The Immigration Cool War

The Republicans want a shooting war right now over immigration. That and gay marriage (and/or adoption) are their best chances to mobilize their base in November. Fortunately for us, we don't need to be in a shooting war over immigration, because there are a couple of fundamental principles on which just about everyone can agree. Beyond those principles is a debate that includes so many competing interests and so many difficult choices that it defies description in the kind of polarizing rhetoric that the Republicans seem to want to use.

Here's what I think we can agree on:

  • We have to take border enforcement seriously. We're the wealthiest nation in the world, and if our borders are open a lot more people will be coming in than going out. We then are going to have to spend a lot of money providing for and dealing with these immigrants or spend a lot of money rounding them up and shipping them home. The question is how are we going to take it seriously—More guards? Sensors? A couple of walls? Stricter screening at ports and airports? Or is the way things are going now all right? But the choice is emphatically not between "let the invading hordes in" and "protect the homeland!"
  • We have to take interior enforcement seriously. If we're going to have rules about who comes in and who doesn't, they ought to be enforced. I hear that there are 11 million illegal immigrants in the US. Is it good policy to drive them all home, underground, or into jails? What's the cost to our economy? What's the cost to individuals and families? Are some of them worth keeping even if their pathway into the country was illegal? These are tough issues with fuzzy answers. Again, the choice isn't polar.

The two sentences in bold are where I think we can all begin. The multi-faceted and challenging nature of everything else is what keeps immigration from being the new gay marriage. Nobody's against immigration law enforcement, and most interested groups agree that some things should change.

Republicans are beating this drum now to rally the base, but they're being driven into internal disagreement because the issue is complicated. The only way they make this work for them is if we get drawn into a cartoony Republicans vs. Democrats version of the debate. The idea that there is a Republican position here and a Democratic position is just false, and there's no reason to wish it were true (or to act like it is).

(This began as a comment to Anglico's post, but it got out of hand.)


Cool war

The only way I see this getting reduced to talking points is from flat-out racism. Wingers are going to say Dems are "soft" on illegal immigration no matter what Dems say. So the trick is to know that is coming and then be prepared to counter it. You won't be surprised that I'd like to counter with competence, integrity and common good. The right fringe of the Republican party controls government right now and they have no capacity to get anything done effectively. They've polarized and divided and screwed up and lied about so many things for so long that the fail on all three fronts.

But don't forget what Walter sez: The real problem is those darn Mexican flags. How could those immigrants be so ungrateful!

I think there's still a pretty good talking point

I think that a perfectly good talking point could be made that Bush has dropped the ball on the one tactic that can work: enforcing laws against hiring illegal immigrants. Check out the lower left corner of this graphic.

The beauty of this talking point is that it pits the anti-immigrant Republicans against the business Republicans.

what about employer enforcement?

Molly Ivin's column last week made the point that fences don't work but going after employers does. It made sense to me but I have to say I know next to nothing except that in the last ten years I've enjoyed all the great Mexican food I've found in the most obscure WNC counties.

Oops, zabouti

that WAS your point. My bad. But the column is funny and backs you up 100%

Dang You, Drama Queen!

You've found my real source! Now I'm forced to admit that I'd read Molly's column, too and that it's not exactly an original idea to enforce laws against employeers. Curse the Internets!! ;-)

don't blame me

You didn't have to admit it!

Without Strong Labor Unions

There's no happy future for immigrant labor or for American labor. Any meaningful immigration legislation must include labor protections.

Scrutiny Hooligans -

There's a thought.

Can you imagine the kind of power immigrants (legal or not) would have if they were all part of, and represented by, a union? And not just recent migrants either, add up just the past 10 years worth of people. It'd be incredible.

Yeah, but

what a fund-raising boon "the illegals' union" would be to the worst sort of demagogues.

