Initial Thoughts on Immigration Reform

On the Arizona immigration bill, a few words — I am a firm opponent, despite my overall desire for better enforcement of federal immigration law. Put simply, I do not trust Arizona police, especially in Maricopa County, with the additional discretion they’ve been given. Sheriff Joe Arpaio already presides over a police department credibly accused of racial profiling — and as reporting by William Finnegan in The New Yorker and Radley Balko in Reason make clear, the criminal justice system in Arizona’s biggest metropolitan area is rife with serious problems that threaten the liberty of citizens and immigrants alike.

Beyond the near inevitability of racial profiling, there is the conventional objection to local police enforcing immigration law: doing so discourages people in immigrant neighborhoods from working with police. Undocumented residents won’t act as witnesses or good Samaritans or report being victimized by crime if calling 911 might well result in their deportation. It is folly to alienate so many residents from police officers who require their cooperation to keep all Arizonans safe.

So what do I propose? After all, illegal immigration is a serious problem: newcomers to America are a benefit to our nation, but the costs they impose on schools, hospitals and other social services are born locally, and folks unlawfully in the country are unlikely to inculcate in their kids the civic habits that are critical to the health of any democratic polity. Arizona’s porous southern border is also troubling given Mexico’s increasingly violent drug trade.

Personally, I’d like to see a path to citizenship for folks already here illegally, and an increase in the number of immigrants able to come here. As a political matter, this can only happen once the southern border is secured — and reluctant as I am to reach this conclusion, I think that’s as it should be: the amnesties of the past have promised better enforcement, but it’s never been delivered, effectively kicking the problem down the road, or even exacerbating it.

On the other hand, I am loath to support better enforcement unaccompanied by the guarantee that once illegal immigration is under control, legal immigration will be expanded. Yes, immigration imposes costs on some Americans, but that has always been the case, and the cost born by the natives in the much poorer America that my ancestors immigrated to were much higher. It doesn’t seem fair to keep newcomers out so that I can pay marginally less in local taxes, or even so that a poor American can earn marginally more at their job.

My proposal:

— A physical wall along the entire Mexican border. I don’t like the symbolism of closing the country to newcomers either, but realistically, the status quo is worse for everyone involved: we’ve got a partial wall that incentivizes border crossings through the most dangerous parts of the desert, and a corruptible, heavily armed border patrol hunting illegal immigrants by day and night. A solid wall would significantly reduce the number of illegal crossers, it couldn’t be corrupted by drug traffickers, it wouldn’t ever abuse illegal immigrants it deters — it is, all things considered, the least bad solution, and it is mere sentimentalism to instead favor the status quo, a partial wall and the symbolism of armed border guards and a deadly desert rather than a tall slab of concrete.

— Automatic increases in legal immigration quotas pegged to every measurable decrease in illegal immigration.

— The auction of lots of visas for high-skilled immigrants, with the profits allocated to jurisdictions that bear the costs of low skill immigrants.

— Pass the DREAM act.

— As I once wrote in regard to immigration policy in Southern California: “Every Southern California jail should verify the legal status of inmates and deport those in the country illegally — it matters little whether illegal immigrants trust their jailers. In Los Angeles County alone, the LA Times estimates that 40,000 illegal immigrants pass through the jails each year (among 170,000 total inmates). Multiply that by Southern California’s five counties over multiple years and countless crimes can be averted. Latino advocacy organizations may object, but they shouldn’t: if these convicts return to their country of origin rather than their ZIP code of residence, law-abiding illegal immigrants will benefit as much as anyone.” This avoids the trouble of having local police enforce immigration law, and gets rid of the profiling problem too since everyone convicted of a crime is checked.

It’s been a long time since I wrote about immigration policy. Maybe I am missing some drawback to these ideas, or social science data demonstrating that some assumption I’ve made is wrong — let me know. I am as yet undecided on how exactly a path to citizenship should work. But the priority should be on transforming people off the books into equal citizens and civic participants. None of this guest worker program nonsense: these are people, not workers, and it is folly to create a second class of non-citizens.

