Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Different Perspective on Immigration


Look at these babies.
As you gaze in at their innocent, beautiful little faces, start to think in practical terms for a minute.
How much does it cost to get each of these babies through all the years of childhood and education to the point where they are contributing taxpaying members of society?

How much does all the schooling and education cost for 20 years? How much daycare? How much food? How much clothing? How much for shelter? How much for toys? How much for the parks they need, and the museums and educational facilities? How much in medical costs? How much gasoline to shuttle them back and forth to schools, home, piano lessons, flute lessons, girl/boy scouts, camping trips, soccer games, hockey games, and play-dates with friends? How much does it truly cost the parents and society as a whole to raise them to adulthood?

Then after we have made all these investments for hundreds of thousands of dollars each, how many may get cancer once they reach adulthood? or be killed in a car accident? How many will have debilitating illnesses that require medical care for life such that they will never become self-sufficient? How many will not complete their education and stay in the fringe of society as a member of the welfare ranks. How many will be chronically unemployed?

How many will become hopeless drug addicts or alcoholics? How many will have mental or emotional disorders and become useless to themselves and others around them? How many, once they have received all the benefits of an American education and safe infrastructure, will simply leave and take their knowledge and education elsewhere so that we no longer get any benefit from our investment?

How many will not achieve their potential through lack of initiative or laziness? How many will become murderers or rapists or even terrorists?

How many of any given ten innocent little babies will eventually become a career criminal, and spend most of their lives in jail costing us further for the criminal system to take care of them for the rest of their lives? Remember, every career criminal, murderer. or rapist started out as a cute little baby in a young mother’s arms.

Is there a way we could eliminate the ones that do NOT provide a positive enhancement to society, and retain the ones that do?

Yes there is. It’s called immigration.

Not ILLEGAL immigration, mind you - but just normal, proper, legal, controlled immigration. People coming from other countries with the proper paperwork and credentials, etc.

You might not be accustomed to seeing it from this perspective, but try for a minute. Immigration is a way for us to be able to cherry-pick our adult population so that we get only the healthy, well-balanced, well-educated, law-abiding, tax-paying people. And it doesn’t cost us a cent to educate them or raise them from infancy. Someone else has already paid for all that. Someone else paid for all the food and medicine and education, and weeded out the bad apples, and we get to skim the cream of the crop and take them for free into our country where they hit the ground running. They IMMEDIATELY start earning an honest decent living and start paying taxes. They immediately buy a house, a car, and start consuming and literally spending virtually every dollar they earn back into the local economy where they live.

And they are decent law-abiding people, because if they had any sort of criminal record they are not allowed to come here.

Doesn’t it make sense to allow these kinds of people into our country? Having babies to replenish our aging population is risky business – who knows what you’re going to get? We have a baby, then we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise him, educate him, feed him and clothe him, and then just HOPE he turns out to be a hard-working positive honest tax-paying member of society. But there is a certain statistical possibility that he may not. We pays our money and takes our chances - then wait 20 years to see what we get.

Why do we need these immigrants? Well, aside from the assurance that we get what we want and don’t have to take what we don’t want, and the fact that he/she is a proven commodity, there is the actual knowledge, talents, skills, and contributions they bring to the table.

If you have seen the latest studies, (some of which I have cited in previous articles here), then you will know that American schools are no longer competitive with the rest of the developed world. We have fallen far behind most other countries and our schools no longer produce viable, high-quality products. In fact, more than 50% of current 4-year college degree graduates, and over 75% of 2-year college graduates lack the basic literacy skills to understand a credit card application. More than 50% of college degree graduates lack the basic arithmetic skills to calculate whether or not they have enough gas in the tank to make it to the next gas station. This is why foreign students no longer come to the US to be educated as much anymore. Attendance from foreign students is down over 50% year over year for the last several years, and the trend is accelerating. This is becoming not the place to be educated anymore.

