The politics are by now surreal. Those of the corporate right want cheap labor. So they join the self-interested multicultural left in politics, journalism and academia who don't mind seeing a growing presence of unassimilated and dependent constituents.But how does one square that with a preceding paragraph in the essay?
Both sides agree that when newcomers arrive legally from Mexico in the thousands, rather than unchecked in the millions, these immigrants become among our best American citizens.That hardly sounds like "unassimilated and dependent." Indeed, the point of the burdensome underground economy along with the difficulties in sneaking in is to discourage precisely those individuals who are least likely to assimilate and most likely to become dependent.
And what does one make of this?
Let's break this down. Remittances include money sent to the old country to buy passage for the rest of the family, something that is in my own family tree. And what is the optimal investment in health care and housing for a prime-aged worker? That second paragraph echoes Jacob Riis a century ago, whose photos of the slums of New York inspired both zoning codes and immigration quotas. Is it really necessary for a prime-age male living away from his family to invest in health insurance that is unavailable to his wife and kids in the Third World, or to live in a split-level suburban house? Is the illegal immigration spawning flight by previous residents to more expensive quarters?
For starters, take remittances. Billions of dollars are sent annually back to Mexico from its citizens who come to the United States--one of the largest sources of foreign exchange for the Mexican economy.
But that cash does not come out of thin air. If such transfers aid depressed parts of Mexico, they also drain capital from struggling immigrant communities in the United States. Workers without high school diplomas who send back much of their wages often cannot pay for their own proper health care, education or housing here.
In the American Southwest, entire towns are deprived of critical revenue that could be invested in infrastructure, alleviating the need for state and federal intervention to ensure some sort of parity with American citizens.
Second, when employers hire millions of young laborers from Mexico--often off the books and in cash--poorer American workers cannot organize and thus are left to watch their own static wages eaten up by rising costs.Really?
Which is it? Poorer American workers being raced to the bottom, or entry-level workers deprived of their rites of passage?
Finally, there is something elitist in this new idea that American youth should no longer work summers and after-school hours in agriculture, hotels, restaurants and landscaping.
These hard jobs were once seen as ways to gain experience and understand the nobility of hard physical work. An entire generation of Americans is growing up that has never mowed a lawn, pruned a bush or washed a dish.
More frequently it is an uncaring elite--made up of both Democrats and Republicans--that advocates not enforcing immigration laws. And it is past time for them to explain why it is moral or liberal, rather than merely convenient, to import millions outside the law to do the jobs we supposedly cannot.Why? Perhaps there is a rough efficiency -- not mere convenience -- in the use of the underground economy as an apprenticeship to obtain the most productive illegal immigrants as future citizens. The illegality serves as a fig-leaf for the apprenticeship; indentured servant contracts being illegal apart from at graduate school.
Robert Samuelson also has some gripes.
We could do a better job of stopping illegal immigration on our southern border and of policing employers who hire illegal immigrants. At the same time, we could provide legal status to illegal immigrants already here. We could also make more sensible decisions about legal immigrants—favoring the skilled over the unskilled. But the necessary steps are much tougher than most politicians have so far embraced, and their timidity reflects a lack of candor about the seriousness of the problem. The stakes are simple: will immigration continue to foster national pride and strength or will it cause more and more weakness and anger?Yes, but resources have opportunity costs. More expensive fences? More careful vetting of applicants for work permits? More raids of workplaces? Mr Samuelson recognizes this, I think.
Over time, they move into the economic, political and social mainstream; over time, they become American rather than whatever they were—even though immigrants themselves constantly refashion the American identity. But no society has a boundless capacity to accept newcomers, especially when many are poor and unskilled. There are now an estimated 34 million immigrants in the United States, about a third of them illegal. About 35 percent lack health insurance and 26 percent receive some sort of federal benefit, reports Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies. To make immigration succeed, we need (paradoxically) to control immigration.And perhaps that control includes the existence of a notionally illegal but officially winked at underground economy. And here we go again with that "lacking health insurance" stuff. Must healthy people be compelled to buy health insurance? "Receive federal benefits?" Sure. People who are here legally are eligible for government loans, to enlist in the armed services, to drive on the roads ... if there is an illegal-immigrant gravy train, please document it.
All by way of announcing that one of the immigration papers is headed back to a journal.