Thursday, June 08, 2006

How to think about immigration

Immigration has become a big issue lately, although it's not entirely clear why. Still, I think there is a lot of confusion on both sides of the debate about how to justify immigration policies. Put simply (and I'll mainly talk to the Left side of the debate), the purpose of immigration law is to serve the national interests of the United States. It's not to be "fair", or to feel good about ourselves as a nation, or to honor our ancestry or the hard work of people who are facing sacrifices and deprivation to get in.

Andrew Stettner, a lawyer at the National Employment Law Project, has a good post discussing what our immigration policy should be and why. His discussion comes from a different perspective and emphasis than most of what I've seen up to this point, including a different take on the argument that we need immigrants to take jobs Americans won't do.

Read the whole thing here.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Tom McC said...

Sorry, John, I sent my comments by e-mail, then I realized I hdn't done it right...ok, here I go. I agree with Stettner's theory about the need to have immigrants for demographic reasons, since our workforce is aging. But I don't think it should be some kind of heresy against liberalism to suggest that the presence of undocumented (and so, relatively speaking, less demanding) workers could drive down wages, particularly the wages of the least educated workers, with whom the mainly less educated immigrants are competing. I haven't seen the studies, but it seems an almost foregone conclusion, from an economic standpoint. And while we can agree with him that protections for all workers work in favor of all, not just the undocumented, that doesn't eliminate the danger that, if the immigrants weren't here, there would be fewer workers competing for the jobs, and the workers would likely earn more, since employers would have to compete to get the workers. Then it would be reasonable to expect that some jobs that currently go unfilled would be filled, at the higher salary. Some jobs would disappear, since the employers would rather have the current workers working more instead of paying new workers a higher wage.
I'm not arguing for a minute that we should deport the who-knows-how-many illegal aliens. I also don't endorse the plan (which some view as reaosnable) to "secure our borders first, then tackle how to deal with immigration later".
I see immigration as a really long-term issue. I think ultimately it will not be solved until Mexico (and to a lesser extent, the rest of Latin America) gets around to making its economy efficient enough to create enough jobs to absorb all the young people coming out of school. That's a long long term issue, but long-term doesn't have to mean never, and when it ever comes, either a) illegal immigration will cease to be a problem or b) we won't view it as a big problem; at that point, there could even be talk of free movement of labor in north america.
Anyway, my discussion about the effect of illegal immigrants on wages is very theoretical. If we discover (as I would expect) that they do have a negative effect on labor terms and conditions, that won't necessarily suggest a way out; it will just present us with an uncomfortable truth. And just because a truth is uncomfortable doesn't mean we should deny it.

June 08, 2006 11:17 PM  

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