Friday, March 31, 2006

Dealing with Illegal Immigrants 

There are several valid yet seemingly contradictory views on the current debate concerning illegal immigration. As is often the danger, though, politicians seem poised to do the simple and defer the difficult but necessary in order to claim the quick victory.

Let’s accept, for the purposes of this discussion, the assertion that there are 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. And let’s also accept that a large number of these are gainfully employed. On the one side, many claim these workers are necessary for the economy by doing jobs that Americans won’t do while the other side disagrees with this characterization. It is important to note, however, that is we woke up one morning and all 11 million had snuck back across the border in the night their former employers would, indeed, have a difficult time finding Americans to do these jobs, if for no other reason simply because the current unemployment rate (<5%) shows practically full employment. In other words, there are no willing American workers left. The market dynamics will certainly result in higher wages in lower skilled positions, in turn demanding greater compensation for goods and services derived. From that alone I think those who claim the illegal workers fulfill a vital role in our economy have a strong point. While a policy of strict enforcement is certainly an option, I cannot help but conclude that such a hard-line position will have short-term and possible long-term effects on the price of most goods and services in the U.S. Are we ready to accept the inflation that seems likely to follow such a decision?

Looking from the other side, though, anyone who thinks that a shortage of workers alone is the driving dynamic behind those who hire illegal immigrants is deluding himself or herself. To employ another mental exercise in the extreme, if we woke up tomorrow and magically every illegal worker suddenly had a valid work permit many of the employers would find themselves in different but still economically challenging circumstances. Without the incentives that exist to employ an off-the-books work force, a labor pool untouched by local, state and federal requirements, would all those 11 millions remain employed? Or would the more unscrupulous owners go out, instead, in search of more illegal workers to replace those lost to the world of the legitimate? There is no logical conclusion other than that conveying legal status on those currently working illegally will not, by itself, stop the practice of hiring illegal workers or significantly lessen the demand for such workers. Without real efforts to better secure the borders and identify and punish those hiring illegally there will be no lasting change to the flow of illegal aliens in to the U.S.

Personally, I think the right answer is a lot like what the President has suggested, but with a bit more teeth. A guest worker program serves two purposes. From a security standpoint it allows better visibility on those we say are OK to come in, better allowing limited border resources to focus on the potentially criminal and security threats. From an economic standpoint, it allows us to use a transient labor pool, increasing the pool to permit more rapid economic growth in periods of high employment and lessening the pool to provide additional employment opportunities for Americans in more austere times. The two critical factors for success, though, are control of the program and control of the borders. As I pointed out before, one attractive factor in hiring illegal workers is the freedom from government interference. Now, I don’t advocate any sort of apartheid that allows employers to treat foreign workers inhumanely, but should a farmer have to complete a dozen forms for each worker and pay uncounted fees and taxes you are more likely to see him back on the corner at 5:00 a.m. looking for ten hands to work that day. And if the border is not adequately secured there will always be more men on that corner than farmers looking. As such, step one must be to stop the current influx to eliminate that dynamic. Any effort that does not address this factor first is just looking for an easy political win.

But, assuming we do stop the flow we are still left with the question of the 11 million. It is very easy to say, "they broke the law, they have to pay," and it is not an unreasonable position to take. We have laws and they should be obeyed. To provide preference to those who do not do so is wrong. However, in addition to being blind justice should be just. As such, it is a very valid question to ask if is a just punishment to deport a man who has worked hard for many years, contributed to his community, married and raised children and possibly grandchildren. I don’t necessarily have the answers, but feel that it is important to approach whatever solution is reached with an understanding of both responsibility to the law and justice to the one who violated it. And, if we ensure that the first priority of a strong border to reduce the current flow to a trickle is acted on with serious intent, then it makes the latter issue less emotional.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

"... then you turn left, no, I mean right ..." or Alice Meets the Red Queen 

Like many others occupying a more conservative position and wearing insignia on their collars, I greeted the now infamous Zogby poll of troops in Iraq with open skepticism. For me, too, it just didn't sound right. Without rehashing who paid for the poll or the "trust me" sampling methodology used, I'd like to point out two small observations I had that I haven't seen talked about elsewhere.

