“An Argument for Immigration Reform”

By Aime M. Katambwe, Esq.

The SOLVE Act bill that passed the committee on 4/26/06 was to double the number of Border Patrol agents and resources necessary for detaining and speedily deporting undocumented immigrants (UI). The bill also expanded local law enforcement’s ability to enforce our immigration laws. It also imposed new tougher punishments for employers hiring illegal immigrants instead of able and willing US Citizens (USC) and Legal Residents (LPR). It empowered cities around the US to enforce immigration laws against UI.

What the Committee bill did, was that it recognized the contributions of that UI already here and laid an earned path from guest worker to citizenship that unfurls over at least 11 years of a clean record, a steady job, payment of a $2,000 fine (more than the majority of us pay in income taxes) and any and all back taxes, and knowledge of English and civics. The Judiciary Committee was concerned that granting an amnesty would be counter-productive and would only encourage others to come in illegally and wait long enough to be given amnesty. The bill essentially put UI already here in line for legal residency behind those prospective legal immigrants who have been waiting a long time to be admitted to the US. Instead of living outside of the system, it would incorporate them into the system and as such, they would pose less of a security threat to any of us. The un-American alternative that favored creating a disposable foreign underclass that would do our dirtiest jobs only to be thrown away at the end of their use without any opportunity for LPR was kept out of it. It’s ironic that even the early system of indentured servitude created a path to citizenship.

Others have offered less thoughtful alternatives distinguished by their enforcement-only approach. The bill passed by the House the year before, HR 4437, which was the subject of many protests, criminalized basically every American who aided a UI in any way. Not only did an employer who gave them a job become a felon, but the same was also true for a head of household who employed an illegal nanny, gardener, handyman, journeyman, maid, babysitter, etc. All would become felons. A religious organization that sheltered a UI became a felonious organization. The list goes on and on. By those standards, we would all become felons at some point. In the House (and Senate), some suggested building a 700-mile wall along the Arizona-Mexico border and perhaps beyond. That proposal has been underway for some time now with no end in sight. Those who proposed it also advocated a mass deportation of 12 million people from our midst, a population exceeding that of the entire State of Ohio and many others combined. This would be an exercise in futility in that it would be impossible in the first place, not to mention a true waste of time and resources. It would destroy families and weaken the economy. As Republican Sen. Pete Domenici said then, “some of our next-door neighbors are among the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States and that there is no sense in putting them in box cars and sending them away.”

Criminalizing every employer who hires a UI as a felon is also a nonstarter given the sheer logistics of it and that the constitutional exercise of deporting 12 million plus under existing laws may prove to be more difficult than we expect. For instance, should law enforcement stop every suspect for residency documents? How will law enforcement decide on an otherwise peaceful suspect, the color of their skin? That of their eyes? Or their accent? What about those who can produce documents, fake or otherwise? Should they be quizzed on civics? What if you are a US citizen, but you cannot prove it on the spot, then what?

There are a million extrapolations of this, but most Americans do not want to live in a police state. At a time when jobs are being outsourced to China, India, and other foreign lands because of cheap labor; when pension programs are being frozen so we can compete in the global market; when workers-contributed benefits are being outright denied, it seems disingenuous to blame it all on the UI. In simple terms, in-sourcing our labor is beneficial to America. Not only does the unwanted work get done, but the ancillary benefits are obtained in America through tax contributions of all kinds. The argument that the UI uses more services than it contributes is untenable given the many benefits societies receives from their availability for the jobs American will not do and employers will not pay a decent wage for; these jobs are usually the equivalent of “hell on Earth” and terribly under-compensated even though they are very necessary. The UI often does not get the true value of his labor in terms of compensation, while at the same time, society receives the full benefit of the UI labor. A lot more can be said on this subject but suffice it to say that even in the complete absence of the UI, some Americans will use more social services than they contribute to the collective pot. That is just the reality in our economic system. (By the way, the same thinking applies to the criminal system. It is absurd to think that there would be no crime in the US if all UI were removed, but I digress.)

When 100,000 US workers lose their jobs through outsourcing, usually for at least a short to a moderate period of time, America misses out on their income tax contributions, their value-added tax contributions through various purchases/services and in a nutshell cities and localities die. People move to jobs wherever they can find them and overcrowd services wherever they land. The balance is that the Chinas or Indias of the world will gain that many more workers and fortify their economies and tax bases accordingly. The argument that we ought to pay USC and LPR more to fill those unwanted jobs is also a nonstarter. Instead, employers will shift those jobs to the extent that they can to foreign lands to save on cost and maximize profits (or those jobs will be vacant for long periods of time or simply go undone). In that case, the only winners are those with ownership in those outsourcing companies since, in most cases, the production savings are not always passed on to the consumers.

