Friday, May 25, 2007

The New Immigration Bill

Well here is an interesting new development that is controversial, and yet the two sides of the argument are not based on party lines. It seems about 50% of each party's senators and reps are on each side of the issue. So this might be worth discussing here.

There seems to be two main points of argument:
1) Is it amnesty or not amnesty?
2) The new Point system for determining eligibility.

Amnesty or Not Amnesty?
Those who believe it amounts to amnesty feel this way based on the fact that today these people who came here without documentation are here illegally. If this bill goes through, then they will suddenly have a legal basis for being here. That means we have rewarded their initial illegal behavior by making it suddenly legal, and so it is not a disincentive to others who are thinking of doing the same thing.

Those who DON'T see it as amnesty point to the fact that there are fines and potentially back taxes to be paid in this plan to legalize these people. They feel that with the workers having to pay these thousands of dollars in fines to get on track legally - that constitutes paying the penalty for the crime of not having documentation.

In addition, they point to the reality of the fact that there are 12 million of these undocumented workers here now. We don't have the luxury of deciding whether or not to let them in. They are here already, and since they have no paperwork, we don't really know who they are, or where they are and so it becomes impossible to cull 12 million hidden people from the herd of 312 million people in this country, and put them on trains or boats and ship them back to Mexico or Guatemala or wherever they came from.

It's just not physically possible for one thing. I think many people don't really understand the scale of what 12 million people represents, so just try this for a second. Imagine a field with a crowd of a thousand people in it. Now imagine 5 fields like that next to each other. Imagine ten fields with those thousand people. Imagine a hundred such fields. That's those five fields side by side repeated twenty times back into the distance. In your mind's eye, stretch your inner sight out to that distant horizon and picture a hundred fields each with a thousand people standing there. It would be a sea of people as far as the eye can see. Now imagine that entire sea of humanity - TEN MORE TIMES!! In a helicopter, it would take some time to fly over that immense crowd of humans covering the landscape for miles and miles. Now imagine that all of THAT is repeated TWELVE MORE TIMES. It's an insane number of people. It's an ocean of faces stretching out as far as you can see, drive or even fly in a helicopter within a few minutes. That is twelve million people. It's more than half the population of Texas. More than ALL the population of New York City, that sea of humanity. Even if they were all patiently standing in line waiting to be deported, it would literally take years to shuttle them out of the country on trains or boats or whatever. Especially when you consider we'd have to find which country each of them belongs and to send them there. After all, would it be fair to send them all to Mexico? As a country, we couldn't just dump our problem on another country's doorstep like that. They are not all from Mexico. They are from all over Central and South America.

And then - they are not exactly just standing there patiently waiting to be deported either are they? No. They are spread out for one thing. In fact, they are spread across an area about 1500 miles top to bottom and three thousand miles wide. They are everywhere and anywhere, and maybe nowhere you might look. That's because they are also hiding in a population that is almost 30 times larger than that even. You would have to find them - and they don't want to be found - so they would be hiding from you, and moving around from job to job and place to place. AND remember - you don't even know specifically who you are looking for. You have no names, addresses, descriptions, etc. Do you really expect to find 12 million people who are hiding when you don't know who they are, where they are, or what they look like? AND when they are more or less indistinguishable from the 100 million others that look and sound pretty much the same, but are here legally? Somehow I just don't think that would work.

It's far too expensive to conduct raids of every home and every place of business, every factory, warehouse, or shack in the woods where they might be - looking for undocumented workers. Also, many American-born citizens don't have their passports or citizenship papers intact either, so we would have to produce all the up to date documentation for all 300+ million Americans as well to do this. If the 2000 census is any measure at all, that took 12 years of planning just to PLAN to do that - and that was a mail-out campaign and they were only just COUNTING people. Can you imagine what it would take to actually process through the birth certificates, validating documents and passports, etc. and do actual RESEARCH on over 300 million people? That alone might take decades. And yet without that, how could ICE officers doing raids throughout the nation in every building on every street tell the difference between an undocumented worker and an American citizen who simply doesn't carry his birth certificate and passport with him everywhere he goes? Or what if he simply doesn't have them - like many Americans don't? Then what criteria would they use to determine who is here illegally? A Spanish accent? Brown skin? That's not law enforcement - that's just racism.

For another thing, our economy has become dependent upon this labor force. They are 5% of the overall labor force, but for the construction, manufacturing, and agricultural fields, they have become the vast majority. Also for restaurants, hotel workers, lawn care etc., they are the majority of people working in those lower-paying jobs. They are 5% of the workforce, but they are responsible for 2% of the 3.5% growth nationally because their low pay leverages their financial usefullness higher. So not only is it physically impossible to find them and deport them, but it is also financially impossible to do it without wrecking our economy.

