soviet Union; at the time, we automatically received refugee status on the grounds that we feared persecution in our native country. (Which, actually, was not even technically accurate: the Soviet Jews coming here at the time had to fear persecution only if they wanted to openly practice Judaism — which, for my non-religious family, was not an issue — or if they were political dissidents.) And that is something I tremendously appreciate, but I am also aware of the fact that I got a special break due to Cold War politics, and that a lot of people around the world who had as good a claim to fleeing oppression or persecution did not get the same break. So my reaction is not “but I came here legally!” but more like, “There but for the grace of God…”

I understand that we need more effective border control, particularly in the age when terrorism is a real concern. I know there are other concerns about the economic and social impact of uncontrolled immigration (though I haven’t studied the issue enough to have a strong opinion on how justified those concern are). But I also know that anti-immigrant panic has been, again and agian, responsible for ungenerous and sometimes downright inhumane policies unworthy of America. Like when, after the “immigration reform” of 1996, people who were brought to this country as children and never went through the process of getting citizenship were suddenly subject to deportation to native countries they barely remembered because of a minor brush with the law that suddenly made them “deportable” (even though it wasn’t at the time of the misdemeanor). Or when people adjudged by immigration agents to be attempting to enter the country illegally, often because of a glitch in the paperwork, have been barred from reapplying to enter this country for the next five years — even if they were married to an American. Or when people suspected of minor and technical immigration violations have handcuffed for hours and sometimes kept from going to the bathroom.

Frankly, I find that far more outrageous, and far more damaging to America, than someone living here illegally and earning an honest living.

23 Comments

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23 responses to “The immigration brouhaha

  1. LetMeSpellItOutForYou

    While I generally favor a liberal immigration policy, we should recognize that the “economic and social impact,” at least short term, may be considerable. Unlike the America of Tierney’s Irish grandfather, we now offer far more generous welfare benefits that I assume most illegals currently receive.

  2. Jim

    “Like when, after the “immigration reform” of 1996, people who were brought to this country as children and never went through the process of getting citizenship were suddenly subject to deportation to native countries they barely remembered because of a minor brush with the law that suddenly made them “deportable” (even though it wasn’t at the time of the misdemeanor)”

    These minor brushes with the law tend to be things like shoplifting and asault, and can range up to DV and varius sex charges. The intent of the law was to get rid of people who make a habit of screwing up. The intent was that they could just go and screw up in their own countries instead. Until they naturalize, and usually there was no more standing in the way of that than with other people who do manage to naturalize, this isn’t their country, not if they live five lifetimes here. The problem was with people who messed up a bit as kids and then wised up. You do see solid members of the community getting shipped back home, and that is just plain stupid. But whose fault is it? What kept these persons from getting US citizenship all these years? It may be some bureacratic failure, or it may be people’s own inaction. How is anyone else responsible for a person’s inaction?

    Legal status is a nightmarish maze. As Cathy points out, some get a break because they come from Communists countries, and some don’t becaus ethey don’t. This is the crux of the tension in Florida between the Hiaitans and their suporters over the prefernece shown to Cubans. But even here no injustivce being done; no one is being denied a right, since aliens have no right to enter anyone else’s country, not even asylees. It’s a privelege, not a right. I have no right to enter Canada, and they can turn me back at the border for any reason or none at all. Period.

    That’s all the bureaucratic and legal stuff. On a practical level it is a bad situation. The illegals I come into contact with in the course of my work, for instance the 21 Chinese that just recently climbed out of a can in the Port of Seattle, are people I wouldn’t mind seeing move in right next door. Period. Still, they are stowaways and international and US law are especially clear with regard to them – they just get sent back, at the expense of the shipping company.

  3. beenaround

    You know, I am a legal immigrant too, and I have a DV visa and come from an oh-so-white country as well …

    I also have a very well paying job, being a software engineer. I will have no problem sending my daughters to college and so forth.

    However, when I think of the pressure that illegal immigrants place on citizens who did not manage to get a good education and who are now out of work, I start to wonder if the right things are happening.

    This paper: Dropping Out:
    Immigrant Entry and Native Exit
    From the Labor Market, 2000-2005
    says, in part:


    Advocates of legalizing illegal aliens and increasing legal immigration argue that there are no Americans to fill low-wage jobs that require relatively little education. However, data collected by the Census Bureau show that, even prior to Hurricane Katrina, there were almost four million unemployed adult natives (age 18 to 64) with just a high school degree or less, and another 19 million not in the labor force. Perhaps most troubling, the share of these less-educated adult natives in the labor force has declined steadily since 2000.

