So far, a busy half week on Capitol Hill saw Senator John Kerry (D-MA) become Secretary of State after the U.S. Senate confirmed him 94-3; gun-control politicians getting righteous blowback from the NRA and an advocate for young mothers; and another round of immigration reform heating up.
On this last point, it’s helpful to remember that a big part of what’s missing from the illegal immigration debate is how to fix the problems with the legal immigration system. For an idea of how byzantine is the process of getting into America the right way, check out these charts prepared the libertarian Reason Foundation and the liberal Immigration Road. (Each is a pdf.)
The worst lowlight: Waiting up to 28 years to become a citizen.
But before policy wonks and political advocates jump to conclusions and start proposing ways to fix immigration by reducing wait times and streamlining the process, it’s worth having a serious national discussion about what principle should drive our immigration policy.
If it’s about the national interest, in this case defined as what’s best for Americans already here, then it’s far from clear how importing any foreign workers, skilled or unskilled, improves the economic lot of domestic skilled and unskilled workers. If anything, basic economics suggests that importing more labor reduces the value of the labor already here, which, while a boon for employers, translates into a pay cut for workers. (For more on this, see Mark Krikorian’s thought-provoking book, “The New Case Against Immigration.”)
On the other hand, if immigration policy is about ensuring that America is the preeminent land of opportunity within the world community, then a small but clear set of filters (e.g. screening out convicted criminals, terrorists, and those fleeing tax problems) need to be put in place to allow the greatest number of opportunity-seeking immigrants to come, live, and hopefully contribute to the nation’s growth.
Personally, I’m conflicted about which route to take. With Americas suffering from 7.8 percent unemployment – which is really 14.4 percent when underemployed and those too discouraged to look for work are counted – it’s hard to justify adding to the labor market. And yet an immigration policy focused on opportunity for those seeking it is an attractive extension of Ronald Reagan’s city on a hill, of which he said “And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
This much I do know: Finding a solution to the illegal immigration problem can’t be done until Americans decide on legal immigration’s foundational principle.