Thursday, November 11, 2004

Dealing with the Problem of Illegals 

Now that Bush has won, attention is moving to other issues. One of these is the problem of illegal immigration and Bush's proposed worker program. There are many purists strongly against it, and others who see no alternative. I generally try and break things down to their base level, and in looking at this particular issue I find that one has to accept one of two fundamental assumptions:

1. we should expend whatever resources are required to expel illegal aliens and prevent their return, or

2. the costs (economically, socially, etc.) of expelling and preventing illegals is higher than we are willing to spend.

If one accepts the second, as it seems the President has, the next logical question is should we continue the status quo of not knowing who is here and how they get here or should we try and get some degree of control over the situation. I think the idea of a worker program that registers and tracks those coming into the US to work has many benefits. Besides the obvious security and tax benefits, by reducing the number of individuals that are breaking the law by either entering the country illegally or hiring illegally it allows law enforcement and border agents to better concentrate their limited resources and efforts where it may be of greatest value. Right now, law enforcement agents are trying to find the handfull of dangerous illegals among the mountainous haystack of the non-dangerous. By providing a legal alternative a majority of safe immigrants will self-select themselves from that haystack, making the bad guys more apparent.

The real problem is how to fairly go from today to tomorrow. Many feel it isn't right to reward those who illegally obtained their residence by ignoring their past transgressions. Especially in the light of so many struggling today to obtain and maintain legal employment rights. However, a program predicated on punishing all currently illegal aliens would also engender great hostility. I often hear conservatives removed from the issue wonder why the plight and status of illegals is often of so much interest to citizens of similar ethnicity. The fact is, regardless of sharing ethnic or linguistic culture, many of these citizens find themselves involved in the same society as many illegals, and there is a very real possibility that when one is speakign fo illegals one is also talking about their neighbor, friend, church-mate, son-in-law, wife or even mother. I am reminded of the Mexican-American girl in the film Spellbound who went to the National Spelling Bee but whose parents were illegal aliens that spoke little if any English. They had come across the river with their children with the expressed intent of securing for them a better education. While it was not clear exactly what the legal status of the family was at the time the film was made, one must question the propriety of forcibly removing them from the society and community they had become a vital part of solely on the basis of their immigration status.

That said, though, fairness is as much a part of the American character as independence and stubborness. Like others, my workplace includes many foreign nationals who have a long, difficult struggle in pursuit of work authorization and the eventual attainment of a Green Card. How can we, on the one hand, demand so much from these people trying to stay in the existing system while seemingly forgiving so much from those who have operated outside? One needs to recognize, at a certain level, that while there is a similarity in idea there are also huge differences between the two concepts because there is a fundamental difference betweeen hiring an individual to write software and hiring someone to pick carrots.

The President always couches his program with the caveat that this will allow an employer to hire a foreign nation if an American employee cannot be found, however, one thing I am sure of is that if the proposed program requires the same level of documentation and proof on behalf of the employers as the current rules it will not work as desired. While I am hesitent to invite the government to conduct labor and wage analysis, the degree to which an employer should have to demonstrate an attempt to find a suitable candidate among the American populace should logically correspond to the degree to which awarding the job to a foreign national adversely impacts the American worker. For example, should a farmer hiring temporary help at $7 an hour have to present proof of a paucity of applicants before he can go out and find the ten hands he needs? I am more inclined to cap the number of permits and allow unrestricted hiring of such workers below a certain wage scale.

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