Random Border Thoughts

I've been thinking a lot about the whole immigration quandary. I think I've come to the conclusion that, for me at least, it's almost completely about national security. If we have no practical control over who crosses our borders - and we even admit as much - then the United States is not a functioning nation.

I don't particularly mind if people from other countries come here to work. If I lived in a Central American slum and watched my family suffer day and night, I would go wherever I could to make enough money to better provide for them. I can't blame anyone for doing whatever they can to build a better life.

The problem is that some percentage of those who enter the U.S. illegally are not coming to seek honest work. Maybe they are criminals. Maybe they are lazy and think they can live better on welfare here than they can by working for pennies an hour at home. Maybe they are terrorists who want to hurt Americans. We need to stop such people from entering our country, while at the same time welcoming those who truly want to be contributing members of our society.

Some argue that immigrants take jobs away from law-abiding Americans. Maybe in a few specific occupations that is true, but in the aggregate our economy is now operating at nearly full employment. Businesses need labor of all kinds. The wages they offer are the magnet that attracts people to cross the border. Are immigrants willing to work for less than Americans? Maybe. What counts is they are willing to work. There's nothing wrong with an employer hiring the least-expensive workers he can find, as long as they aren't be exploited or enslaved.

This brings up the next point. The illegal immigrant population has certain benefits for Americans. Their presence allows us, for example, to have inexpensive lawn care, construction, restaurant service, nanny service, and a variety of other things. We all like having these things. If by some miracle we were able to expel all the illegals, what would happen to our economy? To the extent we need the services they provide, we would all suddenly have to pay a lot more and we would have to reduce our spending elsewhere. The result would be recession.

Suppose, by another miracle, we are able to not only expel all the illegals but also secure the southern border so that no more are able to cross. What would happen on the other side? The U.S. acts as a kind of relief valve for the dysfunctional Mexican economy. The money illegals send back to their families would be sorely missed. There would soon be serious social unrest in Mexico, and violence would probably follow. Having such a burning cauldron right next door would be problematic for the U.S., to say the least.

So what we need is a filter: a wall with doors in it, doors that are closely guarded and through which are allowed only the people we determine are non-threatening. What about those who are already here illegally? They need to go through the same process. Give them a reasonable time to register, check them out thoroughly, and let them stay. After a deadline, anyone who fails to register should go to prison. Call the "amnesty" if you want, but I don't see any practical way around it.

Incidentally, the concern many on the right have about "law-breaking" immigrants would be a lot more convincing if they would stop making excuses for the Bush Administration's own railroading of the Constitution and defiance of laws it doesn't like. A lot of these people are all for enforcing the law on people they don't like, while exempting themselves and their friends.

Now some of you will say that immigrants consume an extraordinary amount of tax money for various government services. This may well be true. Is it relevant? The fact is most of these "services" should not exist in the first place, for anybody - American or otherwise. Get rid of them, use the money on border security and we can kill two birds with one stone.

Another argument is cultural: immigrants don't assimilate and become real Americans. For some this is probably true, but I'm not sure the current wave of Mexicans we are seeing is all that different from past mass migrations of people from other cultures to the U.S. Once in the melting pot they eventually lose their prior identity and become Americans. The problem is that it takes 2-3 generations for this process to work. Children of immigrants want to speak English and become part of the larger culture. This process would be helped along if we would eliminate bilingual education from our public schools, but that's another subject.

So my problem with the current immigration proposal boils down to this: it's not serious. The laughable background checks that would be done before granting Z visas would do nothing to stop undesirables from being here, and may even attract more. I don't trust the Bush Administration to really do anything about border security. I'd like to be proven wrong. If they will actually build the fences and hire the Border Patrol agents that Congress has already authorized, it would be a good start. I'm not holding my breath. If, as the president says, the U.S faces threats to its very existence, there is no excuse for leaving the border virtually open.

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