    This is not an open and shut case, and facile analogies like regulating entry into legal practice do not suggest a lot of thought on your part, Cathy.

  4. Jack H

    Greetings C. Your analysis is flawed. The use of analogy to attempt to usher some into understanding is always a vulnerable proposition, since an analogy is not the thing itself. Try here,

    http://forgottenprophets.blogspot.com/2006/03/my-country.html

    Attempting to reason by instinct is a pretty sloppy excuse. How ’bout reasoning though reason? No one actually equates illegal entry with murder. The point is to attempt, by reaching for an extreme, to bring someone to an understanding that it is not only extremes that are wrong. The thing – one of them – that has made this country unique is a reverence, institutional and demographically, for the rule of law. If there is a group who brings with them – who comes because of – a disrespect for the rule of law, well, they may be strong arms, but they are no asset. It is not strong arms that built this nation. It is principles and institutions. The resourses of Mexico are as vital as those of the US. The difference is that Mexico is ruled by corruption, and its laws are corrupt.

    Legal entry, C, is not a lottery. It is a regulated process. Why, pray, is the incidence of TB going up? It is imported, in large part, by those who have entered outside regulated channels. In this state, freeway onramps are regulated – there is a red light, that slows entry. Can you see why? Do you understand the idea that this would, um, regulate, uh, assimilation?

    RE your idea of licensure for lawyers – not a really apt example, but running with it – yes, people would be upset to have an unlicensed lawyer. It is a mark of competence. Not a guarantee, but an assurance. A lawyer who will not follow the law is called a criminal. No thanks.

    The idea of a license embodies a presumption of regulation and inspection. Your examples are distressingly naive. Given the option of inspected or not inspected day care, or food service, or dentistry – I really suggest you’d choose the former.

    Using words like “sputter” and “enraged” may suit your rhetorical purpose, but isn’t entirely substantive. No serious thinker wants jail time for illegals. We want due process, and that starts on the other side of the border. Some, you see, would do it right. The selfishness and disrespect given our institutions by illegals is quite understandable. It’s just dangerous. They come here entirely for themselves. They are not here to join us, but to use us (yes, boo hoo for us, and they are used too). The difference between freedom and liberty is that freedom is about the individual contra limits, while liberty is about the individual within limits. We need people who understand that. Yes, it’s abstract. But abstraction is a function of intelligence that some may wish to develope.

    Well, too much already.

    Best,

    J

  5. Synova

    I’m generally in favor of liberal immigration policy. In a way, I suppose, it’s like the idea of legalizing drugs. The simple fact that drugs are illegal supports a wide range of criminal behavior and vice that is probably worse than the drugs themselves. Illegal immigration involves the people who take money for transporting people, which supports a sub-culture designed to get illicit things over our borders. Once here it supports a black market in labor and abuse and I don’t think that ignoring the problem because of sympathy for illegal immigrants necessarily does them any favors.

    Sure, it’s anecdotal, but I worked for two days at a place where myself and one black girl were the only ones who didn’t speak Spanish and more than half the people there didn’t speak English. Even if every single person was a citizen, no one was going to complain about working conditions and risk losing their job. How much more will an illegal put up with? I didn’t have to put up with the pain that had me bawling by time I went home after work, so on my day off I got a different job. I volunteered to tutor English… the people who came were from Viet Nam… here legally. They described work conditions, hired by people who could speak their language, fellow immigrants or children of immigrants, and I know there were labor violations. Who is going to complain? How much more will an illegal put up with? My neighbor’s in-laws from Peru recommended a housekeeper to her. When she paid the girl a fair wage (and probably on the low end of that, but more than minimum wage) the in-laws had a cow. Why? Because the girl *was* illegal and they were paying her almost nothing to clean for them. If she started to get paid what was fair, she’d stop working for them for nothing. The problem for her was language… she had to work for people she could talk to.

    Failing to do something about illegal immegration and all the exploitation that goes with it is NOT being a friend to these people.

  6. beenaround

    Jack H opined:


    Legal entry, C, is not a lottery.

    Well, I rather think that Cathy was referring to the Diversity Visa program, where the selection criteria is a lottery. That’s how I got my green card, although since my employer relocated me from another country because of my skills, they were also happy to sponsor me for a green card.

    In any event there are many aspects of the whole process that is a lottery. If visas run out before your application is processed, then you are out of luck and go to the back of the line …

  7. Jim

    “The simple fact that drugs are illegal supports a wide range of criminal behavior and vice that is probably worse than the drugs themselves. “

    Synova, this is a very apt analogy because it is not just an analogy – illegal aliens are prey to all sorts of illegal activity and misuse, of the kind you describe, and they are also vulnerable to being recurited into illegal activity. It sin’t the presence of the people, it is the manufactured illegality that is making the problem.

