The Shining Beacon

Reader Marian Wirth recently took me to task over an earlier piece on immigration. Marian took issue with my characterization of French and German immigration policies, and expounds on the debate much more fully his own website.

First, the semantic issues. It is quite true that the failure of border patrol in the United States does not amount to much of a policy. As for what German immigration is, I’ll defer to Marian’s more intimate familiarity with that issue. However, what I was speaking of was immigration systems. This is probably a bit of a vague term, so I’ll get on with it.

Second, and more to the point, I want to address the illegal immigration issue here in the United States.

Ever since I can remember, the political discourse in the United States regarding immigration has been broadly characterized in the media as a typical struggle of Marxist proportions (although no newspaper will use those words). Specifically, the media portrays it as a struggle between poor, downtrodden laborers, and the rich, racist, WASPs who criminalize them with wicked laws. Since 9/11, another hue has been added to the picture: In addition to being rich, white, and oppressive WASPS, those in favor of tighter border security are now portrayed as paranoid right-wing nutjobs irrationally trying to isolate themselves from the world. This is a characterization which Democrats have unfortunately been quick to seize upon. From the Pete Wilson-era propositions which would have discontinued funding for bilingual immersion classes, and withheld all but emergency medical services from illegals, to the push to require legal status (citizenship, residence, guest worker, approved student, etc.) in order to obtain a driver’s license, anything that tried to find any semblance of structure was met with one epithet: racist.

Thus, anyone who didn’t support the May Day protests with full-hearted enthusiasm must be racist. Never mind that nobody’s advocating an end to immigration; the boycott was also called Immigrant Day. Never mind that what many are objecting to is the flood of illegal immigration. If you opposed illegal immigration you must be ipso facto a racist opposed to all immigration. Many of the organizers wanted the world to think that this was all about jobs and nothing else. (It really is no coincidence that the people trying to turn this into a debate about labor mobility are, for the most part, post-modern Communists. International A.N.S.W.E.R., a vociferous critic of capitalism, was one of the organizers. The first of May, by the way, happens to be May Day, or International Workers’ Day, a Communist holiday.)

So let’s take them at their word, that all immigration was only about jobs. Let us also take into account the fact that the overwhelming number of illegal immigrants are from Mexico, which the activists would have you believe is a symptom of racism, rather than of the geographical fact that Mexico has a long border with the United States. If the issue was only jobs, why not reform the immigration system so that we have a more flexible way of providing for everybody’s needs?

Like Mad Minerva, I come from a family that immigrated to the United States legally (although many better-placed families were able to use their connections to expedite their visa applications in the rush to leave Taiwan after President Carter officially switched recognition to the People’s Republic of China). We would represent those that intend to make the United States our home, a place where we intend to develop roots.

There are many others who would be more than happy to just come to the United States to work, then after they’ve saved up enough money, go back to their home countries and, hopefully, retire. Examples of these include a large portion of illegals from Mexico, but also a large number of pre-20th Century immigrants from all over the world, including Ireland after the potato famine, and China during the California Gold Rush. Many of these probably would like to stay eventually.

And why not? Engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty is a poem that beckons to the world’s tired, hungry, and wretched. America, it is said around the world, is a land of dreams, of opportunities. The tales of streets paved with gold are a bit exaggerated, but the promise of reward to go with a good work ethic is basically alive and well.

But what dream would it be if it could be dashed at any moment by instability, if there is no rule of law to settle disputes? And yet some of these activists would have us throw out our system of laws, just because Jose or Juan couldn’t be bothered to file for a work visa?

Clearly, the status quo does not serve us well. But is amnesty the right answer? DJ Drummond thinks so, and brings up some very good points:

Sharpen the definitions of ‘citizen’ and ‘resident’, make clear that we welcome all sorts of legal immigrants but must protect our borders and enforce our laws, and offer the chance to start over for people who leave politely and immediately. And make very, very clear that anyone who remains here against the law after than point may expect a stronger and more determined, coordinated response at all levels.

I don’t care for the word “amnesty”, but if that’s what it must be called to get the requisite votes to clear Congress, so be it. But DJ is clearly on the right track. There is no way we can afford to deport 12 million people. Like it or not, we’re stuck with them. So, how do we integrate them into our society, and how do we pave the way for a more effective future system?

