Some initial impressions on President Obama's immigration plan:
1. We have become so cynical that the talking heads, especially, can't imagine a leader doing something mostly for the decency of it. Yet this is likely Mr. Obama's prime motivation. Whites make up 75 percent of the electorate and anti-"amnesty" Anglos vote while too many potentially Democratic Hispanics don't. So it's a political loser.
2. Despite similar precedents set by Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the Republicans will try to impeach Obama or otherwise act out. They can't stop themselves.
I moderated a panel of eminent China experts last night. One of the consistent themes is how our dysfunctional government sends the message to Beijing to not take us seriously, or to make a dangerous miscalculation.
3. Mr. Obama's limited overhaul doesn't address the core problems: Our appetite for cheap labor; the way trade agreements disrupted traditional economies and drew workers el norte; bad governance in Mexico and much of central America, and the fact that too many American employers and even average Americans are satisfied with the status quo.
4. Going after these deeper issues is daunting, not least because of the silent satisfaction with an underground underclass listed above. We would have been better off doing nation-building in Mexico than in the Middle East. To paraphrase the chickenhawks, "If we don't employ them there, we'll have to employ them here."
Also, if we were really serious about WHAT PART OF ILLEGAL DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!, American employers of illegals would have been sent to prison for hard time.
In addition, we would have encourage unions and been willing to pay more for work performed by citizens. And we would have revisited the likes of NAFTA, which have caused so much damage to the localized economies for the benefit of transnational corporations.
We have done none of that.
5. "Immigration reform" was always a pipe dream among the dSi elites and the media. Yet important concerns can be tainted or swept aside by right-wing racist hysteria.
Every other "sweeping reform," from the Reagan amnesty to NAFTA failed in its promise to stop large-scale illegal immigration. What is the effect of continued massive immigration on jobs and wages?
The historic levels of illegal immigration during the "oughts" produced more economic benefits than social costs. But it generated plenty of both. I have heard from many Mexican-Americans in Phoenix, whose families were there for generations, whose neighborhoods bore the brunt of the massive wave in the 1990s and 2000s — and who often were the first to lose jobs or wages to illegals. And they weren't happy about it.
And the nature of a fearful, in-the-shadows workforce only adds to historic inequality, as well as corporate profits and the ability of almost everybody in the Southwest to get cheap lawn care and housekeeping.
As we continue to defund schools, research and infrastructure, this leaves more and more Americans behind. Legalizing 11 million mostly low-skilled migrants and encouraging more to come only continues the race to the bottom.
The previous record of immigration, from the 1890s through World War I, came in an industrial society where low-skilled workers could gain skills and rise. Thanks to unions and the New Deal, their children could rise further still. (Note, however, there was a long pause in immigration, from the early 1920s until 1965, which also helped wages). Today, rising from the bottom is hard and getting much more difficult. We are pursuing policies to continue this dismal situation.
6. It's nice to recall the old Southwest, where the border was a line, nothing more. People came and went easily. All true. But the illegal immigration situation now sits squarely in the defining crises of our time, especially overpopulation, the disruption of climate change and First World appetites for cheap labor and drugs.
The accelerants of the first two are only going to grow. We don't have a plan for the waves of desperate immigrants to come.
7. Mr. Obama's move will make for grotesque theater in Arizona. Fear of illegals ("I see...brown people!") is the political jet fuel of the state Republican Party. The most destructive migration was the on-the-cheap increases in population of the past thirty years. These were good white 'Merican citizens. Without them, there would have been no demand for so much illegal labor.
Two further thoughts. The president have a very good speech, intelligent, reasoned and pitch-perfect in calling us to the better angels of our nature. Is such can be done in the Cold Civil War.
I do regret the requirement that every president include one or more "real people" in every piece of major rhetoric. I believe this started under Reagan and while it has its place, it mostly gets in the way. Can you imagine if Lincoln's handlers had insisted that he insert "like the heartwarming story of Private Joe Dokes of the 23rd Ohio..." in the Gettysburg Address?
Second, and more important, was appearing to accept the right-wing myth that illegal immigrants don't pay taxes. The poorest don't make enough to pay federal taxes (or income taxes in many states). However, they pay a disproportionate amount of their wages in other taxes, especially sales taxes. Sure, there's the underground economy. But for the most part, their purchases are taxed. Better off immigrants indeed do pay income taxes, at the federal, state and local levels. They also pay Social Security taxes — and can never draw on this entitlement earned benefit.