Double Edged Sword

The immigration issue is a double edged sword for both political parties. The Republicans risk alienating the fastest growing voting block in America by focusing exclusively boarder control. The Democrats risk disfavor with their most loyal voters, black Americans, by allowing illegal immigrants to put downward pressure on wages. It's rather delicious, really.

For the record, I am pretty much at the political center of this issue. I support the comprehensive immigration reform proposed by the president and supported by many Democrats. The fact of the matter is that immigration is good for the country and the economy, and legal immigration should be encouraged. And realistically, the huge population of Mexicans in the US today cannot simply be sent back. We must find a way to effectively integrate them into American society.

There is no doubt we need stronger border control, particularly in an age of international terrorism. And employers should be held accountable for hiring illegals. It would appear that if we increased the number of visas, we could reduce the number of people willing to slip illegally across the boarder. We also need to help highly skilled workers come to our country.

In general, Mexicans make great Americans. They are good entrepreneurs, have strong family values, and appreciate the opportunity to contribute to society. They are Christians and fit well with our social and cultural traditions (pity the poor Europeans trying to integrate masses of Muslims into their secular societies). We have a long, if sometimes bumpy history with Mexico that provides the new immigrants with a basic understanding of our country.

And Mexican immigration is good for our economy. It provides a constant source of labor, driving down costs related to basic commodities like food and shelter. It raises the living standards of the immigrants. Mexicans, Americans, and Mexican-Americans all benefit from the vibrant labor market resulting from immigration.

In some quarters much is made of a growing income disparity in the US. But if it is growing (and plenty of studies reject the notion), it is surely due to the fact that as much as ten percent of the workers in the US today don't have legal status. As a result, they lack the economic and legal power to obtain fair market value for their work, keeping their wages artificially low.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal gave anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon (subscription required). As discussed on Michelle Malkin's blog, a chicken processing plant in Georgia was raided recently and illegals were sent packing, so to speak. The replacement workers were low skilled (mostly black) locals who immediately demanded higher wages and better working conditions. And they got both.

There is a reason that we have immigration policy. It is to ensure that our society and economy function rationally. Until we get control of our southern boarder and implement a functional guest worker program, illegal immigrants will be exploited, low skilled American laborers will not be paid the wages they otherwise would earn, and companies, even those trying to abide by the law, will be at risk for illegal hiring practices (due to the market in fake IDs).

Now that Bush has a more sympathetic congressional environment in which to pass comprehensive reform, it is time that both Republicans and Democrats face the political risks inherent in ignoring the immigration issue. If they resist, they could pay a larger price for inaction than the one the rest of us pay every day.

2 comments:

Terrence McCarthy

3:38 PM

The immigration issue's huge, but it's off my radar screen. Just can't get exited about it for some reason. Maybe it's Lou Dobbs. He's obsessed, so I don't have to be. Even just a little. If I lived in Calif., it would be different no doubt. Touchy subject out there. My niece, for example, lives in Orange County. She teaches citizenship classes to Mexicans. Her husband's father is one of those Minutemen patrolling the border. Guess what subject probably did't come up at Thanksgiving dinner?

Jake

4:12 PM

Just checked your profile. Zen is in my top ten, for sure. Will check out your blog when I get the chance.