So, bringing in people educated in other countries by better school systems is a way to remain competitive in the vast global economy now made possible by the internet. Our products here in the U.S. have to compete with products made in China and Korea, and England, and Japan, and Germany, and all these countries have vastly improved educational systems compared to ours here in the U.S.

The cost and complexity of fixing our education system in this country takes too long and costs too much and it will take us decades to catch up, even if we could turn it around TODAY. And we are far from knowing HOW to fix it, let alone starting to fix it.

We should also realize that part of the immigration system here in the U.S includes a process called "Labor Certification" or "LCA". This is where the prospective employer must advertise a position in newspapers, etc. to give Americans a chance to apply for it first, before offering to an immigrant. Also, the job must pay a similar wage to what other Americans would earn for the same job (this is so that there is not an unfair advantage to hiring immigrants who might be willing to take a lower salary). Once the advertisement generates responses, all the responses and resumes that come from the ads must be analyzed and there must be explanations to show why an American candidate was not selected. If there are Americans qualified to do that job and willing and available at that time, then the employer must hire them instead.

In this way, we assure that the immigrants actually hired are actually needed. They have the skills, education, and experience we need to get the job done.

The best way to remain powerful and important in the world is to import the best talent from the rest of the world and use that! Use THEIR resources to train OUR workers! Use them to make us smarter and more productive. Decrease the cost of maintaining our own less active, less productive element of our population by increasing the numbers of educated, honest, healthy, productive adults in our society.

This is not to say of course that all American babies end up becoming criminals or sick or otherwise unproductive or somehow flawed. And it also does not say that all Americans are stupid and uneducated. This merely acknowledges that a certain percentage of babies born to any population anywhere will not end up as contributing wholly to the common good. And it acknowleges that recent declines and shortcomings in our own education system can be bypassed by importing the products of better education systems elsewhere. At the moment, it seems South Korea offers about the best. But All the European countries, Canada, Australia, etc. also have better systems than ours as well. We can benefit from their efforts and expenditures by importing their best talent once those countries have paid to train them. It's such a good deal for us it almost seems like it should be illegal.

What are the alternatives?

Well, we can continue to allow companies to outsource their jobs to foreign countries. But that has the EXTREMELY negative effects of both funneling huge amounts of cash into foreign economies instead of our own, AND the effect of permanently transferring the skills of the outsourced jobs to those other people.

Remember that immigrants live HERE. They spend their money HERE. How much of your paycheck is left over after paying the bills and buying the food, mortgage, clothes and things you need? Well, it’s the same for them. Almost all the money paid to an immigrant here ends up going right back into the local economy, and what doesn’t goes into the bank HERE, and becomes part of the money supply and money markets that fuel investment HERE.

But when we have legislation and bureaucracy that restricts immigration like we do now, then we restrict the flow of these resources from getting to the companies that need them, so they have no choice but to export the jobs and even entire sections of companies overseas to India and elsewhere where labor is cheaper. Then we have the much more crippling effect down stream of training the foreign workers in the technologies INSTEAD of our own people to the point where now we literally don’t have people with those skills here in the US and they do in China and India. After a few years of outsourcing the work to them, THEY now know how to do it and we don't anymore. They have kept up with the latest advances and we haven't.

For example, most software development seems to be done in places like Bangalore India now rather than the US. And China graduates 3,000,000 engineers per year, India graduates 1,500,000 engineers each year, and the US graduates only 70,000 and half of those are foreign students who leave right after graduating.
This is why Intel is now building their newest chip design and manufacturing centers in Southeast Asia. They have millions of highly trained engineers and we don't have that here in the US anymore. We have been outsourcing those types of jobs for too long.

So these foreign workers that we outsource to in other countries are not just getting the low-end lower-paying jobs anymore, as some proponents would have you believe. Rather, that is where the vast bulk of educated talent IS now. This knowledge-shift has dramatic long-term ill-effects for us here in the US.