    And the manufactured illegality starts with the Mexican government, which fails to issue these citizens of theirs passports. All up until Fox came in, the govenrment seemed to treat emigrants like some kind of soft traitors and they couldn’t get documents. And they still can’t, because there are no passport ofices in the provincial towns they live near. So no passport, no visa -> illegal from the gitgo.

    And that is just for the Mexicans. It is even worse for the Central Americans. First they have to get past the Mexicans, who stop just short of putting vermin bounties on them.

  8. Revenant

    My opposition to illegal immigration stems from (a) the cost to the welfare state and (b) the insecurity of our voting system. The fact that good, beneficial illegal immigrants exist doesn’t really have much bearing on those two problems. The relevant question, to me, isn’t “are there illegal immigrants who benefit this country”, but rather “are illegal immigrants a net drain on American resources and illegal participants in US elections”. The answer to BOTH questions is, so far as I can tell, “yes”.

  9. Anonymous

    You read different polls from the rest of us. The vast majority of Americans want the 12 or so million illegal aliens sent back. That probably isn’t practical, but it is what the polls show. Further, most Americans aren’t as stupid as the Senate seems to believe. The public realizes that laws on the books aren’t enforced now, and this is a fraud as well because it doesn’t even appropriate money for border security and immigration control before it takes up amnesty. Democrats and Republicans alike will drop like flies this fall over this thinly veiled lie.

  10. Anonymous

    What part of illegal do you not understand?

  11. beenaround

    From the CIS report:


    • The workers themselves are not the only thing to consider; nearly half of American children (under 18) are dependent on a less-educated worker, and 71 percent of children of the native-born working poor depend on a worker with a high school degree or less.

    • Native-born teenagers (15 to 17) also saw their labor force participation fall — from 30 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2005.

  12. Revenant

    nearly half of American children (under 18) are dependent on a less-educated worker

    I find that really hard to believe. 85% of American adults have completed high school and most of the remainder at least *attended* high school. How could almost half of children have more of an education than one or more of their parents?

  13. beenaround

    revenant, seek (or read) and ye shall find:


    Less-Educated Natives and Illegal Immigration. Although we report figures for all adult workers 18 to 64, we focus our analysis mainly on native workers who have not completed high school, or those who have a high school degree but report no schooling beyond high school. We refer to these workers collectively as less-educated or less-skilled. Collectively there were 65 million native-born Americans 18 to 64 in this group in March 2005, and they comprised 42 percent of all natives 18 to 64.

    From further into the report. Certainly, someone with only a high-school diploma/cert is less well educated than I (who only completed a 4-year degree).

  14. Revenant

    seek (or read) and ye shall find

    Um, read what? Your post didn’t provide a link to the article you were quoting.

    The sentence “nearly half of American children (under 18) are dependent on a less-educated worker” reads as “nearly half of American children (under 18) are dependent on a worker who is less educated than the child in question is”. I did not realize that you were using the term “less educated” to refer to absolute, rather than relative, educational level.

    In any case, grouping together high school dropouts with people with high school diplomas is not particularly useful, as there are substantial differences between the two groups in terms economic success. Illegal immigration isn’t as big a threat to high school graduates as it is to dropouts.

  15. samrocha

    Hi, I enjoyed your article on immigration, I think this is a very important dialogue to have and that Bloggers are making the climate very democratic. Feel free to look at some of my posts on the issue at my blog http://www.debaterelatepontificate.blogspot.com

  16. LonewackoDotCom

    Over three years ago I responded to another Cathy Young piece on immigration here.

    That was, of course, a few years before we witnessed the wonderful sight of hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens marching in our streets demanding rights to which they aren’t entitled.

    Maybe in a future essay Cathy Young could answer a homeland security question. I’m going to assume that CY agrees that the U.S. has a right to deport illegal aliens, as long as it’s done lawfully.

    Here’s the question:

    If we were absolutely forced to deport a million illegal aliens over the next six months, how would we do it, and what might happen?

    Note: saying you don’t want to do that isn’t an answer. I’d really like CY to come up with a plan indicating how she would do that if we absolutely had to do it.

    And, I would like her to detail various contingency plans.

  17. Revenant

    If we were absolutely forced to deport a million illegal aliens over the next six months, how would we do it, and what might happen?

    Are you asking how we would go about deporting a million people after they were already in custody, or how we would go about taking them into custody in the first place?

