7.1.04

AMNESTY BY ANY OTHER NAME. President Bush's proposal to provide legal status to illegal immigrants has inspired a number of columns and posts today, with Cal Pundit reserving judgement, Nick Gillespie at Hit and Run favorably disposed toward it, Ronald J. Watkins disappointed, Michelle Malkin angry, Joel Mowbray unaware of existing research, and Mark Krikorian making a call for further research.

Barry Chiswick of the University of Illinois at Chicago has written a summary of the effects of illegal migration on the host country. The Mowbray essay alludes to a phenomenon that makes amnesty, or some other form of regularization, sensible.
In an election year pursuit of Hispanic votes, President Bush is prepared to embark on the ill-advised path to providing some sort of amnesty to 8 million illegal aliens. Perhaps Bush thinks that enhanced scrutiny and enforcement—things the President will combine with his calls for amnesty—can screen out terrorists from those applying for amnesty. The evidence, however, tells a different story.

As it is, our immigration administrators are swamped. The current backlog of cases awaiting adjudication is over 4.5 million. In other words, we can’t even handle the caseload we have now. Throw in 8 million new people, and you have an instant recipe for an administrative fiasco.

Never mind that 8 million new cases will undoubtedly further slow the process for those who played by the rules and are trying to immigrate legally. Never mind that 8 million illegal aliens will, in all likelihood, get to step in front of those decided to follow—and respect—the law. Focusing solely on security, overwhelming an already overwhelmed system means that cracks will turn into fault lines.
Perhaps, but immigration enforcement is not costless, and resources devoted to locating and kicking out illegal immigrants are resources not available to secure the borders. It's that insight that leads to Gil Epstein and Avi Weiss's unpublished "A Theory of Immigration Amnesties." The paper argues that an amnesty, after which now regularized illegal immigrants are subject only to attention from the usual law enforcement authorities, frees up border patrol resources to prevent subsequent entry of illegal immigrants, whose presence is not desired by the host country. The argument does not follow in full, as illegal immigrants might be desired, at least in the U.S., as household servants, packing house workers, and field hands. The broad argument, however, does go through, as the issuance of work permits allows formerly illegal immigrants whose primary purpose is to work to cross the border at Customs checkpoints. Thus, there is a stronger presumption that people attempting to sneak into the country (the plot of The Teeth of the Tiger (details or compare prices) involves terrorists using such a route) are terrorists or drug runners, precisely the individuals the U.S. wants to exclude.

The remaining research problem Mr Krikorian identifies is this:
But it's the second part of the response to a tighter labor market that people just don't get. By holding down natural wage growth in labor-intensive industries, immigration serves as a subsidy for low-wage, low-productivity ways of doing business, retarding technological progress and productivity growth.
There is at least one article lurking in there, as I am quite willing to point out to any graduate student casting about for a dissertation topic.

SECOND SECTION: Milt's Filepoints to John O'Sullivan, who argues,
Two specific groups do benefit substantially from immigration: namely the immigrants themselves and those who employ them at lower wages than Americans would accept. The corollary, however, is that some specific Americans lose out: namely, low-paid workers, often minority Americans, who must either lose their jobs or must accept lower wages to compete with the new arrivals.
The corollary is not necessarily true, if the rich country has sufficiently generous welfare benefits. That's the point of this research. And that an amnesty might lead to expectations of future amnesties is not necessarily bad, but that's work in progress at this writing.

THIRD SECTION: Captain's Quarters gets the Epstein and Weiss argument:
You may ask, what if they don't go home? What's the difference between that and what we have now? For one, the workers would be documented, making them a lot easier to track down, and employers would have no more incentive to hire undocumented workers as the lbor cost would be the same and the risk would be much greater. This eliminates the problems of the coyotes who are little better than slavers, taking people across the border in inhumane conditions and forcing them to live in bondage until their debts are repaid. (If you've lived in the Southwest, you know that more than once a year you read about dozens of people dying from asphyxiation in a truck or van that transported people like cattle across the border.) Documentation greatly increases our national security by making sure we have a paper trail for everyone who crosses into the US. Finally, the border patrol can then focus on true security issues rather than being overwhelmed by people who flood the borders to support our own agricultural industry.
Included among the security issues might be a greater success rate for the border patrols, as a greater proportion of the trade for the smugglers would be of individuals whose purposes were something more nefarious than earning a few bucks cleaning houses.

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