Rethinking who we let in

Potentially the most important part of the immigration issue is our choice of who we allow to legally immigrate. The system we have for most countries is a pure lottery; people enter names and then they hope their number is called. Most other Anglo-European countries base their immigration on merit. So when an intelligent person can get into Canada based on their acheivement or go through a lottery to enter like everyone esle, they will go to Canada. America then gets left with the bottom of barrel. America has some exceptions for people with jobs or going to college, but it is not enough.
My wife has a friend that found herself in this situation. She was a college graduate with some graduate work in Eastern Europe. Canada snapped her up, so she went there instead of waiting for the American lottery.
We have no control over the illegals, but we need to start exercising our control of the legals more intelligently so that we get the cream of the crop rather than random lottery winners (we do know how much people around here hate the lottery).

Right, but

There are huge problems with our asylum procedures, too. But most of those are procedural. In general we should welcome political and social refugees.

I'm glad WE didn't have to deal with this

I'm pretty sure my unskilled great-grandparents who spoke Swedish and no English wouldn't have stood a chance. Luckily all us white folk got a room before the Inn was all full.

Immigration reform will be the end of American ingenuity and competitiveness. Immigrants have always been the engine that has driven America. Now that there are almost no regional differences in America because of TV, Internet, cheap airfare, and transplant jobs - where else will ingenuity come from? Where will that outside view, the out-of-the-box view come from if not from immigrants.

Open the borders.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

Language would not be a factor

Language and culture would not be a factor in merit based immigration.


No restriction on admission?


Unless you are a terrorist. Terrorists we should probably keep out. Although:

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
Chinese general & military strategist (~400 BC)

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

Immigrants to the US largely

Immigrants to the US largely come from impoverished areas. It's true that they add a lot to the US economy, but their impact isn't uniformly positive. Eventually you run out of the jobs that "no American wants to do" and you have job applicants who are willing to do for a lot less money jobs that Americans have and would like to keep. Work done by Philip Martin and Elizabeth Midgley shows that the financial benefits of immigration go to two groups: the immigrants themselves, and the well-educated owners of capital. If you turn off the limits to immigration, it's probably just a matter of time before the flow of cash out of the middle class is a bigger effect than the economic benefit of a flood of cheap labor.

On top of that, you've got a Republican government that is crippling education, social programs, and health care. If you open the doors, and if the majority of immigrants continue to be from the poorer parts of the world, it's going to be more than those programs can bear.

Robert, I'll buy that America should be relatively open, but completely open seems sort of extreme.

Give me your tired...

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

My great-great-grandfather's ship, that passed through Ellis Island.

America is supposed to be the home of Democracy, the home of excellence. Instead it wants to close its borders and become the home of mediocrity and complacency. Only by opening our doors to those with the courage to travel under harsh conditions can America maintain its competitive spirit. If we don't want the world on our doorstep, then it is time to give them a reason for staying at home. Only by giving workers in other countries a living wage can we avoid hordes of people looking for a hand-out instead of hand-up.

I will never support a system where only IT techs, engineers, and other professionals are given access to the United States.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.


I can get behind this: "If we don't want the world on our doorstep, then it is time to give them a reason for staying at home."

But as for wide open borders, it's going to take more than a romantic notion about America's identity to solve the problems that come with boundless immigration. There are real financial and social consequences for Americans and those who wish to come here that won't be addressed by the engraving on the Statue of Liberty.

I'll just add that our borders probably were not wide open when that boat steamed past Ellis Island.

I will team up with you against TarGator, though, especially since you put it this way: "I will never support a system where only IT techs, engineers, and other professionals are given access to the United States." The suggestion of merit-based admissions across the board (excepting asylum) makes me uncomfortable.

Open Borders = Innovation

Those immigrants who came here did extraordinary things for the chance at a new life. Their kids became the leaders of society. By blocking those with the same drive from becoming citizens, we effectively weed out the leaders of tomorrow.

If we want to be world leaders then we have to lead. We dug ourselves into this hold over the course of decades, it's going to hurt when we pull off the Band-Aid that is the global economy. Either we shut down trade with countries that don't offer living wages, which will hurt; or, we continue to lose jobs to those same countries, which already hurts.