Illegal Immigrants
And what about illegal immigrants?
Well, this is an entirely different issue. There are good and bad aspects to this phenomenon. The good news is that they provide a needed supply af very cheap labor to do the jobs Americans would rather not do and that allows us to live in houses that would otherwise be far more expensive, eat at restaurants and hotels and wear clothing, and eat food that would all be much more expensive than it is now.

That pool of cheap labor provides an affordable lifestyle for many Americans that would not be possible if the owners of those farms, restaurants and building companies, etc. had to pay normal American wages for all their workers.

However, it also creates problems. If these workers are illegal, then they have no papers and so do not enjoy all the infrastructure benefits of our society as we do. And this has consequences for all of us. If they become ill, then there is no health care to take care of them or prevent disease from spreading. Tuburculosis is reaching epidemic proportions in impoverished parts of the world, and if those workers bring that here and do not have health care to stem the spread of it, we could have an epidemic of TB here as well.
There are also other areas of risk. If they have no legal driver's licences, then they have no car insurance, and that presents a hazard on the road from a safety AND and a financial risk perspective. If their children cannot attend school, then they cannot build skills to become law-abiding citizens who work for an honest living but rather become forced into gangs and a life of crime to survive.

Speaking practically, as long as there is such a discrepancy between the economies of Mexico and the US, there will always be significant migration of people from Mexico to the US. That is a fact. Legal or illegal, it WILL happen.

So why not reduce the cost and complexity and risks and just make it legal? Why not make it so they do not have to become criminals to come here, but rather make them honest tax-paying members of society? It helps all of us to allow them to legally get healthcare, driver's licences, auto insurance, education, etc.

Some people worry and fret about the Mexican workers sending money back home to their families in Mexico. Well, let's look at how much they make. When I was having some cement work done to extend the driveway on my house a few years ago, the contractor who did the work hired day laborers. For the sake of argument, let's assume they were illegal immigrants from Mexico. He pays them $40 per day for an 8 hour day of slaving away doing hard physical work in 105F Dallas July heat. I can barely cut the grass in that kind of heat, but these men were lifting and carrying heavy bags of cement and doing carpentry and mixing and pouring cement, etc. These men are just day-laborers. They don't have a regular job to go to. They probably don't get work every day. They just show up at a certain place every morning hoping some contractor drives up and needs a few men that day. I bet they'd be lucky if they got 3 solid days of work in any given week. That's about $120/week for each man. How much does it cost to live and support a family? How much do you think of that $120 is left over to send back to extended family in Mexico? That money is well-earned, and they can do whatever they feel they want to with it, as far as I'm concerned. Besides, if we made them legal workers with legal ID, then they could have bank accounts here and keep more of that money here.

These people are going to be here anyway because there is a need for them here. So let's make them legal. Let's let the laws of supply and demand naturally control immigration such that we do not have more than enough to fill the need. Those who can find work here will be law-abiding, tax-paying and their children can attend schools and not be forced into crime and street gangs to survive. And the others who cannot find work for their skills and efforts simply won't have anywhere to work here so there will be no point in coming or staying.

But we also can't have them come here and stay indefinitely if they have no work. With no means of supporting themselves, they would fall to crime to feed themselves, and we would build a much larger criminal element in this society. So they should be let in, but noted and tracked. Possibly a check-in system like we have with parolees, might work.

They could move easily and safely back and forth across the border, and then the expenses and problems of maintaining a Border Patrol to keep them out goes away for the most part. They can just focus on the movement of illegal substances and contraban, and forget the whole illegal worker part of it.

It is very true that you cannot manage what you cannot measure. By keeping millions of people in an illegal status, you keep them invisible to the authorities, and we cannot measure them. We don't know how much of our resources to spend on police or fire services, or even sewers or anything else. We cannot plan for growth or emergencies or anything. We cannot manage our population if we cannot measure a large portion of it.

This low-cost immigrant worker labor pool provides a necessary sector of the economy to maintain the American infrastructure. I suggest we make it legal. Make it reasonable. De-criminalize it. It solves so many other ancillary problems from drugs to crime to poverty, etc. Let's let the simple laws of supply and demand determine immigration of this type.