So we are left with a dilemma. We have three choices here before us:
1) Round them all up and deport them regardless of the cost or difficulty.
2) Leave them here in place, but keep them as illegal immigrants, with no status and no rights, and low pay. (Effectively, a slave labor workforce)
3) Legalize them, introduce a system to bring them into visibility, and track and control them like citizens and legal immigrants.

Do we destroy ourselves in order to try to enforce the existing laws, or do we make new laws to make those people now legal? And in the process pick up several billion more dollars in back taxes and fines to help fund the construction of better walls and better surveillance at the Mexican border? (An irony of ironies...)

Or do we leave things as they are, with 12 million unknown, undocumented workers permanently in our society? This seems dangerous in a post 9/11 era. Both from a security point of view thinking of terrorists, but also from a health point of view in terms of the spread of disease from a large portion of the population that do not have adequate healthcare. Also from a crime point of view.

Let's use some simple logic here. People who want these people to go home suggest that we stop people from hiring them and then they will go home on their own. They say the jobs are the magnet that brings them here. If we turn off the magnet, then they will leave.
Think about this. What REALLY happens if we shut down the employers ability to hire these workers? Do they suddenly hire more expensive American workers? No. They cannot compete with the other companies all over the world that get cheaper labor elsewhere and they go broke, or they outsource to overseas labor, or they simply shutdown here and move the whole company there and compete from there now. We lose their tax revenue, their business, and the other jobs they might have provided that pay higher and hire Americans.

And the workers? what do they do? Do you REALLY think they would just go back to live in Mexico or Nicaragua or Guatemala? Not hardly. They would stay here and look for something else. If we make it impossible to find something else, then they WILL turn to crime. If we leave them no other option, they will do this to survive. If we make them desperate, they will do desperate things. Our jails are full now already with 1.5 million Americans in them today. So far, the non-American-born people are only 1/5th as likely to commit a crime and be incarcerated. If we make TWELVE MILLION PEOPLE into criminals to survive, we will have a civilization-destroying problem on our hands that would make Iraq seem like a safe place to live by comparison.

So for these reasons, the 12 million people will be staying here. Over that there is no real choice for us. It is simply a fact and a practical necessity. They won't go, and we can't make them, and we can't afford to even try. So they are here to stay. Those who don't like to face that will simply have to reconcile themselves to that reality, get over it, and start to think about what to do about the aspects of this that we CAN control. The decision becomes whether to let them remain as illegal and hidden or make them legal and trackable and have them participate in society paying their taxes for the services they use, serving in the army, doing their part in helping to build and maintain this nation, etc.

The Point System
This is another point of contention between politicians. Canada first developed the point system, and it spread to Australia, New Zealand, England, etc. Today, a number of countries have adopted this approach. Essentially, the immigration policy is based upon earning points based on what the country wants to encourage. Those with enough points are allowed in.

For example, if you have skills and experience in fields in which we need people, you get points for that. For example, we need nurses. If you are a nurse, then that earns you a lot of points - it works in your favor. if you have advanced degrees, you get points. If you speak English, you get points. If you have other accomplishments (books you've written, inventions you've created, companies you've started, etc.) you gain points. Basically, anything you do to bring value to the country earns you points and therefore you earn your entrance to the country, and the country is assured of getting people it can use.

Some say that this is better than the current system that favors those with family connections, because we don't need millions of uncle Joses, cousin Chicos, etc. that do not have skills useful to the US, and actually come as a drain on the systems. But rather, bringing in people that have what we need is a way to make the country stronger, more innovative, more competitive and more survivable in this global reality in which we now live.

Others suggest that families need to stay together, and that the point system rewards only the stronger swimmers, and leaves behind the others. Also, they point to the fact that right now, we have employers sponsoring the workers who have specific skills they need. So they have jobs to go to. In Toronto, you might see a doctor or an engineer from India or Pakistan driving a cab because his credentials and skills allowed him to earn entry to the country, but there were no jobs at his level that needed him yet at that point.

Generally, my impression is that those who are calling it amnesty are those who are against immigration in the first place, and would really just prefer that no one be allowed to come to this country, and that those here now should all go home because they are changing the racial content and social structure of the US by diluting it's existing cultural mix, and skewing it more toward the latino culture mix.
Generally, these people have said that the illegal immigrants should be caught and sent home to their source countries. Then if they want to come here, let them come the legal way and pay the costs and wait the time. Well, that is part of what this new immigration bill is describing. People would have to go back to their source country to apply for legal status, pay a fine for having broken the law before, and THEN they would be admitted legally.

My impression of the arguments that disfavor the point system is that they are made by people who are afraid of letting higher-skilled people into the country because they might compete with them for the higher level jobs. But if they just come to make hotel room beds, and cut the grass and work in kitchens, and pick cotton, then they are not competition and so pose no threat to them as just cheap laborers. This thinking serves a certain personal agenda perhaps, but it works to the detriment of the country's best interests.

