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April 26, 2010


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Most of us explain political reality to ourselves in binary concepts of right and wrong. It's a cartoon, but we desperately need to feel right about things if only because they're so complicated. Conspiracy theorizing is a big risk when we attempt to bridge the gap between the little we know and the certitude we crave.

For the right-winger, cognitive dissonance involves celebrating markets that creatively destroy socieities and then demanding government intervention after the fact. For the left-winger, it's sentimentalizing the poor immigrant while expecting social justice for American workers.

Bob Robb had a column the other day about the new immigration law that deftly attempted an ideological straddle. Borders must be secured! But immigration reform is vital for the economy! The confused and angry Anglos, who bravely vote against their own interests for the sake of an emotionally satisfying narrative (Liberals ruined America!), might decipher their own bargain here. Life is a game of craps but the alleyway should be racially homogeneous.

Arizona has been Exhibit A in a failed experiment to put the market at the center of our lives while ignoring the poor and minorities who do the hard labor. The experiment seemed to be working when the economy was in ascendancy. The crash exposed the faulty arithemetic in our wishful thinking.

Once again, Jon nails it with his sadly humorous description of LEGAL IMMIGRANTS!

Each of us is a composite of so many ingredients . . like our life experiences and our value programming. Chances are we'd know very little more than stereotypes about Latinos if we were raised in the Midwest.
And if we were also taught that Mexicans were basically lazy . . called "beaners" and "wetbacks", maybe we'd carry that historical baggage all our lives.

So for me, the main question is how we can dig ourselves out of these deep-seated prejudices. Any ideas would be welcome! Thanks!

Mr. Talton wrote:

"I'm writing, of course, about the other great migration that destabilized my home state: That of the Midwesterners and Californians."


There are a couple serious points I wanted to emphasize:

(1) The idea that sheer numbers of immigrants crowd out American citizens is difficult to support. In 2005 at the height of the immigration wave the Arizona unemployment rate was 4.1 percent.

Many of these jobs are not skilled labor and would pay poorly anyway. That includes burger fryers, hotel sheet changers, those who mow lawns or shimmy up palm trees to trim fronds, and all of the rest of the jobs we associate with illegals in the non-farm service sector.

Most of the time the real difference in wages is between nominal wages and effective wages. That is, an employer pays legal wages but demands a lot of unpaid overtime. Legal workers can demand time-and-a-half for more than 40 hours a week; whereas someone working 50 or 55 hours while being paid for 40 hours is receiving an effective hourly wage far below their nominal wage.

One solution -- not necessarily the one everyone wants to hear -- would be expanded legal Mexican immigration quotas, say, by at least a factor of 10.

As I've documented elsewhere, the per country cap on the total immigration quota means that only about 26,000 legal immigration slots are open, each year, from Mexico: and that isn't just Arizona, that's for the entire United States. This is historically low:


Legal workers can demand overtime pay and sue through the justice system to recover it. They can complain to the NLRB and OSHA, demand the enforcement of workplace safety standards, get compensation for workplace injuries, join unions and bargain collectively.

Of course, it's always possible that even legal migrants would settle for less, in order to get work. On the other hand, it's difficult to work in a society where those around you have higher standards and receive more and better compensation, and know that you are legally entitled to the same, without being tempted to seek the same.

(2) Even in the special case of the construction sector, many illegals are employed doing the unpleasant grunt work: tarring roofs in the middle of summer, portage, and other comparatively low-skill but unpleasant tasks.

Stiil, there's little doubt that in this sector they've driven down entry level wages in many areas of residential construction trades.

Much of that work, however, was predicated on a residential construction boom. Does anyone expect that to repeat itself any time soon?

Even in the construction industry -- especially there -- expanded legal immigration would reduce employer opportunities for exploitation (and consequently, reduce downward wage pressures on the construction labor sector).

The danger would be that employers might continue to prefer to hire easily exploited illegals instead of legal immigrants; the solution would be to make sure that immigration quotas are sufficiently enlarged so that the number of surplus job opportunities are matched.

Remember, the magnet for immigration (of any type) is lots of available jobs, and most immigrants would prefer to come here and work here legally, if possible. If the number of available jobs is matched by available domestic and legal immigrant labor, there is little economic incentive for additional immigration, whether legal or not: a tough labor market discourages further immigration, as we see in the current downturn.

It's possible that Mexico will soon experience emergency circumstances that will alter this dynamic for the worse on both sides of the border, but that's a special issue. See my guest column On The Border hyperlinked to above, for more details.

I don't think I've ever read a better written, more thought provoking column from you than this. Well done.

What I am seeking is some better insight into what kind of human engineering is needed to bridge over some of the ignorance and prejudice here.

Some churches, for example, have the capacity and the will to create non-threatening dialog.

Didn't Jesus say something about how we treat "the least and the last and the lost"? Even evangelicals might resonate with this . . .

Another way of looking at the problem:

PREMISE: For countries sharing a long geographic border, high-volume tourist and commercial traffic, but a substantial difference in standard of living and in job opportunities, immigration will occur whether legal or illegal, and at roughly the same levels, because it's driven by economic factors that give immigrants an incentive to find a way in regardless.

Even if you could build a wall along the entire 2,000 mile border with Mexico, that could not be climbed over using portable ramps or other tools, could not be tunneled under, and could not be crashed through or dynamited at deserted locales, you're simply going to push illegal immigration into another channel. Already, nearly half of all illegal immigrants from Mexico enter the country legally (e.g., as tourists) and simply overstay their visas:

"Many immigrants who are in the United States illegally never jumped a fence, hiked through the desert or paid anyone to help them sneak into the country. According to a recent study, 45 percent of illegal immigrants came here on a legal visa, and then overstayed that visa."


