Sunday, May 20, 2007

more on the draft Senate immigration bill

My dilemma tonight: Should I post extensive comments about the new immigration bill on Ob-Wi (in reaction to this post by the wonderful Hilzoy) that may actually be read but are less appropriate for comments than for a full post, or post them here where no one will read them.

I’ll take the easy way out and post them both places.

Hilzoy and multiple commenters hammered on the importance of employer sanctions with teeth. This is something pretty much everyone except for employers (and presumably some immigrants themselves) agrees upon. But the one article of faith I have about any immigration bill is that there will not be any serious employer enforcement. I think the glue holding together the bipartisan coalition in the Senate is not so much hope for future Hispanic votes as concern for the needs of the business community. The draft bill contains stiff penalties for employers (see below), but the real question is not what is on the books, but what will be enforced. There are penalties on the books now, but they’ve generally not been enforced.

The bill is here on the AILA website. Regarding employer penalties, see:
Section 302(e)(4) - civil penalties for employers of up to $75,000 per violation and Section 302(f) - criminal sanctions for employers of up to 6 months in prison

I see the guest worker program as a quid pro quo for legalization. Without the former, I don’t think this bill would contain the latter. However, I agree with Ob-Wi commenter Gary: many guest workers are likely to simply disobey the law and stay in the U.S. illegally.

Real enforcement of immigration laws would make the guest worker program even more desirable for businesses, since in the absence of illegal workers who can be paid very little, employers would simply have to pay higher wages. Therefore they need a guest worker program so they can pay guest workers lower wages. The business community might accept stepped-up enforcement if there is a guest worker program; it will not accept stepped-up enforcement and no guest worker program. And without the support of the business community, there is no bill.

I agree with Hilzoy that sibling petitions are a marginal issue. The current wait for a visa number in this category is 11 years and if you’ve been here illegally or worked without authorization, you are ineligible to get a green card from a sibling petition anyway. Losing this category is not the end of the world. I am not against the idea of moving towards a merit-based system—it seems to have worked well for Canada.

CIS is underfunded because Congress decided to fund it through fees charged to immigrants. The only practical way to eliminate backlogs is to have citizens bear more of the costs. That will be a serious political challenge for whoever attempts it, and I don’t know whether it’s included in the current bill.

In response to Hilzoy's argument that the best argument against legalization is the message it would send to future illegal immigrants, I'd say believe it or not, lots of people would like to stay where they are born and grew up, where people speak their language and don’t despise them as outsiders. Some immigrants come here to start new lives in the U.S., but many others don’t come here for citizenship. They come here to work hard for 5-10 years, then go back home to buy a home or start a business there. Denying a path to citizenship for those already here won’t do much to stop lots of Mexicans and Central Americans from coming here to make money and then go back home.

What now causes many who would otherwise leave to stay illegally is that once they leave (to visit family, for instance) they can’t get back in.

In general, the causes of illegal immigration are not insufficient border security or lack of employer sanctions, they are structural imbalances in the global economy. Poor nations will always bleed workers into richer nations. Until those fundamental issues are addressed, each new bill passed every 10 years is just fiddling at the margins.

On the other hand, if history is any indicator, each new generation of immigrants will soon forget what it was like to immigrate and move to keep out later immigrants. Given the needs of the global economy and the persistent social need to exclude the “other”, I think the problems we face now will be around until (1) we seriously revisit our conceptions of citizenship and nationality and (2) we move to rectify global economic imbalances. 1 and 2 are intricately related. That said, this bill is as good a temporary fix as we are likely to get. No bill is going to solve the major problems because immigration is itself caused by factors this legislation doesn’t begin to address.

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