    Also, while I realize that your question is strictly hypothetical, could you give a real-life circumstance under which we would be “absolutely forced” to deport *anybody*? The only circumstance I can see under which expulsion would be unavoidable would be in the case of armed insurrection, in which case identifying and dealing with the culprits would be relatively easy.

  18. realist

    An amusing thought is that if certain parties did manage to create a United States of Mexico, it would be no different to Mexico.

    That is, an economic failure.

  19. mythago

    Let’s say that the government decided that we have too many lawyers and imposed a quota on how many law licenses can be issued each year.

    I realize this is totally peripheral to your point, Cathy, but the government (at the state level) in fact does this. That’s what the bar exam is for. True, there is no strict numerical quota, but it’s quite clear that only a certain percentage of those who take the bar exam each year will pass, thereby limiting the number of lawyers.

    My paternal grandparents were illegal aliens, too; early in the 20th century, the US/Canadian border was even more porous than it is now, and papers were so much easier to forge. There were no quotas keeping them out, either.

  20. LonewackoDotCom

    Are you asking how we would go about deporting a million people after they were already in custody, or how we would go about taking them into custody in the first place?

    Of course the second.

    The only circumstance I can see under which expulsion would be unavoidable would be in the case of armed insurrection, in which case identifying and dealing with the culprits would be relatively easy.

    Huh?

    The only easy scenario is if they gave themselves up. An armed insurrection consisting of thousands of people could evade capture for an extremely long period of time.

    Let’s run through the various scenarios here, including possibility that simply trying to enforce our immigration laws could result in an armed insurrection, riots, buildings being burned, and so on.

    Then, after doing that let’s find out exactly who got us into this situation and make sure never to take any advice they offer ever again.

  21. Revenant

    Huh?

    Easy to recognize because they’re engaging in violence. Easy to deal with because the Army shoots them and you don’t need to worry about deportation.

    An armed insurrection consisting of thousands of people could evade capture for an extremely long period of time.

    First of all you were talking about a million people, not “thousands”. If the problem is only a few thousand people then we aren’t talking about deporting a million people, we’re talking about deporting a few thousand.

    In any event it is not possible for thousands of armed foreign insurrectionists to hide in the United States. They can’t pass for Americans and typically have a limited command of English. Nor is the wider illegal immigrant community going to shelter them, since they’ll pose a bigger threat to illegals than they do to Americans.

  22. LonewackoDotCom

    You’re ignoring a whole host of problems. What if non-insurgents get caught in the crossfire? What if foreign countries decide that now is the time and try to agitate their citizens in our country? What if the gangs get involved? Speaking of gangs, very few gang members are turned in by those who reside in “their” territories, yet somehow those same populations would turn in their fellow countrymen?

    Obvious to anyone who’s visited Los Angeles or another major city, “pass for Americans and typically have a limited command of English” are not in any way requirements to live here nor do they make people stand out. The word “insurgent” as I’ve been using it doesn’t imply British Revolutionary War-era formations. It implies something more like the IRA, a group that is still around after many decades’ worth of attempts to catch their members.

    That said, my original question wasn’t specifically about insurgents. It was about how we could deport 1,000,000 illegal aliens, and all the possible things that might happen.

    Now, since our host supports illegal immigration, I’d like her to answer it, perhaps after consulting with an expert in such matters.

    Thanks!

  23. Revenant

    What if foreign countries decide that now is the time and try to agitate their citizens in our country?

    With all due respect, I find your xenophobia quite incomprehensible. What countries are going to use the opportunity presented by an armed insurgency of illegal immigrants (something which itself is never going to happen) to “agitate their citizens in our country” (whatever that means)?

    What if the gangs get involved?

    The number of insurgents would increase by N, where N is the number of gang members who “get involved”.

    Speaking of gangs, very few gang members are turned in by those who reside in “their” territories,

    Actually almost all gang members who are turned in are turned in by members of their community — either by other criminals, or by honest (or, in the case of CrimeStoppers, greedy) neighbors and associates.

    Obvious to anyone who’s visited Los Angeles or another major city, “pass for Americans and typically have a limited command of English” are not in any way requirements to live here nor do they make people stand out.

    That’s complete nonsense. While it is certainly not unusual, in LA or San Diego, to encounter people who can’t speak English, those people can’t function in most parts of those cities and they stick out EVERYWHERE. The immediate assumption of any person who meets a Mexican guy in Southern California who can’t speak English is “this guy’s an illegal immigrant”. There is nowhere in America where you can speak nothing but Spanish and pass for American, or even pass for a legal immigrant for that matter.

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