In the course of my short life I have had the opportunity to see immigration from a variety of perspectives and I wish to comment a little bit about that. It concerns me, as someone whose political views tend to be fairly conservative (I consider myself a “moderate conservative,” though admittedly that’s not a very helpful designation) that a large part of those who call themselves conservatives seem to have attitudes about immigration that seem nothing it not copied from the Know-Nothing platforms of a little more than 150 years ago. And I am no Know-Nothing.
When I was growing up, I became aware somewhat soon both that my own near family included immigrants (my maternal grandmother is Canadian-born) and also that many immigrants were around me. One of my earliest friends was a girl named Maria from a family of particularly poor sharecroppers who lived on my street (I have to admit I grew up pretty poor myself, as might be imagined), and another one of my earliest friends was a migrant farmer’s son named Esteban who lived a couple streets away in the small exurban area where I spent a largely unhappy childhood as a bookish outsider. So, it makes perfect sense that my closest friends were often outsiders themselves. I saw how many of my neighbors, who were reasonably well-off farmers, exploited the labor of immigrants to pad their own profit margins while marginalizing them socially.
This sort of thing bothers me. There is a popular lie that illegal immigrants do work that no American is willing to do. That isn’t true at all. What is true is that illegal immigrants are willing to do work for illegally low wages that no American would dare to accept. I must admit that jobs like picking strawberries aren’t remotely appealing to me personally (though I have no trouble doing U-Pick for a few hours for my own strawberries, which I am fond of eating). The issue about illegal immigrants and jobs is that their presence tends to lower the wages and status of jobs to a scale approaching slavery or peonage, while simultaneously increasing the profit margins of corrupt companies and shifting the tax burden onto legitimate firms and citizens unjustly. In addition, illegal immigrants often take advantage of public benefits without contributing at all to the funding of such benefits, making them free riders with a vengeance, much of whose money is sent to prop up the economy of Mexico and other failed Latin American states. It’s a disaster all the way around.
In my time in Southern California I got to meet a variety of illegal immigrants of various kinds. There was one person I went to church with who had a tourist visa and who worked under the table to support herself, which was against the terms of her visa. I didn’t think this was a good example of moral probity, but I suppose I’m a harsher person than most about such matters. I knew another illegal immigrant who was a college classmate of mine who was technically a “foreign student” at the University of Southern California but her parents lived in the Pasadena area (and, ironically enough, her mom once drove a group of my classmates and I to the airport for an engineering conference the two of us attended). I felt rather uncomfortable about that. And I have more than a sneaking suspicion that a few other people I knew in Los Angeles were probably illegal immigrants too, but I wasn’t really inclined to probe too deep or be too nosy about the matter, because I didn’t consider it my own personal business.
Later on, as a graduate student in Engineering Management at the University of South Florida, I frequently found myself as the only American student in my classes (something that greatly disconcerted me). Because I was the lone American in classes for Transportation Engineering and Design of Experiments (to give two examples), it was (falsely) assumed that I was an expert on American immigration law. At any rate, because I’m a thoughtful person I researched the matter of H1-B visas to see if I could help out my intelligent and hardworking and upright classmates. I didn’t have good news to share with them–the H1-B process requires an insane amount of paperwork (I estimated around 500 pages) that an employer would have to do, and there aren’t very many of them per year (only about 180,000 or so). Here I was in classes with ten or twenty people who didn’t really have more than a 5% chance of being able to become legal immigrants after their studies were done. This made me feel rather sad for them, and a bit concerned about how our immigration law priorities were so screwed up.
And of course, right now I happen to be a resident alien in Thailand, acutely sensitive (at least) of how it feels like to be on the other side of the issue, subject to laws that change constantly, seem highly arbitrary, and are difficult to understand. And yet, like my classmates in graduate school, I too am someone who likes to make sure my conduct is legal and ethical and moral and above board, wherever I am, unless the laws of a realm directly contradict the laws of God. Thankfully, I have not yet found this to be the case. Having a great deal of sympathy for the plight of people who try to do things the right way in the face of rampant corruption and illegality, I seek to set a good example as a stranger in a strange land myself.
