Immigration Reform: The Latest Utopian Failure
Copyright © 2006/2007 by Jay B. Gaskill
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Immigration Reform: The Latest Utopian Failure
Jay B. Gaskill
Immigration reform failed this time for many of the same structural reasons that “Hillary-care” failed in 1993-94.
In both instances, key political elites misread public opinion, hoped to push something through the legislative process “in the general interest”, but were careless about critical details and contemptuous of public scrutiny.
There is a persistent illusion that there exist neglected global solutions to intractable social and economic problems whose implementation would magically generate wide public support. This tempts the true believers to do an end run around the “short term” public opposition, sometimes “by any means necessary”, in the deluded expectation that the glorious outcome will have justified all the democratic short cuts made to get there.
This is a more benign form of the utopian illusion that drove anti-democratic Marxism.
Hillary-care had at least two “Achilles heels”: (1) It would have created a huge restriction of access to private physician care. (2) It would have caused a dramatic escalation of public cost. Both of these elements were being pushed without any empirical evidence that the end result would be an overall improvement in American health care for most people most of the time.
The immigration “package” failed for a host of reasons, but these three were critical flaws: (1) National security concerns were negligently addressed, at best. (2) The rush to accommodate the deportation concerns of the 12-20 million illegal foreign nationals in the US ran ahead of measures to dramatically slow the influx of new arrivals (legal and illegal). (3) No one but the measure’s key supporters actually trusted the federal government to keep any of its promises or meet any of its announced goals.
There are solid reasons for the widespread public skepticism and distrust of large scale government domestic programs. We all experience Murphy’s Law at the level of our business lives and we all know that the larger and more untested an effort the greater the mischief to be expected from Murphy’s little demons. The momentary suspension of disbelief about the immigration package popped like a “there is no Santa Clause?” bubble the moment that its early revealed flaws became a cascade of bad news.
The answer is to adopt a policy of incremental empiricism.
This is how an incremental, empirical approach would work as applied to the immigration problem.
There were several untested assumptions driving the failed immigration reform package, among which these three seem amenable to real world verification:
(1) That the illegal occupants already here are not enough to supply our unskilled labor needs;
(2) That increases in border patrol forces (mostly in the south) coupled with a partial physical wall will be sufficient to dramatically decrease the influx of illegal entrants;
(3) That we can adequately deter employers from employing illegal workers by just increasing penalties without inaugurating a large scale biometric identity verification system.
The way that our needs can be met by drawing from the pool of existing illegals (1) can be tested is by first testing (2) and (3).
But border security (2) can’t be tested until we actually implement the increased security measures and work out methods for determining how many people are evading them.
The third test is simple: We increase the penalties for hiring non legal workers and perform and document spot check enforcement.
A necessary caveat: Since we’re also trying to empirically determine whether the existing pool of illegals is sufficient, we need to refrain from immediately deporting the not-legal workers who prove the following: (a) Productive employed presence in the US without any criminal activity going back at least two years; (b) Good health; (c) Submission to an ongoing security check subject to instant deportation without cause if homeland Security turns up a concern. There would be no opportunity to enjoy "in and out privileges" to & from the country of origin (typically Mexico). Only citizens and lawful permanent residents can come and go.
We’ll quickly learn whether the penalties alone are enough.
And there are several other pieces to any reform package that should be taken up, debated and adopted, if possible, one by one. Among them, these three are the most important:
(a) Much stiffer testing. Assimilation is occurring far too slowly because the test for citizenship has become dumbed down so much that any recent arrival with rudimentary English skills can be coached into passing. This should be the test for anyone who seeks admission for a work via or permanent resident status. Citizenship should require the rough equivalent of a B in a high school government class. English fluency must be demonstrated.
(b) A much stronger emphasis on skill related immigration with greatly restricted family immigration. Spouses and children only, not aging parents, uncles, aunts and cousins. The transition to a more restrictive family policy (essentially nuclear family admitted, extended family excluded) would take time because of the "pipeline" issue but there would be an immediate benfit from cutting off the new applicants.
(c) No more “anchor babies”. A complete end to automatic citizenship as applied to the children of illegals who are born here.
For a thoughtful, non-polemic article on this topic see Fixing Immigration by Yuval Levin in the May 2007 issue of Commentary Magazine at http://www.commentarymagazine.com/cm/main/viewArticle.html?id=10872 .
“But by far the largest share of new legal permanent residents—about 60 percent in 2005—are relatives of naturalized American citizens or (in far fewer cases) of other legal permanent residents. Indeed, “family unification” is easily the foremost organizing principle of American immigration policy today.”
The Red Blue divide: A Demographic Footnote
Any grand legislative compromise at the federal level is much more difficult to achieve today, than, say, twenty years ago for a good reason.Liberals seem to be migrating to live among the like minded and conservatives are dong the same. There are far more jurisdictions now than ever before, it seems, in which the voting, politically aware population is so tilted in one direction or the other that there is no political benefit for compromise. This is the good governance penalty of having a number of separate, balkanized, one-party jurisdictions. Think of it from the point of view of Senator Wonderboy from the state of X, 77% of whose voters are absolutely opposed to a border fence, and Senator Wondergirl from the state of Z , 79% of whom won’t support any immigration reform without a fence, guards and internal penalties. The local votes to be earned from compromising against an overwhelming majority of your supporters are too small to matter. Think how the equation changes in an authentic two party jurisdiction, where 45% and 45% are opposed on several key issues. The penalty and benefit calculations tend to favor ongoing compromise relationships.
Progress on the immigration issue will depend on the ability of the elites to isolate discrete issues about which opinion is lukewarm and/or is approximately evenly divided, not just in the country as an aggregate, but more uniformly from state to state, district to district.