The converse of that is that when people (USC, UI, or otherwise) live and work here, they fortify our economy in that they must live somewhere: tax; they must eat something: tax; they must be clothed: tax; they must be schooled: tax; they must be cared for: tax; they must be transported somewhere: tax; they must use various services: tax and they will make various purchases (including “big ticket” items): tax, etc. When the government perceives taxes, it can then build roads, schools, hospitals, and prisons, not to mention fight wars and protect us all. It can create jobs and provide services to the needy and serve the taxpayers. It can replenish its social security benefits coffers and continue to pay out the aging or retired workforce and so on and so forth. Cities and localities flourish in turn, and more work and tax contributors are created. Let’s not ignore the fact that the US has to compete now and in the future with the likes of the European Union, China and India just to name a few. China and India alone account for over 2.5 billion people as we speak. Can you now begin to understand the economic (and military) power that these countries will command?

An economy backed by about 300 million soles (the US) is good, but when you can internally produce and consume for 1 or 2 billion persons at a time, I say you will demand more resources, energy or otherwise, all of which will translate into a more active economy that will consequently command more power. Look around. Where has the US manufacturing gone? Let me guess: China, India, Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, etc. The workers participating in outsourced industries in foreign lands make less, but they have to eat, seek shelter and clothing. They have to use a variety of products and services in their respective countries, all of which translates into taxes perceived by those foreign governments instead of our government, us. We can compete with the EUs and Chinas of the world, but part of it is carefully managing the influx of new blood into our society. Constant rejuvenation is key because change itself is inevitable.

Illegal immigration has been the curse of every superpower since the beginning of organized societies. The Ancient Egyptians had it, Ancient Greece dealt with it, the Romans finessed it, and even the British Empire found a way to deal with it. America is an economic and military powerhouse heretofore unseen in human civilization. America must find a way to make illegal immigration work to its benefit. As long as we are first among nations, we will continue to be attractive to all who seek a better life for themselves and theirs.

President Reagan understood that. We have a capitalist economic system, and we make no bones about it. Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, said something to the effect of: It is not due to the benevolence of the baker that we get our bread, but rather because of the self-interest (Yes! self-interest) of the butcher, the farmer, the baker, the teacher, the accountant, etc. that we get our daily sustenance. Self-interest is the fuel of a capitalist economy. Incorporating the UI into the fabric of our society is in America’s self-interest. Ignoring the problem or catering to the politically unyielding among us will hardly get us anywhere. What’s more is that failing to solve the problem will speak loudly about our collective incompetence to manage our resources, human or otherwise. To the malinformed and morally self-righteous, immigration is a zero-sum game: they came in illegally, and they must be deported. Nonsense! There is another angle to this: Immigration is a gift that, if managed well, will keep on giving, as is so abundantly evident in our past.

March 29, 2006, The New York Times Editorial contained the following excerpt:
“It is a weak country that feels it cannot secure its borders and impose law and order on an unauthorized population at the same time. And it is a foolish, insecure country that does not seek to channel the energy of an industrious, self-motivated population to its own ends, but tries instead to wall out those people.”

Weak, we are not. Amnesty is not what is being proposed. However, opponents of reform will attempt to kill it by giving it the kiss of death by dubbing it an amnesty bill. This is not by mistake. They understand that no one wants an amnesty of any kind, and calling it amnesty will inflame the passions of Americans and deplete support from any reform bill. Everyone understands that it is an untenable proposition to remove a population of 12 million to 20 million. Denying them every aspect of social inclusion is not only wrong and immoral but also self-destructive to the point of absurdity.

Some cleverly disguised organizations pontificate about the wrongness of incorporating new immigrants in our midst. Their main argument seems reasonable to the average American: they came in illegally, and they ought to be deported. However, no serious issue dealing with human systems is ever that simple unless we want to live under a totalitarian regime. Therefore, from the moment that we accept that deporting them all is an impossibility, we must deal with the issue of “What is to be done? What will they become, among others?” One of the things they will become is a perpetual underclass operating outside the core of our economy that will be taken advantage of by the rest of us, especially those among us wanting to turn out a very quick profit. The idea will then be to create a cheap labor market, like it is the case overseas, with the advantage of avoiding transportation costs, tariffs, insurance, SSI, Medicare, FICA, and other impositions spread across the board among all of us. That underclass will then have to be certain and in large supply, meaning that the current underclass, if allowed to continue without reform, will depress the wages for all Americans doing even remotely related jobs. In order to accomplish that, it will be necessary to have a chaotic patchwork of immigration laws that will actually accomplish nothing other than the depletion of the middle class’s earnings through a virtual status quo. Folks, what do you think is going on?