I have an economist friend that believes the goal of American trade is to outsource all blue-collar jobs. America will end up only with high-end tech jobs. Of course, this discussion happened years ago, before we realized that India could do our tech jobs just fine at a fraction of the cost.

All told, the Global Economy is being held together by duct-tape and bailing wire.

Keeping immigrants out isn't the cure, it's just more duct-tape. We need to scrap the engine and start from scratch. Sure, there will be some growing pains, but hey, outsourcing textiles to China sure didn't feel too good.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

But that's not all!

Nice. MacGyver.

I think you're arguing against a point that no one here is making. I'm saying that there have to be some limits, not that we should keep everyone out. And while Open Borders = Innovation, open borders = a whole lot of other stuff as well. Is your point that the value of innovation trumps the other values at play here?

You say "Those immigrants who came here did extraordinary things for the chance at a new life. Their kids became the leaders of society." Are you only talking about immigrants who arrived before the first restrictive immigration statutes were passed (mid- to late-1800s)? Surely not! Our society has been enriched by immigrants who have arrived since then, too. [Yao Ming joke here.]

I can tell that you're really enamored of the idea of open borders, but think you're ducking the question of how best to balance the value of openness against its potential harms or with competing interests. A flood of immigration from poor countries would strain our nation's capacity to integrate the new arrivals, and would probably swell the ranks of the working poor while lining the pockets of wealthy industrialists. "Open = Innovation" is one thing among many that has to go into the discussion over how to do immigration well.

Now I'm getting all excited about Drinking Liberally tomorrow night. You coming?

open borders

What I'm arguing is that open borders (with limits based on criminal history at the very least) must happen along with changes in the global economy. Give people living wages at home and open our borders. Those who will come will be seeking a better life than just getting along, those are the people we want.

From my point of view, we either have to help them there or help them here. I would suggest doing the former and not the latter. But, I am not against doing them both.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

The more I think about this, the less I like it

[This is addressed to TG's comment waaaaay up here.]

I just don't see Congress making decisions about who to let in based on values that I share and what I think is good for America. I trust that Congress would focus on admitting people that are good for business to the detriment of artists, social and political thinkers, family members of citizens and current residents, and porn stars. (Just checking to see if you're paying attention.) There are already preferences in place for some immigration categories. Maybe these are enough.

Also, I think that to make your argument well, you've got to show that there's something wrong with the pool of immigrants let in under the general quotas. You'd need to say "here's a problem we're having that wouldn't be a problem if we only let in people who X" and you'd need to show that eliminating that problem in favor of merit-based admissions didn't cause other, more serious problems. That's a tough row to hoe.


Basic economics. We want to be a brain sink for the rest of the world. In order to get innovation, we need to bring the best and brightest here. This argument hurts a lot of left leaning folks who want to believe that everyone is equal and contributes equally, but I do not think that is the case. And this is not an elitist argument, because the current system greatly favors those with money and the ability to hire lawyers to sift through the tangle of red tape that is legal immigration (or bribe the officials in other countries to get a visa).

10-20 years ago and even further back, we were getting tons of foreigners coming to our country for education and staying to perform their science and engineering here, and thus growing our economy. Now the same people are staying in their native land and giving the innovations gains to them (for instance, the great strides India is making on the technology front).

What we are replacing these people with are immigrants choosen at random by a lottery system. Most of these possible immigrants have been through school and other rigors in their native land. Why should we not use what they have done over there to help us choose the best people to come here.

My wife's family came to America to work as engineers in the early 90's. They were well educated, make a difference by working on important projects here, and have a daughter that has a masters degree and is working on more important projects for a leading technology company. These are the people that we want.

This is not an attack on manual laborers that come here; they are very important, too. But the people that expand this countries wealth and capacity for the good of all are the scientists, engineers, and businessmen (and lawyers). We need a system that incentivizes these people to come here, rather than have them go other industrialized countries.