And as for the other immigration, the educated, skilled professionals, let them come. Bring them in. Encourage them to come here. Bring their skills. Bring their knowledge. Bring their investment dollars and their businesses and the jobs they represent. They can only help us in our quest to be the strongest, best and most competitively sucessful nation in the world.

Those who say that immigrants steal jobs from American workers simply don't understand the whole bigger picture. They need a different perspective.

So, the next time someone says to you that immigrant workers steal American jobs, correct them. Tell them they are the law-abiding, educated, skilled, tax-paying, honest, people who came here at no cost to us to develop or educate, to help America stay competitive in the world. They make us stronger. They make us more productive. They increase our tax base. They produce goods and services we can sell, and they spend their money HERE to buy the goods and services we make already.

We need as many of those types of people as we can get! And remember - every one we turn away goes to the competition to make THEM stronger.

3 Comments:

At 2/17/2006 9:29 PM, Blogger Ptelea said...

Val,

Thank you for a very interesting perspective. One observation is that it is very sad that we may have to rely on the better education systems of other countries to pick up the slack of our own system. In addition to the need for skilled immigrants, I think it is valuable to our country socially to increase our diversity. In an ideal world, immigrants would help us to better buy-in to the global economy as opposed to a more isolationist stance.

I also think that the trend to outsource will hurt us in the long run because as more Americans take lower paying jobs to replace the higher paying (now outsourced) jobs, their buying power decreases! Businesses that outsourced to stay competitive may find that in the long run they are eroding their own customer base.

With the declining pool of home-grown skilled labor, our need for educated and skilled immigrants will increase. I know nothing about this but it seems likely that our government is not making the necessary changes to our immigration laws to allow this happen. Do you think our fear of terrorism is fueling these tight restrictions? We do seem like our own worst enemy, don't we?

 
At 2/18/2006 7:28 PM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Ptelea,
You make some excellent points.
I especially like the point about how adding people in from other countries increases our perspective and our understanding of how the world works, and decreases our isolationaism. We build more global understanding by taking some of those global citizens into our midst.

As to your question about why we build bureaucratic walls to keep out immigrants, I'd say it is mostly political manuevering, rather than misdirected terrorism-fighting (although that is probably a factor too).
Certainly putting immigration under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security is a clear indication that the current administration of this government connects the two. And that is unfair an unhealthy. Both for humanitarianism, and for business.
But I really think the real reson we have such trouble getting immigrants in through the system, is because politicians think that the population does not want immigration at all because they fear that immigrants take their jobs. So the the politicians try to appease their constituents by enacting legislation to shut down immigrantion as much as possible without stopping business entirely.

As an example, for a 2 year period recently, the processing center here in Dallas had literally ONE single caseworker to process the hundreds of thousands of applications for labor certification. Than means that most of these people will probably never get through the process and will simply give up and leave to go back to whatever country they came from.
Most countries take a a matter of months to process applicants into full-time residents. Here in the US it literally takes years. In some cases it takes over a decade. (if your case has been restarted a couple of times, etc.)

It is not fun to live in this country as a non-citizen. It is difficult to get credit, to find work, to change employers, even to get bank accounts or own property and get a mortgage. In many ways, life becomes more difficult.

If among the politicians were some real LEADERS, then they would take the time to understand the issues in the larger perspective as I hope I have explained here, and then EDUCATE the population.

Sometimes, the general population is wrong. Once upon a time, the popular opinion of the known world used to be that the world was flat - until someone showed them the truth.

We need courageous LEADERS to teach the truth here.

 
At 6/04/2006 11:56 AM, Anonymous igor said...

Most countries take a a matter of months to process applicants into full-time residents.

I wonder what countries are those...

I waited for 2+ years to get canadian residency, and I am lucky as I applied thru canadian embassy in London. My friends, who applied thru moscow embassy have to wait 3-4+ years.

 

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