First, from Mystery Pollster:
According to the procedure Zogby described, respondents were intercepted randomly (e.g. they were not self selected) at multiple locations throughout Iraq (e.g. not just in the so-called "Green Zone") and interviewed using a paper questionnaire that they filled out with the assistance of an interviewer. (emphasis added)
I wonder how this "assistance" manifested itself? I'm not accusing the interviewers of altering the responses, but emphasis or clarification provided by individual interviewers could certainly affect one's answers.

Second, let's look at the response to just two questions:
Please rate the statements ... as reasons for the Iraq invasion:

8. To remove weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from Iraq

  1. Not a reason 63%
  2. Minor reason 29.3%
  3. Major reason 3.2%
  4. Main reason 1.1%
12. To retaliate for Saddam's role in the 9/11 attacks
  1. Not a reason 2.7%
  2. Minor reason 7.5%
  3. Major reason 50.2%
  4. Main reason 35.3%
From the first we can conclude that over 90% of service members in Iraq don't think the WMDs were that big a factor in us invading. This is despite all the "Bush lied about WMD" and "where are the WMD" stories and talk. Turning to the second, around 85% seem to think Saddam had something to do with 9/11, even though this was never a big news story and even the denial of such a link was often reported. This seems to either defy all logic or represent one of the most ill-informed soldiery of all time. However, if we ask "could the respondents and/or interviewers have been confused on what a '1' and a '4' mean?" these responses just might make more sense. But how would a possible misunderstanding manifest itself with the other questions?

If we conjecture a confusion on the meaning of numerical responses, I think that confusion would be restricted to questions 8 through 14 (reasons for invasion). After all, while it is somewhat logical to rank your number one reason as a '1', questions 17 through 24 are general "how much do you agree with X" and a higher number would be more natural to express greater agreement. Also, while it may be possible for confusion to be limited to a few questions, the similar format and structure would argue for an "all or nothing" situation. So, if we take a step through the looking glass with the expressed reasons we now find:Do these flipped results make more sense? In many ways yes, but it also produces a few confusing results. For example, allowing for my reversal we are left trying to understand how a majority might think we invaded to establish a democracy and yet the same majority didn't think we invaded to remove Saddam from power. In this case, the results as reported make more logical sense (i.e. we invaded to kick Saddam out but not necessarily to establish a democracy). Also the oil and bases questions more closely correlate to what I've been reading and hearing when taken in their original form.

Those problems identified with my reversi world not withstanding, though, I find myself unable to completely accept the results as reported for one basic reason. I do believe there is any way to logically look at the overwhelming number of service members in Iraq who, based upon question #8, apparently believe that WMDs had little if anything to do with invading Iraq and come to any other conclusion than there is something wrong in either how the survey was conducted or how the questions were answered. I doubt you'd find any other segment of the U.S. population, apart from the most virulent imperialist/oil-crony loving/Jew-filled conspiracy proponents, that would even approach these sorts of numbers on this one question. I'm just surprised I haven't seen anyone else seeing the same discontinuity.

An Incomplete Answer 

Hugh Hewitt is a man I have come to look to for considered opinion and rational presentation of his arguments. I fail to see, though, how he substantially makes his latest point with regard to the UAE ports deal. I can agree that there is a significant difference between "assets/businesses ... that have no or little bearing on the nation's security, and those that do," but he falls short of demonstrating that the controversial deal is necessarily in the latter category. While it is true that ports represent a border activity, but is it a sound assumption that every and all operations within a port represents a national security concern? If this had been a contract for custodial services would it, too, be of concern?

I will agree all day long that the potential for deadly cargo to enter via a port is probably one of the most significant national security issues we face, but I cannot see how the operation and management of piers and loading/unloading materially affects the potential for such cargo to make it past our security apparatus in place. That's not to say I don’t think anything might get by us, but rather to say that I just don't think that who is operating the port will affect the possibility of it happening. The same union labor will be actually performing the operations and the same security personnel will be performing the inspections and surveys. It seems like he is saying the person in change of directing traffic at Tijuana - San Diego border will be able to help get drugs and illegals past the immigration and customs agents.

Hugh may have a valid point, but I don't think he made it in this post.

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