June 4, 2006
As the House and Senate prepare for a tense conference session to hammer out a compromise immigration package, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate bill would increase the number of legal immigrants by 20 million over the next ten years. That includes the 11 million undocumented people already here, plus eight million new ones. See Washington Post. In short, it is a recipe for a massive eventual increase in entitlements spending and increased ethnic tensions. Obviously, those who favor the Senate version are grossly underestimating how many people would gain full legal status under their approach. Even worse, the bill lets illegal immigrants off the hook for committing identity fraud to obtain employment, making them more privileged than native-born Americans. That won't fly.
Actually, an increase in legal immigration is not at all bad in itself. Let's try to keep one clear thought in mind, however: Any serious reform of our immigration laws (and practices) must provide for a substantial increase in legal immigration, so as to minimize the incentives for people to immigrate illegally. Otherwise, it's a waste of time. But as long as labor laws remain untouched, however, the latent economic imbalance that invites illegal immigrants will persist. Specifically, the more workers to whom full rights are extended, the greater demand there will be for new illegal workers, so as to keep labor costs down. Why can't "immigrants' rights" activists admit that?
The word "reform" can mean different things to different people. For people like me, it means a broad restructuring of existing policies aimed at consistency, rationality, and fairness. For others, it has the vague meaning of being "nice." Under most of the proposals that have been advanced so far, including the House bill pushed by Rep. Sensenbrenner, there are critical omissions or loopholes that would virtually guarantee even more illegal immigration. That, of course, is exactly what many people want, including certain businesses and "immigrant rights" activists. On Thursday, President Bush criticized "unscrupulous" firms and called for increased penalties for those who hire illegal aliens, but there is huge lobbying effort to prevent such action from taking place, and many membes of Congress are no doubt ethically compromised as the result of having taken campaign contributions from those businesses.
In a globalized economy, the intended effects of "reforms" are often thwarted by foreign competition. So, we should perhaps contemplate more radical, internally consistent policy alternatives, including a wide-open "laissez faire" policy. That would only be feasible, however, if minimum wage laws and most labor standards were abolished. Still, it's something to think about.