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Saturday, May 19, 2007
(11:09 AM) | Stephen:
If It Makes Everyone Mad, It's Not Really A Compromise

It's just a bad bill.

The more I think about the latest compromise immigration bill, the more I don't like it. The bill is that type of horrible "compromise" that consists of everything each side wanted in the first place, with no consideration for which provisions have the exact opposite intent of each other. A general amnesty would be declared - though it wouldn't be called that - but those seeking to be legally recognized under this "amnesty" would be required to pay a $1,000 fine and a "processing fee" of $1,500, which means they will be paying $2,500 in fines for a misdemeanor.

For context, driving your car at one mph over the speed limit is a misdemeanor. The plain fact about illegal immigration is that it is an entirely separate area of law, and probably should be so. But before anyone gets worked up about THESE PEOPLE who are FLOUTING the LAWS of the UNITED STATES, think about just what type of offense they are being charged with. Further, crossing the border illegally is a criminal misdemeanor, while overstaying a visa is a civil misdemeanor. I'm quite sure that the difference has nothing to do with the race and class of the people who cross our southern border vis a vis that of the people who overstay visas.

The idea that people should pay fines when taking advantage of an amnesty shows that this bill is really about one party that desperately wants to hold onto and expand its slim Congressional majority and another party that desperately wants to prevent that from happening. The members of each party are now free to campaign about the victories they achieved in the immigration bill, Democrats trumpeting the amnesty which will add millions of workers ripe for unionization and an expanded tax base for popular programs like Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans will simultaneously show off the thousands of new border patrol agents that will be added, the fences, vehicle obstacles, new technology, and the fines that these miscreants will all pay as penalty for breaking the law of the land.

Of course, the fines will stand as a strong disincentive for people to participate, which will deprive politicians of both parties their victory speeches. A $2,500 initial fee for participating is pretty steep for a group of people who came to the US in order to make enough money so their families back in their countries of origin can eat.

The best part of the bill, though calling it such is damning with faint praise, is the provision for 6,000 new border patrol agents. Our southern border in particular is hopelessly porous, though my concern isn't so much of people crossing it seeking jobs, but criminals who use our vast unpopulated deserts to smuggle drugs and stolen goods across the border. Also, while I tend to not see terrorists under every rock or in the guise of each dark-skinned person I encounter, it would be far easier for terrorists to cross the USA's southern border than even coming through our woefully underinspected ports. Fences are a waste of money and time, but more people, more equipment and better technology are sorely needed.

Of course, this is not the first time that legislation has called for an increase in the number of border patrol agents. Much like calls for an increase in the number of police officers on our streets, it will take a Democratic presidential administration to actually make good on such promises, proving once again that there is a political party that is interested in power and the rhetoric required to gain and wield it, and another political party that is interested in governing.

From a pragmatic perspective, the real problem with the bill is that it addresses the immigration problem the same way our government addresses the so-called War on Drugs. Rather than fully go after the demand, the focus is upon the supply. As libertarians are fond of saying, Econ 101 will teach you that so long as there is a demand, there will be a supply. That employers, under this bill, would be required to electronically verify the legal status of applicants is a good thing, and it's heartening to see that it includes some sort of penalties for employers that fail to do that or otherwise knowingly hire illegal aliens. My question, though, is just what are those penalties, and what provisions does the bill have for supplying the needed technology and enforcement for such penalties? The increase in border patrol agents, the new technology, the mechanics of the "amnesty" and every other part of the bill will be just so much wasted money and time unless we start to really go after unscrupulous employers just as hard, if not harder, than we go after the illegal immigrants themselves.

Finally, the guest worker idea is ridiculous on its face. We already have a guest worker program, as I mentioned in comments to one of Ezra's posts on this issue. It's called the H Visa, and it provides for skilled workers, agricultural workers, and several other categories. We simply don't need to create an entirely new program, especially when the program we have now is understaffed, underfunded and ineffective.

Ezra is on record saying that this year is the year for action, with another chance for comprehensive immigration reform not occurring for a long time to come if we miss this one. He also has made it clear that his support for this bill comes from the benefits he sees from adding 12 million workers - who are already working, by the way, only without things like the minimum wage, unemployment insurance and often without contributing to Social Security and Medicare - to our tax base and to our economy in full. I believe that illegal immigrants depress wages most because they are illegal, not because they are immigrants. So I would agree with Ezra about the benefits of this bill slightly edging out the costs, if I also had his confidence that passage of this bill would result in our nation's illegal immigrants actually participating in the expensive "amnesty" program. The incentives for illegal immigrants to enter the system - higher wages, benefits, retirement - are intangible, while $2,500 is real money that they usually don't have. And those employers who already value saving money over following our immigration and employment laws, if history is to be a guide, have very little reason to change their practices with or without the passage of this bill.

It's junk and should be killed. Better no bill at all and another 10 years of the status quo than a campaign-consultant-written piece of garbage that solves no problems and adds a host more.

cross-posted at Ezra's place

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