Companies say repeatedly that they cannot find the skills they need for the higher skilled jobs here in the quantities they need. They have a choice of either bringing in workers from other countries, say doctors from Europe, engineers from China, software developers from India, etc. or else they just have to outsource completely to these other countries. I have certainly found this problem repeatedly over the past few years. In fact, with one company I work with right now, they are having trouble finding qualified Java programmers and C++ programmers who are skilled, local, and available. And when they do find someone, they are almost invariably Indian. Most have greencards already, some don't. The point is that there is a need for these skills. Here, below is a letter I received yesterday from someone in the Bay area about this topic:

Hello. I just read your blog dated April 25th. I couldn’t agree with you more! I run an IT staffing firm in the Bay Area and if I had a dollar for every time I had to defend, to our upper management, our use of H1 – B’s for those Java contract orders you referred to, I’d be able to buy a everyone in our company an extra large latte!

Thanks for the well thought out article!


So this problem is common. If they hire them locally, at least the money stays in THIS economy instead of leaking out of the country into the economies of other countries.
As it turns out, the CEO has simply found it too difficult to find people here, and too expensive and difficult to go through US immigration to bring them in on H1-B work visas (he has sponsored several people over the past decade, and it takes years and costs a fortune and it's a huge administrative overhead to bear) so he and his partners have decided to outsource to India. That's right. It's not just an option for big development shops for big companies anymore. Now, even little companies are doing it. The process and the industry there has evolved to that point.

The US immigration CIS division of the Department of Homeland Security has now made it SO impossible to legally bring workers into this country, that it's literally now easier to export all the work to India, 12,000 miles away and manage it across 12 time zones and deal with THEIR government paperwork, and currency conversions, corporation tax rules, etc. This is the reality businesses face in this country today.

The way that LEGAL immigration is related to ILLEGAL immigration is simply this: If it were simple, easy, and possible to use the legal system, then most of these people would take that route. It's so much easier to live here legally and have proper documentation. But the official legal immigration system is so broken here in this country, and takes so long and costs so much, that many people are forced to work around it. The workers, the employers, etc.

The current immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. It's that simple. And this new bill might just be the right balance of legislation to fix it.


At 6/06/2007 9:54 AM, Anonymous Your Buddy Joe said...

A couple of points:

1) The fines are only applicable if someone wants to pursue citizenship so therefore this bill IS immediate amnesty for anyone who is here illegally and doesn't want to become a citizen. That would be about 98% of the existing 12 million people.

2) There are only a handful of radicals who are calling for the immediate forced deportation of 12 million people. Most reasonable people realize this is not realistic.

The problem is that this bill doesn't address the real issue. I could really care less about the 12 million that are already here. As far as I'm concerned, you can leave them as illegal.

The real issue is border control and security. You have to close the border FIRST! Until you do that, all of this is just a bunch of noise and it won't solve the problem because more illegals will come across tomorrow.

Your second step should be to enforce our current laws. It is currently illegal in the US to hire someone who is in the country illegally.

If you completely secure your borders AND enforce your current laws, you won't need to deport 12 million people. They will eventually and gradually go home on their own.

At 6/06/2007 8:24 PM, Anonymous Val said...

I agree that securing the borders is very important. It's too bad that it's impossible, that's all.
A wall/fence doesn't work. They can use boats like the Cubans have for decades. And there are other options as well.
I think I should write another article about that.
And as I said above - if you make people desperate, then you have to expect that they will do desperate things. If we make it so that it is impossible to support their families with honest work - they they will be forced to do dishonest things to survive. They already know they cannot go home. They cannot survive there - that's why they left there in the first place.
No - they will stay here and they will resort to crime. Our crime rates will soar like we cannot imagine, and life here will have become very difficult and very risky for us.

Also, it costs about 67K per year to keep a prisoner in jail. It costs about 10K per year to pay someone minimum wage - and you get work out of them for it as well.

The economic do not support creating a new criminal sub-culture of 12 million people.

I wonder if the Americans who were here in the 1880's and 1890's hated the undocumented immigrants that came from Europe in the early 1900's.... Oh wait, now I remember - yes they did. They resented them coming then, too.

They were convinced that all those Europeans were a lower class of people, less intelligent, etc.

Interesting pattern, don't you think?

At 6/18/2007 9:30 PM, Anonymous Igor said...

securing the borders is ... impossible ...

Ha, actually it is not just possible, it is actually VERY SIMPLE: mark a mile or so width of territory along the border as a "no entry zone, trespassers will be killed" and patrol it (from air?) with "fire at will at anything that moves" rules of engagement.

Like a border of Soviet Union, Berlin Wall, etc...

What? Too monstrous, you say? Please, Val, in your state if I trespass someone's land and got shot - it's ok, isn't it? What are your problems with shooting at the border's trespassers?

... They already know they cannot go home...

What ??!! And why is that, I wonder...


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