There are 24 million tourist visits to Arizona alone from Mexico every year. Nearly anyone can get a laser visa for a short visit; and though the applicant is asked to specify facts indicating why (s)he isn't a risk to stay over the length of the visa (e.g., family or a job in Mexico) there is no way to perform background investigations on that number of visitors, so that unless someone is an idiot, they can get in simply by putting the "right" answers on the application. You can't stop a few hundred thousand from entering and staying.

Note that taking the names of entering "visitors" doesn't allow you to track anyone who subsequently assumes an alias and uses false ID (as most illegals do). Taking someone's fingerprints as they enter the country doesn't prevent them from getting employment unless employers are required to take the fingerprints of all applicants and compare them to those in federal databases.

So, short of sealing off the border entirely, a la East Germany, and instituting internal measures which some might regard as reminiscent of a "police state", you can't stop illegal immigration. Period.

CONCLUSION: The question we ought to be asking is not can we stop illegal immigration, but can we ameliorate its negative effects, and how to go about this.

By allowing legal immigration at a natural rate (i.e., one supported by structural economic factors) we can reduce illegal immigration to a trickle. (Of course, it will thereby be replaced by legal immigration.)

We can create programs for LEGAL immigration which:

(1) Make English learning classes mandatory. This will create thousands of new jobs for ESL teachers and others. You can't make illegals do this.

(2) Require immigrants to attend classes to learn the history and political structure of the United States, including the benefits of our form of constitutional democracy, separation of powers, and checks & balances. You can't make illegals do this.

(3) Insure that immigrants pay personal income taxes (both state and federal), as applicable. Note however that most Mexican immigrants work low-wage jobs and would not owe federal income taxes anyway; and they already pay payroll taxes (which are deducted automatically by employers), sales taxes, property taxes (even apartment renters, since landlords pass the cost of property tax assessments onto their renters), excise taxes (which are built into the price of products like tobacco and alcohol), and other taxes and fees. (So, the idea that illegals don't currently pay taxes to support schools, etc., is largely false. What they can't do is legally qualify for most social programs, which means that in many cases they are currently paying taxes but not collecting benefits.)

(4) Insure that immigrants are placed within and tracked by a probationary program over a period of 3-5 years after which they could, if they satisfied all requirements and avoided criminal behavior, become citizens. This would create strong incentives for compliance and good behavior.

(5) Provide special revenue opportunities for the feds and the states where immigrants settle. If Mexican nationals are willing to pay "coyotes" $1,500 a head to come here, surely a similar fee is possible, perhaps deducted automatically from wages but over time in an affordable installment plan which allows the government to track their employment and wages.

(6) Make identity theft/fraud unnecessary, since legal immigrants have no reason to steal or fabricate identity papers, etc., and under the incentive of becoming a citizen have every reason to behave as a model resident.

(7) Eliminate drop-houses and kidnappings of immigrants for ransom or extortion.

(8) Eliminate the dual use, by drug cartels, of immigrants or immigrant-smuggling organizations, as mules or as shared infrastructure.

(9) Reduce the exploitation of both Mexican and native U.S. workers by enabling (now legal) immigrant workers to complain to the NLRB and OSHA to insist on full overtime pay as required by law, and the enforcement of workplace safety standards; join unions and bargain collectively; and otherwise protect their rights as workers (thereby indirectly upholding the rights of native citizen workers instead of undermining them by allowing employers to evade their obligations by hiring illegals).

(10) Allow better screening for diseases and criminal backgrounds, since the vast majority of Mexican immigrants would now be entering legally and at designated/controlled points of entry.

(11) Free up vast monetary and manpower resources now used to fight illegal immigration, which could be redirected to other goals (e.g., fighting drug cartels by means of stepped-up enforcement and interdiction).

(12) Would reduce medical expenses by allowing (now legal) immigrants to participate in public and private insurance programs instead of overreliance on emergency rooms. (Also, I believe that taxpayers pay for federal reimbursement to hospitals for legally required ER care, whether citizen or non-citizen; this may be why hospitals are so ready to allow their ERs (which by their nature charge higher rates) to be used for the treatment of non-emergency cases (e.g., monitoring and treatment of chronic illnesses.)

Note that there were no immigration quotas prior to World War I (with rare and brief exceptions), so that this represents the traditional U.S. immigration policy.

Brilliant analyses, as always.

"Arizona was once part of Mexico, and without the Gadsden Purchase the international border would be just south of Phoenix." As "The Nine Nations of North America" perceived, the international border between Mexico and the U.S. is a particularly broad swath of desert with an imaginary line drawn variously to satisfy somewhat vague political fantasies. Todas las regiones deben atender a sus intereses mutuos, and avoid the delusion that cartographic borders do anything more than effect economic, political, ecolological, and cultural borders. Border walls are a symptom of illness, not a cure, nor even a bandage.

"Cultural borders?" Please excuse me while I try to understand this in reference to international borders, LOL! Ok, there is not understanding of your dramatic redefinition of nation states and sovereignty.

While nations do work together and even entities like the E.U. formed, that does not break the autonomy of separate and internationally recognized borders.

While some individuals (Hispanic in this topic) share few and sometimes many cultural similarities in either the U.S. or Mexico, citizenship matters and counts. Yes, yes Mexico lost the northern territories but so the history of the world was shaped. France and Germany drew lines of national territory many of times so do did Spain and France, India and China, Japan and Russia, etc etc...

The issues and complexities are lost when one chalks up the problem to national borders and rights of citizens vs illegal aliens. These laws should be respected and routes to immigration fluid to change with the times. The issue here is not national borders, cultures, hate, etc but of economics and immigration laws...

It is becoming rather annoying that the "kooks" from the far left and right continue pointing fingers and name-calling; this school yard crap that allows for more hate and disrespect between those that have different beliefs.

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