What to Do About Illegal Immigration

This is not easy. Some folks feel like we are being over run by illegal immigrants, and they are taxing our criminal justice system, sapping our schools and draining our communities of resources. They see them as law-breakers. If we need to build a multi-billion dollar fence, and spend several billion more each year to arm the fence … so be it.

Others conclude that our nation was built largely by immigrants, and while we don’t want to open the flood gates, having some openness to people from abroad is helpful and desirable to our culture.

Several in the business world recognize that illegals fill a valuable service by doing jobs that many Americans simply refuse to do, and don’t mind the fact that they do these jobs for substandard wages.

First, to dispel a few bits of propaganda. Beware of statistics. All sides of this discussion throw them around carelessly. Illegal immigrants pay a lot of taxes. Often, there is Social Security and FICA withholdings that they will never collect on the benefits … and we will. They pay all of the sales taxes and other fees that we all enjoy. They also spend much of the money that they earn locally on food, clothing and shelter, and thereby further boast the economy that they live in. In other words, they help keep our jobs going as well. The nonpartisan studies that I’ve read seem to indicate this all generally balances out with at least a little net benefit. They do more good than harm.

Let me throw two other things into the mix. First, since 9/11 it has been much more difficult for highly talented people to come to this country. It may have been one of Mr. Bush’s biggest mistakes to so dramatically shut down the ability of top students around the world to come and study at our nation’s graduate schools. As it had worked for many decades, these young people would come, study and stay to enjoy the bounty of our economy. It would be hard to calculate how many hundreds of billions of dollars this phenomenon was worth to us … many, many. Since 9/11, these young people have gone to other universities around the world, improved the standings of those universities, then often returned to their homeland. This is one of the key reasons why China, India, Brazil and many other nations have seen an economic boom in recent years. Leaders in business complain that it quite difficult to recruit top talent, because the immigration process here is so long and arduous. Hence, a research lab, loaded with the brightest and best, gets located in India. It isn’t just the people who make our trinkets who saw their jobs get sent overseas.

Secondly, a strong majority of our current illegal aliens come from Mexico and Central America. For most of us, our ancestors left their native land to come to this country, take advantage of our immense economic opportunities (the reason that almost all immigrants have come) and essentially ended their connection with the land that they left behind. They may have stayed in touch with some number of relatives, but they came to America to be Americans. With folks from Central America, the severing of that tie may not happen. Many continue to keep their native language, and hope to accumulate some wealth with which to return to what they consider to be their homeland. So part of the debate needs to address the question of how helpful this is to our country, and should we make a legal pathway for people who wish to do this.

We are a nation of laws. There is one set of laws being broken that have to do with entering or staying in the U.S. illegally. But the other set of laws being broken have to do with employers who illegally hire those who are here illegitimately. If we were to more consistently hit employers with some penalty for this, the incentives for a manager to employ an illegal would fall substantially. It would need to be a penalty not too harsh, but also not too light. I would suggest 24 hours in jail and a $100 fine on a minor misdemeanor charge for the site manager AND the HR director or hiring decision maker for any given location. A few trips to the ‘big house’, and they would get real serious about their hiring practices.

Just a thought … DonC

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