I tell these stories to provide a sense of context to my beliefs about immigration, both legal and illegal, and to demonstrate that this is a subject that has caught my attention in various ways throughout my life based on my own network of friends and acquaintances and my own odd and quirky personal experiences. I also recognize that such experiences as I have are not likely to be shared with others, and also that my views are informed and influenced by what I have experienced or have seen others experience.
Therefore, in that light I would like to, briefly, outline a fairly comprehensive view on immigration based both on what I have experienced, what I have seen, and what I have read. I believe that the state of the United States border with Mexico in particular is a travesty. I believe there is massive corruption due to the influence of drug warlords and am ashamed that the government of my nation has no interest in enforcing our border laws against a nation (Mexico) whose treatment of illegal aliens from Central America is savage. It is a stain on our national honor. Nonetheless, there are about 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the United States. We don’t have the resources to deport them all.
I am hostile to amnesty, to giving them an unmerited pardon for their iniquities. In this case, I prefer penance and the visible showing of a repentant attitude for having taken such a cavalier attitude to the laws of my country. After all, I am someone who takes law very seriously, like most things I suppose. So, my thoughts are as follows: secure the border with a mixture of drones, strategic fencing, and boots on the ground (border patrol, soldiers, national guard, etc), end the threat of drug violence spilling over into the United States as much as possible–by invited military action if necessary, streamline immigration and make it much easier for legal immigration to happen, provide a way for legitimacy for illegal immigrants that provides punishment for illegal behavior and a way to repay some (or all) of their misdeeds.
Let us begin. The border needs to be secure. Right now, I get weekly reports from STRATFOR, many of them dealing with the Mexican drug war, and I am highly concerned, especially with Mexican drug lords seeking to increase their control into Central American countries. Dealing with my own nuanced thoughts about the drug war would take another huge post, but to put it briefly I believe we need to attack both supply and demand. It’s also fine time to deal harshly with any corruption we find on our own side. Zero tolerance means zero tolerance for anyone who is part of the problem, no matter their title or family connections. To secure the border with fences is impossible (considering most of the border is a river). I think a mixture of predator drones, targeted fencing in high-traffic areas, and a commitment of state and federal forces to the area (with the mission, if the Mexican government invites us, to help out with security on both sides of the border), would greatly help matters.
Additionally, we need to find a way to make legal immigration far easier. It is very easy to get a student visa to study at a university in the United States (something I have seen with my own eyes for some time as a “permanent student” myself), but near impossible to get an H1-B visa. It is my thought that anyone whose criminal record checks out and who is willing to live by our laws should be able to find a job here if they are so willing. I don’t mind the competition. I prefer open competition to having to compete with “shadow workers” whose advantages include preferential tax-avoidance strategies on the part of shady and corrupt business. That is something I don’t tolerate. In addition, the amount of bureaucracy that our corrupt immigration system has is unacceptable. It needs to be vastly streamlined so that anyone who wants to be above board has no problem meeting the requirements for living “in the light” and keeping “out of the shadows.” This is the carrot aspect of my views on immigration.
And of course with the carrot comes the stick. Those who have already shown a proclivity to behave illegally cannot be given a blanket amnesty without showing the fruits of repentance. Included in those fruits of repentance is the need to come clean about how they have lived in the United States illegally for so long–including what companies they have worked for. In exchange for fines, including the payment of back taxes and repayment of public benefits received illegally and improperly, they can be given a work visa and a path to citizenship, so that they can become contributing members of society rather than freeloaders who take social welfare while sending their own income to subsidize the economies of Mexico and other nations (which also allow those nations to have artificially low wages). In addition, hitting the companies that hire illegal immigrants (especially knowingly) allows a more fair business environment to exist where corruption is punished harshly and where those law-abiding companies no longer have to operate at a competitive disadvantage.
In my life so far I have seen a fair amount concerning the problems that people face involving immigration, and as a grimly realistic person I am inclined to believe that a little bit of harshness is warranted in this day and age without making one a bigot or a Know-Nothing wannabe. Moreover, as a person whose thoughts tend to be wide-ranging and systematic I am aware that there are much deeper societal issues that we face with regards to immigration, including unsustainable commitments to social entitlements that are only made worse through corruption in tax avoidance by illegal immigrants and the companies that hire them knowingly. I wonder if we have the moral fiber as a society to turn away from our folly and face up to the severity of our difficulties while there is time to mend our ways. I suppose we shall shortly see.