I won’t pretend that I have the perfect, or even the only viable plan. But here’s what I think:

  • Revamp the guest worker program. Create two tiers, one for skilled professionals and another for unskilled professionals. Unskilled professionals will not be entitled to unemployment benefits, and will have shorter grace periods for picking up new work in case of a layoff.
  • Increase staffing in consulates general to expedite background checks.
  • Amounts paid into social security can accrue for future payouts, but if a worker is forced to leave the country by, for example, unemployment or other ineligibility for renewal, and does not qualify for re-entry for more than a year, amounts paid into social security are forfeit. That money could probably be best used to pay benefits to citizens and legal residents, who, in an economy that cannot even employ guest workers, will probably need the help.
  • Harsh penalties for human traffickers. I suspect a lot of these middlemen entice workers with promises of the golden land in exchange for exorbitant amounts of future debt. This is at the very least true for many illegal immigrants from China; there is nothing that suggests that it isn’t true of illegals from Mexico or other places as well.
  • Rather than designate current illegals as felons, allow them a grace period to apply for guest worker status. Those with violent criminal records must be deported immediately. Those with minor, non-violent records must pay a fine. Those who have been here for less than, say, 5 years must also pay a fine. None will qualify for social services in excess of what they earn from here on.
  • In all cases, contribution to and participation in local communities will be mitigating factors.

The point is, people see the shining beacon that is America. They should be allowed to become “official” Americans, provided they can show, through their hard work and contributions to the life of the community, that they love this country. This is important; have you ever seen the giddiness a “newly minted” American exudes? While certain cultural values will always be shifting, others cannot be abrogated. Civic awareness, typically very low in non-Western nations, is important.

Integration does not mean simply providing services and then hoping the immigrants sink or swim, as with the European model. Integration means actual involvement with the day-to-day civic life. Perhaps America doesn’t need to reach out anymore to scour the planet for those who want to come here; but we need to make sure there are no delusions about what it takes to be an American, and no mistakes that the vast bounty of America’s resources will not be doled out to those who would break American laws.

I imagine some will be turned off by this. You can’t please everyone. But I’m pretty sure that if someone is turned off because he has to (*gasp*) work at getting what he wants, American really doesn’t want him around. We’ve got plenty of people who already do not believe in personal responsibility; we don’t need more.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

8 thoughts on “The Shining Beacon”

  1. I’ll offer a differing approach. Every illegal crossing into our country is another vote for annexation of their homelands. I notice that so many are concerned about the humanitarian issues of those who ‘made it’, but nothing is said of those who did not or who could not. What about them? If you really believe your rhetoric about the condition of the ‘poor obrero’ then it applies regardless of the border. If they have demonstrated that, in deed, the American system is the better by their action, then the choice of systems is made clear. The transnationalist have by ignoring the sovereignty of the national borders of the United States laid similar ignoring the sovereignty of other nations borders. It follows that annexation would answer the humanitarian and border issue. It will also address the true heart of the issue.

    Don’t expect anything ‘reformed’ in Washington to solve any of this immigration issue. It is not in the interest of the other governments, particularly Mexico City, to change the situation. It is in their interests to rid themselves of their excess poor and population to specifically avoid real reform or revolution. The ruling political class has no inclination to surrender power. They have been given decades to sustain that power by this policy of dumping their excess human population which would otherwise create significant political turmoil within their existing governmental system. All the debate in America on this immigration issue will alter nothing in this situation. It is merely a debate how to clean up someone else’s mess. The mess will continue. The non-solution will only widen the rift between the governed and the governing. Undermining further the legitimacy of a form of government that does not solve problems, but merely papers over the effects. Annexation and Commonwealth status addresses all the issues.

    No, it doesn’t have to happen by force. It should be started by openly discussing it as a legitimate possibility given the behavior of the other governments in their assaults upon the sovereignty of this country. Its time to start the dialogue with their people about the advantages of opportunity, of mobility of labor and capital, of stable currency and economy, of the intolerance of corruption as a governmental culture, and of a future for their posterity. It also gives the United States a stick to bring to the table when discussing the problem with those existing governments, who till now just smile, nod their heads, and continue to do business as usual.

  2. I don’t go as far as Don, but I agree that this is primarily a US-Mexico issue. Essentially, they are asking us to change our laws to accommodate them. Very well. Let them, in turn, change their laws to accommodate us. Specifically, remove their constitutional prohibitions against foreigners owning land, owning corporations, extracting minerals, etc.

    We are in a unique situation. I cannot think of another place where two adjoining countries are at such different stages of economic and political development (other than Korea, of course). This should not be a case of all the benefits being on one side and all the concessions on the other. You usually only get to that state by winning a war.

  3. Well…
    We wouldn’t have to deport 12 million people. They would mostly go away if risk were increased for themselves and their employers.

