Immigrant NationCNN's Lou Dobbs is an endearingly loopy dog who has hold of the immigration bone and won't stop chewing. Regardless of what sort of carnage the rest of the world is experiencing Bulldog Lou ledes with immigration. Even when he touches on other stories, the commentary moves back around to immigration by way of a tortured route from A to B to Z. He deserves props for letting people from all sides air their points of view, although he occasionally gets pugnacious with them. Sometimes the discussions are so disjointed I can't quite figure out his position except that he's pissed and has decided to chase the story with all the tenacity of a Bush on a failed mission.
He can't take all the blame for the meandering punditry though. Immigration is a supremely complex issue fraught with emotions on both sides. It rolls economics, race, international relations, and several other issues into an elephant so big no one knows how to eat it a bite at a time. This probably partially explains why responses to the issue languish until someone needs a wedge issue to make the problem worse.
My own opinions are similarly hard to define, but I'll give them a go if you're game.
America is an immigrant nation. We have a proud and varied heritage that mixes many different cultures into a societal brew that works - more or less - most of the time. But even immigrant nations can't absorb all the masses yearning to be free that want in. There is truth in the notion that unrestricted immigration causes problems. There are simply too many people coming in for the places most affected to keep up. Schools, hospitals, social services, indeed the whole infrastructure of the American dream groans under the overload of runaway immigration. However, none of that should be taken by the Xenophobeicans as free license to ban immigration all together - especially immigration from particular countries or races. The solution here is relatively simple. Determine what you can take and take in that many and no more. But this is legal immigration, what about the illegals?
There are a variety of things that probably won't work. Fences are a dumb idea. Catch and release enforcement has already failed. And unarmed National Guardsmen alongside armed vigilantes is pretty stupid too. As it does in many emotional arguments, the answer here is also a little common sense.
Illegal immigrants come to this country to find work that isn't available at home. They aren't coming because of the glowing welcome of the Statue of Liberty, they're coming because a once-a-day, single tortilla meal isn't very filling. Many have suggested that better enforcement on companies that hire illegals will take care of the problem and I agree it would go a long way. However, no one seems to look at the root cause - Mexico's crappy economy that is now based primarily on remittances from the illegals in Jacksonville back to their families in Jalisco. If we crack down on company hiring, we should be equally tough with the Mexican government. They need a long overdue push to fix their problem instead of making it our problem.
Next employment. The prevailing fiction is that illegals from Mexico are only working jobs that no American would do. The truth is that Mexicans are working jobs that Americans are unwilling to do at an unreasonable wage. The growing legions of minimum wage Americans are testament to that. To make matters worse, many high-wage jobs are going to immigrants, legal and illegal, because they work cheaper. I see nothing wrong with giving preference to citizens for any job they chose based on a legitimate salary offer. I do object to companies hiring immigrants at the expense of Americans simply because they will not demand pay at the going rate. This endless chase only depresses wages at home, while inflating them for an eventual fall in the home countries. Exhibit A, India. Wages are already going up there and becoming more compatible to western wages.
What we do with the legals already here is an issue. They broke US law in coming here, and laws are laws. The preferable treatment would be to expel them or arrest them, but there are already too many to handle in that way. I'm not sure I have a great solution here, but it seems that putting these people on some sort of a guest visa with provisions to eventually become citizens is about the best we can do. However, at the end of the visa, they need to go back home and start the process over again like legal immigrants do.
So you see, no big answers, perhaps even more of a muddle. The only things that is clear is that administrations and Congresses going back many years have avoided the issue precisely because it was too big to deal with - and because they could get away with it. In an era of unprecedented vitriol and incompetence none of use should be expecting meaningful action any time soon. It's too easy to put off and too valuable for a wedge issue for either side to devote much energy to.
We are a nation of immigrants arguing amongst ourselves about immigrants just like us.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Saturday, January 20, 2007