This is not a racist argument (I would apply this system to every country and region), not elitist (I only want those with proven merit on their own accord), and not xenophobic (I want immigration, but with a well thought out system).

I think it bears repeating that the majority of legal immigrants receive that status through a blind lottery. Why are we giving up the ability to select the most qualified candidates? Lance, I can go on if you want, but I think this is enough for now.

It's not that I believe that

"that everyone is equal and contributes equally." It's just that I don't have any faith in Congress's ability to set up rules to sort those who contribute more from those who contribute less.

Other Countries HAve

Other countries have done it. And Congress would not be setting themm. They would delegate the rulemaking to a federal agency. I think I have more faith in the ability of government than you.

As to faith

that's as it may be. That other countries have done it doesn't alleviate my concern unless some of those are countries whose governments are as tightly aligned with corporate interests as ours is. I'm not even sure who those countries would be.

how can you have faith in our gov't . . .

when federal agencies are losing their best career employees at alarming rates? I grew up near DC, so did my partner. We both have many many relatives in fed gov work, now and in the distant past and it's never been as bad as it is right now.

Here's one example at the Office of Special Counsel, but there's plenty more of this nature:

Three watchdog groups have claimed that Bloch has run a purge of career civil service employees in order to replace them with friends and loyalists.

Then there's several websites on all kinds of eggregious employment policies like this one on the "revolving door" (corporate to government and back), apparently a key mechanism by which corporate interests influence federal decision-making

And go here for all kinds of things -- like the NASA spokesman who was a small-time political operative for Bush's reelection with no science background actually editing and changing the science on NASA press releases to a Federal Energy Regulator being forced to abandon a serious case against a major energy company:

Don't Fall into the Republican Trap

I believe that government can be a very positive force for good in our country. The fact that this administration does not believe in good governance does not change my view. Part of the Norquist agenda is to run government so badly that citizens do not trust it and will bow to the free market bs as an alternative. Merely because this administration is incompetent does not mean that government is bad.

I think you two are saying the same thing.

"Government" in a generic sense has enormous potential. "Government" as dysfunctionally run by Republicans is a dangerous enterprise.

Well, It sure is confuseing is it not!

This is sure to be a hotly debated subject over the next few years. I find it hard to beleive, that before I was disabled and working in Law Enforcement we here in this small mountain county got swamped by folks of Mexican heratage. I see them working jobs every day and the native folk cant even BUY a job. Now, I am not getting down on them. Im Scotch-Irish and odds are my ancestors were on the boat with Roberts. And , NO, They have never done anything to me personally. I used to find it funny however when we would get one into the jail on charges and they would speak spanish up till the point I would look at a fellow officer and say"Well, I guess we need to transport him to Broughton Hospital or Central Prison for safekeeping and suddenly he would transform and speak better english than I. Now, I personally know some of these folks that have made productive citizens and work hard. I admire them for that. But then again I have a friend who worked with the Border Patrol out of Brownsville for 3 years. He once told me that the the right mule with the proper brown envlope handed to the right officer & heads would turn and people would cross. My idea of how to handle this is quite simple, of course some will disagree. Since Jan 1,06 500 troops have been killed in Iraq! As no MAJOR wepons of Mass destruction have been found we could station our infantry Divisions along the borders and rotate the units out every so often. The National Information & Crime Control computer system used by law enforcement & dispatch has become so far devoloped it can now be used in the field along with the ability to input pitcures from a digital camera and it has its own digital fingerprint board. It just seems to me that this would be a much better useof our money than building fences . As has been documented, they have built tunnels under city streets on the border and come up in houses. Yes, there are those who truly wish to have a better life, and I cannot blame them. But look at the gang situation,especally in Los Angles. In a few years it will be like in Robert Carpenters movie's, Escape from NY & LA" The goverment will have a wall built around them for prision use.