  4. From an entry in John Robbs blog entitled:


    “I think the Bush administration and the federal government should put up the money to create the kind of protection the federal government is responsible to provide. We have to press the federal government. It’s their responsibility, not the state’s responsibility.” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

    On Monday,[May 15] President Bush is expected to announce the deployment of up to 10,000 National Guard troops on the US border with Mexico. On its face, this is a political move, intended to shore up support among the Republican base going into the mid-term elections. However, it is indicative of something much more. It is a realization that border controls, in a world dominated by a morally neutral global platform that trumps the sovereignty of nation-states, have become a sham. This sham control has become an acute problem (particularly for the states on the border) as armed open source smuggling networks have “liberated” large sections of Mexico from state control (to really understand this, please read this review of Moises Naim’s book).
    Unfortunately, like the pro-immigration protests that set this ball in motion, this action will yield the opposite of the intended effect. It will both speed the unravelling of the American domestic fabric and undermine any remaining confidence that the US federal government (particularly by its dependence on a grossly underfunded and overstretched National Guard) can provide anything of meaningful value.

    Further, as we escalate the conflict, we may find that open source economic networks are more than able to defend themselves (as we are seeing around the world) as global guerrillas.”

    Taken from John Robb’s blog.

  5. …”this action will yield the opposite of the intended effect. It will both speed the unraveling of the American domestic fabric and undermine any remaining confidence that the US federal government (particularly by its dependence on a grossly underfunded and overstretched National Guard) can provide anything of meaningful value.”

    Really? Why?

    A certain amount of skepticism in the American people and an even greater skepticism in their government is understandable but this is a bit much. This statement flies in the face of the political reality that has forced the administrations hand (to tighten border controls) and dismisses it without comment. It assumes that funding won’t be changed and the tone seems to assume that problems won’t be solved along the way. I imagine that things will be worked out if the depth of public support demands it.

    BTW, guerilla activity on the border (or elsewhere) would only strengthen public support for border security.

  6. Nobody discusses the mechanics of deporting 12 million people. Here are seven good reason why it should never be done.

    1. How do you find them? Are warrantless house-to-house searches legal? Will they be allowed as sort of like road blocks to catch drunk drivers. Should all American citizens be required to carry citizenship papers at all times so that random checks for illegals can be made?

    2. Suppose an American citizen is detained/arrested by mistake, does he/she have a right to legal counsel and due process?

    3. What legal rights do illegals have. Are they entitled to a court hearing before being deported? are they entitled to water? bathrooms? food? shelter from cold? heat? rain? crime? disease?

    4. If they are locked in shipping containers for deportation, are there any rules concerning over crowding. Is 250 people per container too few? Too many? Just right? What about illegals who die in the containers – are they entitled to burial or should they be recycled? Do American citizens who die in containers get burial or should they be recycled?

    5. Should the children of illegals be deported if they were born in the US? Can a US citizen-by-birth be deported? If an American citizen has a child outside the US, under the 1986 law that child is NOT automatically a citizen but may be naturalized if its parents are desirable. Should this rule be extended to children born in the USA?

    6. If we dump 12 million Mexican on the South bank of the Rio Grande, the Mexican government will be unable to house and feed them. It will quarantine them in one or more refugee camps on the Rio Grande.
    a. Should we let these illegals pollute the Rio Grande with human waste and dead bodies?
    b. How do we prevent the illegals from coming back?
    c. How do we prevent these camps from becoming breeding grounds for terrorists like the ones in Palestine? Do we adopt the Israeli solution and periodically invade the camps a kill bad guys and bulldoze their homes? Are we ready for an intifada? Suicide bombers?

    7. I assume that none of the illegals will be allowed to take any of their possessions with them when they are deported because there will be no room on the bus/in the box car/container. Who gets their possessions? The Nazis gave Jewish possessions to the people who informed on them – do you think this is a good idea? The DEA gives possessions to the cops who catch the bad guy even if he is never found guilty – is that a good idea? Does this violate the 4th amendment? Does anyone care?

  7. Nobody in this thread brings up mass deportation because that is not what is proposed. Your “seven good reasons” seem like “a modest proposal”, but doesn’t have the impact at Chicago Boyz because few if any here have seriously suggested mass deportation. Even leaving aside the valid moral debate, it simply isn’t practicable.

  8. your “seven reasons” are so far outside of the realm of sensibility that I’m not sure if they’re intended as satire or not.

    Seriously… I don’t think *anyone* is suggesting we deport illegals by putting them in shipping containers without any of their belongings and dumping them inches beyond the edge of the Rio Grande, all without a hearing or trial such that we increase our chances of deporting actual citizens. (Though I do think “Born in East LA” is a hilarious movie.)

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