January 5th, 2013
Inspired by Melissa Harris-Perry’s panel discussion of immigration this morning.
“I think any time that you have — you have tens of millions of people who are breaking a law, and you can look at it as a lawlessness problem which a lot of people do, especially the Republicans when they talk about this. Or you can look at it as a prohibition problem. And just like the war on drugs is a prohibition problem, particularly on marijuana, I think, in many cases, the immigration system here is a prohibition issue. When you are only allowing—what’s the number now– 50,000 workers from Mexico a year…ten thousand unskilled workers from Mexico, you can find more of those in, you know, Downey, California, probably, if you go there right now. So, if you were looking at it as a lawlessness problem, then you’re gonna do all these E-verify stuff, you’re going to make everyone check their papers, you’re going to do workplace raids, you’re going to break up all those families — these terrible things that have happened in the last four years in the last 15 years. That’s what you’re going to do. And what you need to do and I’m glad that you mentioned this earlier, is we need to greatly expand the number of people who can just come here legally and work. That’s what they want to do. That’s what they’re coming here to do, not to suck on welfare — and all this kind of nightmare stories. They’re coming here to start stuff, to become more wealthy than they are back home. So, let’s make that easier and let’s put that in the front of it, ‘cause if you stop that sort of number of illegal immigrants growing by legalizing immigration — then suddenly, this huge problem start to shrink and you don’t have to have a gigantic, comprehensive deal that touches every single last issue of it. You don’t have to build a triple fence and all these kinds of things.” — Reason editor-in-chief Matt Welch this morning on Melissa Harris-Perry “The truth is, it’s not rocket science. George Bush, Jon Kyl, John McCain, Barack Obama had all proposed pretty much the same solution. And there’s three components. You’ve got to secure the borders so you can tell difference between bad guys and the good guys. And the bad guys are the drug runners and the gun runners. The good guys want to come and work in this country and do good. The second thing you got to do is really adjust our quota system for immigration to meet market demand. The truth is we have never been able to meet the job demands in our country without labor from outside of the country, including, I’m guessing, many of our own ancestors.” — Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)
We can save our cities.
We can save our country.
We can save Medicare.
We can save Social Security.
We can save our economy.
Immigrants started this country.
Immigrants built this country.
Immigrants didn’t create our problems,
But they can help us solve them.
(It worked before.)
Here are Matt Welch and Rep. Sinema 1/05/13 on Melissa Harris-Perry. Welch makes the point that the problem with our immigration policy is that, like Prohibition, it’s absurdly restrictive, e.g., allowing only 10,000 unskilled workers per year. America should expand the work visa program (or create a new one) and immediately begin issuing 5 million new long-term/permanent work visas (in addition to legalizing status for those already here). The visas would not be free: they could cost $10K each, so that would bring in $50 billion in new revenue. Cash-poor immigrants could finance their payments with payroll deductions: at 3% interest, which would represent a profit to the Treasury for financing those loans, and the cost to the new immigrant would be only $96.56 per month. (NB: That payment also makes macro-economic sense in the context of raising the minimum wage, and uses market forces to reduce the pressure for increased immigration which doing so might create.)
Where would we put them all? For a start, Detroit, and other big cities suffering from lost population. Add factories to create jobs, public transport, super-high-density housing, good public safety, and good schools, and you have a thriving community that will add to our economy immediately, as well as adding a new generation of Americans to our country’s long-term benefit. If necessary, condemn blighted parts of the city for redevelopment to build those factories and high-density housing. Give away (for free or almost free, with low/no-interest loans) vacant houses to immigrant families, and watch how quickly they fix them up and rebuild those neighborhoods (current American citizens would be eligible for the program as well). Major cities could absorb large numbers of new immigrants, and the rest could be distributed throughout the country, following private sector labor demand.
America needs another giant wave of young immigrants–I’m talking 40 or 50 million people over the next few decades. That would save our economy, our fiscal situation, Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. It would inject incredible energy into our economy and our society. Over time, our country can easily absorb that number of workers. (We’ve absorbed greater numbers relative to our population size in the past.)
Sure, some may fear change. Others may fear the changes in ethnicity that influx would entail. But instead of fearing that change, we should embrace it. Have faith in America. We can do it, and we should do it!
What kinds of immigrants? Skilled craftsmen, farmers, factory workers, scientists, engineers, and simple workers. Let’s target 20-somethings, and give IQ and personality tests to get the best, brightest, and hardest working, and filter out the bad elements. And let’s expand the number of foreign students, and staple a green card to each of their diplomas. And while this 50 million will naturally include a lot of Latinos, we shouldn’t just focus on them: lets greatly increase immigration from Russia, Eastern Europe, Africa, China, and Southeast Asia as well.
What about the “but they’ll all be on welfare” claim? First of all, it’s false. Illegal immigrants aren’t eligible for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other “welfare” programs. They work for a living, usually with lots of the former and not much of the latter. Many, in fact, give employers fake Social Security numbers, and hence pay Social Security taxes with no chance to collect benefits in the future. Many have income taxes withheld which they could receive a refund for, but they can’t or don’t file for that refund. Second, if immigrants on welfare is what anti-immigrant groups are afraid of, then there are policy ways to deal with that problem, e.g.: (1) focus admissions on 20-somethings, as described above (OK—maybe we could let in 30-somethings as well); (2) restrict Social Security, Medicare, and other “welfare” program eligibility, and/or add the costs of any assistance provided to the individual’s $10K “tab”; and (3) scale back the preferences which our current immigration laws exist to admitting elderly family remembers. I know, that sounds cruel, but reversing that preference would still allow for admission of a greater absolute number of retirement-aged relatives than would the current system, though the shares would be far lower, so it’s “kind” in terms of an increase in the actual number admitted. Though it may still sound cruel in relative terms, it’s what our economy and social programs need, and is a necessary “concession” to make the overall program politically acceptable. Unlike today’s illegal immigrants, legal residents would also be able to travel back and forth to their home countries more easily to visit and care for their aging relatives, many of whom would probably prefer to stay in their home countries anyway for financial, social, and cultural reasons. To the extent that older immigrants still wanted to come to America with their families, approach #2 would ensure that they didn’t become the “drain on society” that Republicans fear they will.
But won’t “all those immigrants” take away “American” jobs? That’s a fallacy that anti-immigrant groups have perpetrated for centuries. It wasn’t true in the past, and it’s not true now. Those immigrants create jobs. They need clothing, housings, and food. They need stores to shop in, movies to go to, and banks to bank in. 50 million immigrants would be the greatest job creation program America could enact, and it would it not cost taxpayers a penny. In fact, it would save taxpayers money, and provide billions in new revenue. But not only would those immigrants create new jobs, they would help finance existing ones. All those immigrants would be paying taxes, helping to fund public service providers (police, teachers, firefighters) we have now, and that we need to hire back after laying them off in the recession.
A lot of hard-working, intelligent people want to come to America and become Americans, and we turn them away. That’s crazy, but the silver lining is: it’s a mistake that is incredibly easy to fix.
NB: Here’s Melissa’s follow-up interview with Rep. Sinema about her inspirational story.