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7 Responses to “Initial Thoughts on Immigration Reform”

  1. thesplenda Says:

    The fence is better as a concept than as reality. I live in Brownsville, Texas. People outside of border towns have a conception of the Rio Grande as a large, free flowing river where it would be relatively easy to put a fence on the banks and be done with it. The Rio Grande ebbs and flows and the fence will not be uniformly placed. It goes through backyards — there are U.S. citizens who have a border fence that splits their property — and college campuses. In barren border areas, fences make sense, if only to funnel the illegal immigrants into more heavily patrolled areas. And a true fence has the undesirable effect of keeping illegal immigrants in this country — how do you escape? The wall does send a bad message and really doesn’t do the job.

    At the end of the day, I can’t really blame illegal aliens for sneaking into America. It is blatantly illegal and we need to stem the tide, but if I doubled my income and was able to feed my family by working in Matamoros, then I’m coming over. Until we find some solutions (and a long term goal has to be the revival of the non-drug Mexican economy) that ensure America isn’t the pot of economic gold for illegals, the problem will not go away.

    First and foremost, we need an easy system whereby employers can check the legal status of potential workers — as in the HR rep logs onto a government website and receives instant verification. Too many employers accept a fake Social Security card, copy it, put it in the files and then claim “How was I to know?” Once we give employers no excuses, we crack down hard on employers who repeatedly flout the law. I would consider adding an amendment to RICO for the knowing or reckless hiring of illegal workers and find 4-5 egregious cases of employers hiring illegals and make then an example to others.

    Then the federal government needs to expend more money on ICE agents and detention centers. Most of the new agents will not be patrolling the border. Instead, the feds will tell local governments that if you have an illegal alien in your jail, we will pick him/her up. However, the arrest must be based on probable cause for a crime (which is a polite way of telling Arizona off). Let the local police do much of the dirty work. I worked at a prosecutor’s office where we had an illegal immigrant who picked up 3 DUI’s in a year. We called ICE in hopes they would take him off our hands. The ICE agent told me that they were so swamped that unless he killed someone, he was still ours. We also need to add more immigration judges to speed cases through. There will be some incentive for immigrant families not to report crimes (i.e. a woman doesn’t report domestic violence because she does not want her abuser deported), but on the whole, it will work.

    Lastly, if you are here illegally, you are ineligible for citizenship. Deporting the criminal aliens and patrolling the border will take up enough of our time and energy, so the otherwise-law abiding illegals get somewhat of a free pass. If you can find a job in our quick ID verification world and you aren’t otherwise breaking the law, we will let you live in peace. We may even grant you legal permanent resident status. But the benefits of citizenship are reserved for those who follow the rules. And we allow more legal immigration, especially to workers in the math and sciences.

    My plans would never pass because Republicans have no desire to get tough on businesses who enable the problem and the Democrats don’t get millions of new voters through amnesty. But I bet my plan would work.

  2. John Harrold Says:

    Did you happen to catch the Penn and Teller BS episode where they paid illegal immigrants to burrow under, climb over, and cut through a mock up of the walls already in place? I understand that is just for dramatic effect, but it really did illustrate how futile a wall is. If the incentives are here, then people will come.

  3. hungrymanportions Says:

    another way to curtail illegals would be to have Army aircraft lay interconnected, biodegradable land mines throughout the porous Arizona-Mexico border. That’d clog up the pores real quick.

    “It doesn’t seem fair to keep newcomers out so that I can pay marginally less in local taxes, or even so that a poor American can earn marginally more at their job.”
    Cosigned, so long as said ‘newcomers’ are coming legally.

  4. Herb Lepp Says:

    Arizona and other border states have an immigration problem. Arizona has done something because the federal government has failed to deal with the problem.

  5. Congress should act on immigration reform - E.D. Kain - American Times - True/Slant Says:

    […] VideoYesterdayThe implosion of Gordon BrownJamie MalanowskiTopic A, Among OthersYesterdayArizona law no substitute for real immigration reformConor FriedersdorfMetablogVideo6 hours agoWhen celebrities attack (the microphone)Michele […]

  6. scohart Says:

    some people built a tunnel to bring in drugs from Canada a few years ago…. http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/07/21/border.tunnel/index.html

    So I don’t think a fence will be all that effective considering the stakes, people will find a way around it.

  7. andylevinson Says:

    Immigration reform is just a democrat code word for total amnesty…..we need to stop all legal immigration until we get these people out of the usa

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