Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Illegal Immigration

The president has a tin ear when it comes to illegal immigration, and his concessions yesterday don’t recognize that his tolerance of illegal immigrants drives most Americans nuts. He needs an integrated solution that stops the problem getting worse by properly policing US borders.


President Bush said yesterday that his goal is eventually to expel "every single" illegal alien from the United States as his administration pressed Congress to pass a guest-worker program.

Although conceding that the administration cannot immediately deport the estimated 11 million illegal aliens who are here, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao told Congress that a temporary-worker program would give aliens an incentive to come out of hiding and let them work legally for six years before being forced to return home.

This is weak - if the administration can’t deport them now, it won’t be able to if they decide not to register. And it does not stop the stream of 10,000 illegal immigrants that arrive every day.

Here’s my view based on observation and discussion in my recent visit to Mexico (because it was a family occasion, I wasn’t limited to the service folks one meets as a tourist).

Mexico is a low trust society that's been wrecked by decades of socialism – for example gas stations don't display their prices because they're the same everywhere! But they have strong national pride – last month as many private houses were flying national flags to celebrate their Independence Day as the US does on July 4.

In spite of this pride, an American who lives in Mexico
says that 40% of Mexicans want to move to the US and 10,000 a day cross the border every day. Out of a 100 million population, that’s 40 million, who at that rate would take just 11 years to cross over.

Yet there's nothing to stop Mexico from becoming as prosperous as other low trust societies – for example Spain, France and Italy. All they need is a Margaret Thatcher or Ronald reagan to bust the Socialist shibboleths. But things have to get really bad first - Brits only got serious about fixing their economy after the humiliation of an IMF bailout and strikes by funeral workers that left their dead unburied. Then they elected Maggie, and now they’re the richest country in Europe.

Unfortunately for Mexicans, immigration to the US acts as an escape valve, limiting the pressure for reform, and illegal workers send back billions of dollars that keep the failed state alive.

Plus, many US employers benefit from illegals, paying them less than minimum wage to do the jobs that Americans don't want. Like the women who gets just $1 for scrupulously cleaning your hotel room.

So, the problem needs to be fixed - for the sake of Mexico, the vulnerable illegal immigrants, and US respect for the rule of law.

It won’t be easy. If US employers have to pay legal wages, many illegals will lose their jobs and US inflation will rise. Plus finding and deporting 11 million people will indeed be expensive and make a lot of people unhappy, including the Mexican government - a major US oil supplier.

Hence the administration's guest-worker proposal - it's gradualist, recognizes that illegals are valuable to the US economy and deserve recognition, and doesn't make big international waves. Its defect is that it’s damaging support for the Republican Party, particularly in the South, and it’s bad for the Mexican people.

Here's my suggestion.

1. Admit the problem - 10,000 illegals a day is not tolerable, paying below the minimum wage is not ethical.

2. Close the border - this is not rocket science, many nations do it. It doesn't need thousands of miles of walls, or massive amounts of money, just 100% surveillance with drones and CCTV, passive defenses at infiltration points, and a reactive border organization that plugs new gaps as they appear. It's essential that this scheme physically prevents people crossing the border - there's no way the US can temporarily house an extra 10,000 people awaiting deportation every day!

3. Create a a web-accessible database Federal Social Security database that enables employers to check if a SS number was valid - currently people are just inventing numbers or copying them off public databases. There's a privacy risk, but that's already out there, and anyway restricting information to age, sex and race would be enough.

4. Having taken away employer's excuses by enabling them to validate SS numbers, enforce the law that holds them criminally liable for employing people without legal US residence status.

5. Then introduce the guest-worker program. To avoid mass firings of illegal workers, allow employers to phase the increase of guest-worker wages up to the official minimum.

6. Announce that after the program has been running for (say) 2 years, all illegal immigrants that come to the notice of the Feds will be deported and their employers prosecuted.

7. In all of the above, prevent any suffering or degradation of illegal immigrants. They're decent people who provide the US economy with valuable services.