Thursday, June 01, 2006

All the answers to the immigration debate

This isn't one of those rants where I pop off and call people dumb motherfuckers or grasp at credibility by throwing out the name of a book I read three years ago but barely remember.

This one is easy.

Here it is: Whether people like it or not, there will always be illegal immigration. A wall won't stop it. Shooting people trying to cross a border won't stop it. It might be empowering symbolism, but it won't change the flow of people.

Once you accept that there's no feasible way to stop the physical act of immigration (tell me if you have any good ideas, because you've solved the riddle of the Sphinx) the only question is what to do with people once they get here. It isn't whether illegal immigration is, itself, bad. For the purposes of this post, I'll concede that. Doesn't matter.

So assume that the people will keep on coming. Federal immigration authorities aren't known for the competence or vast resources, so mass deportation isn't an option. People are going to keep coming, and they're going to stay.

You can get yourself riled about how "bad" it is, but that's like shaking your fist at a thunderstorm. It's just a fact of life, so deal.

One response to immigration is to deny public benefits. This includes some combination of public education, medical treatment, student loans, housing -- the basics that let people live and get by. Some citizens feel cheated by this and think it amounts to a reward for lawbreaking. Meanwhile, well-intended liberals talk about wage deflation and the ill effects on labor rights.

I'm not going to explain why those arguments are silly, except to note that they're too high-minded to matter. I mean, they're nice enough things to worry about, in the way you might wonder whether that cloud looks like a labradoodle.

I'll dismiss these arguments because they assume that there's an on/off switch. Sure, deny public benefits and shut them out of work opportunities. What are you going to do then? People aren't going to pack up and leave.

There's a name for places with large numbers of undereducated, unassimilated migrants who live off the grid and don't have a shot at being a full member of society: They're called France, the Netherlands, and Dubai. The first two have more generous social safety nets than the U.S., but they don't have the same kind of laissez faire labor markets. Much more difficult to show up in France or the Netherlands from Algeria or Morocco, get a job as a cabdriver or deliveryman, send your kid to school, and gain a toehold. All those public benefits don't amount to much if you're in the bottom caste of a society where every job is an entitlement and newcomers can't find employment.

Dubai's problems, like Kuwait's, come from having huge numbers of workers imported from developing nations. These guest workers don't have a shot at citizenship, and thus, no stake in society. They're there to work, and they form a permanent, stigmatized underclass. Think about the reality of a guest worker program, then tell me how much you like the idea of a guest-worker camp of 20,000 men living 2 hours outside from L.A. Doesn't sound so hot.

Labor-minded liberals: your well-intentioned arguments will end up with an explosion of black-market sweatshops on U.S. soil. Belt-tightening conservatives: Fast-forward 20 years when you have millions of people who are the product of kids denied public education, parents who had no incentive for citizenship or access to benefits, and people who were segregated economically and residentially, with state endorsement. Maybe you want your apocalyptic fantasies realized, but I suspect that off-the-books deliveryman and the little girl with Head Start funding will look a lot less upsetting when City of God is the baseline reality.

That's the choice. Suck it up and pay a little in benefits right now, or wait thirty years for our own Paris riots and Sao Paolo slums. Any other framework is empty symbolism.


crimenotes said...

Inexplicably, the comments now seem to work.

CrimeNotes said...

Test comment #2.

Crunk Raconteur said...

But...but...they're illegal! (Note before Tommy O chimes in agreeing with me...I'm being sarcastic)

CrimeNotes said...

Which is like saying hurricanes are bad. It all may be bad, but that's not a solution. What do you do to minimize the long-term damage? Small measures (levees; public education) or wait for a crisis and hope for the best?