What is more, is that these clever organizations have acquired the mastery of getting Americans to act against their own interests by deliberately withholding important information. To most Americans, it seems the issue of reform is one that threatens their financial security when in fact, it is just the other way around. A bigger economy is a more vibrant economy. There should be no mystery as to why the unions in this country support immigration reform. Unions are anathema to “underclasses.” Unions exist for the purpose of preventing underclasses from forming in the first place.

Much ink can be shed on the issue of who benefits from the status quo in Immigration laws, but Americans are going to have to do their own serious thinking on the issue. A good starting point should be: Where have all our jobs gone? Next, who profits from our jobs going overseas? What must be avoided is ascribing reasonableness to the “but look how much less we are paying for goods made overseas” kind of argument. There are no free lunches Dixit Milton Freedman; the low prices will certainly come to bite us, and in my view, they are already doing so when we look at the depletion of the number of American “blue collar” workers. We still have them but in lesser and lesser numbers.

Ultimately, the cheaper the wage market gets, the cheaper those “overseas goods” will have to be in order for Americans to be able to afford them. The problem with that is that the now-poor countries that produce those goods will get less poor over time and will require more in order to continue to produce. Americans now with less buying power will see their dollars buy even less over time without the possibility for them to earn more in a depressed wage market and emerging overseas economies, all things remaining equal.

It seems like the only way for Americans to earn more over time is, among other things, innovation with products and processes Americans will be able to dominate in and export overseas. The expression “green technologies” that is slowly infiltrating our vocabulary is an example of such innovative direction we must take if we are ever going to regain our dominance in manufacturing. Another thing will be for the other “rising economies” to dramatically increase their demand of American-made products, but that will require us to make products that will be affordable to those economies. What that would involve, among other things, is that the American worker is going to have to accept less pay, all things remaining equal. As an aside, I already hear talks of GM (a company that we recently bailed out of oblivion) moving some of its manufacturing out of the US.

There has been a mistake that has gone on unacknowledged, therefore, uncorrected without much of a chance that it will be corrected in the near future. That is the fact that the global economic village has and will benefit very few Americans (the top 2% or so who produce goods overseas to sell in the US) in the short run and harm the great majority of us in the long run. A new world economy model needs to materialize if Americans are going to survive the onslaught that is sure to come. Our jobs must be brought back, or new ones exclusive to us, for the most part, must be created, like the green jobs being touted by our President. (Will they be enough, though?)

Tariffs must be imposed on imports again to protect our economy based on reciprocity with other countries. We must basically build strength, economic and otherwise, from within and less from without, as we are now doing, until developing countries can rise to a level close to our own to justify equal trading with them.

We must protect and grow our economy not only by imposing tariffs but also in numbers. As I said earlier, China’s economy is about 1.4 billion people strong; India is inching towards 1.2 billion fast; Brazil with about 200 million, and the list of these countries growing their populations is growing longer. There are only about 310 million of us with ever-decreasing purchasing power. The converse is true of emerging economies. When we regain our dominance by being the biggest consumers of the goods and services produced here in the US, a larger population will almost certainly translate into increasing demand for the products actually produced at home. Doing away with such economic actors (the UI) en masse is tantamount to weakening our own national security in that such an exercise will only leave us economically weaker.

Uncertainty breeds a lack of economic activity. When people do not see an economic upside, they do not invest their money. When a UI believes he might be deported at any time, he will choose not to commit his money to our economic system, and he will most certainly save it and send it back to his country of origin to build a nest egg there should he be removed from the US. We gain nothing by forcing the UI to act outside of our economic system and only invite abuses and injustice. The converse of that of course, is that when an economic actor feels optimistic about the future, he invests fully in the economy, and we all gain from that activity. When a UI feels a sense of permanence in the US, he too will reduce or stop his remittances overseas and will invest his hard-earned money here and build that nest egg right here in the US. We can only gain from that increased economic activity as more players come into the fold.

Immigration is a problem that we should be able to manage to fit our own self-interest. Just saying “No,” is not an option. Neither is an open border policy. However, the solution lies somewhere in the middle, and the “cooler heads” in our midst and our government should be able to come up with a policy that will reflect our best interest.