Immigration

A major snowstorm today is shutting down the Northeast. I made it to the gym, grocery store and “packy” just before it really started to come down. I’ll be making some homemade guacamole for snacking and some slowly-cooked Tuscan beans with pancetta and sage for dinner.

And, I have time to write about immigration. The short answer is that policy should incorporate “both-and” thinking rather than “either-or.” And I’m at a loss regarding what to do about illegal immigration.

First up, I’m a naturalized US citizen, a patriot and someone who is very grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given. Indonesia was a hostile nation to those who are Chinese and Christian. So, we left with $1,500 and some suitcases for the Bronx, and, later, Brooklyn.

It wasn’t easy. My mother didn’t speak English. My sister and I encountered a lot of racism. But, we were better off than before.

Education was my ticket out. I still marvel at the quality of life my children have. I grew up with stories about how my aunts and uncles didn’t eat three meals a day and how they lost everything in one day and became war refugees.

So, I have a POV on immigration. It is two-fold:

  • Immigration must include the ability to add skills, drive and economic growth
  • Immigration must include room for compassion

Regarding the former, we have a dearth of STEM graduates from our colleges. The information economy is a major engine of growth and prosperity, and we need more human capital there. Immigration laws were restricted in the late-1960s precisely to let in more technical workers, as we were in an arms race and space race against the Soviet Union.

People who can make a living contribute to the economic engine of the country and have a higher chance of become more assimilated at a faster rate.

Canada for decades has pursued this strategy. They prioritize immigrants whom they think will add to the economy and who have the language skills to assimilate. The government is doing this with the key goal of promoting economic growth. Declining birth rates meant that they would not have the economic base to support an elderly population.

A youthful labor force is critical. Young workers spend money and take on credit to raise children, buy houses, etc. 70 percent of the US economy is consumer spending. It is the heart of our economic engine.

What happens if you don’t have young workers? You get today’s Japan, which has been in a multi-decade period of economic stagnation. You get Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece, which has needed EU bailouts. You get what soon will be France, China, Germany and Russia.

So, it sounds cold, but economic growth needs to be a part of immigration policy.

Second, I think policy should also have room for compassion. People fleeing dangerous situations and need a safe harbor should also be considered. It is the human thing to do.

So, I hope our political system can articulate to its citizens that we are going to do both. There should be a quota system for legal immigrants and a clear articulation of the mix between the two cohorts.

Illegal immigration is a tougher issue for me to process. I have tried to get up to speed. Recently, for example, I listened to a This American Life podcast that stated that 80 percent of illegal entrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico, who are stopped, are released. They are scheduled for immigration court cases far down the road, and no-shows supposedly are common. These individuals disappear into the under-the-table cash economy. Particular interesting was the border police person, of Hispanic descent, who was interviewed in the podcast.

Honestly, I don’t have any good answers on this. El Salvador, for example, is a very dangerous place. How can the tragic stories and photos not elicit concern? What if the tables were turned, and it was my family and I fleeing a war zone in Syria?

But, how many immigrants can a country afford to take in a short time? How can we deal with many school systems already stretched financially to accomodate illegal immigrants? We have a national policy greatly affecting local budgets and populations. It is a bit like free trade. The benefits are diffused but the costs are concentrated.

So, I’m hoping some of you can share your thoughts on illegal immigration and what to do.

5 thoughts on “Immigration

  1. Joe,
    I so enjoy your posts. Thanks for sharing so many good insights.

    Living in Arizona we see many of the topics you discuss first-hand. Arizona’s largest employers (Intel etc) and ASU depend upon talented legal immigrants to contribute to our economy. Without them, it would not be possible to fill these positions. At the same time, our construction and agricultural industry depends upon immigrants (some of whom are documented and legal and some of whom are not) to produce the lifestyle (inexpensive homes and food) that our communities benefit from.

    A few years ago, my Mexican-American wife – who’s grandparents immigrated from Mexico in the 1920s (the same time my father’s family moved from Missouri) and who’s father’s family immigrated from Spain in the 1770’s to protect the presidio in Tubac (now Arizona) – traveled to Mexico City with a group of Catholic leaders from the Napa Institute. The meeting was hosted by Archbishop Gomez – and focused on his book – Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation Paperback. The meeting was helpful for me to understand the global issues surrounding “migration” and since that time I have taken a deeper interest in trying to deconstruct some of the simple arguments I see being used to divide this nation.

    This could be an extra long post – but let me make just two observations – separate from the Trump administration’s most recent and ham-fisted attempts to expand the executive powers by using fear of immigrants.

    The first observation is during the past two decades (really since NAFTA has passed) we have moved the discussion to criminalize the actions of the individual immigrant more than the employer who attracts them to this nation in general and Arizona more specifically. In Arizona, the worse Sherrif in the nation repeatedly held events showcasing the arrest of brown-skinned immigrants while ignoring the employers who had also been guilty of criminal conduct. In the 80’s immigration enforcement focused on employers who created demand and companies who hired illegal or undocumented workers faced real penalties. Yet – today the government and media are focused more on individuals and appear to ignore the employer side of the equation.

    The second observation may explain the first – which is the balance between labor and capital. Bishop Gomez made the observations in his book and particularly as it relates to NAFTA – that created the rules for the movement of goods and capital – but ignored the topic of labor. In fact, the history of NAFTA is that the rules for labor had been agreed upon with temporary worker permits etc – but had been removed following the 1992 election.

    Of course, the topic goes further back in history (not Marx) but to Pope Leo who in 1891 wrote about the balance between labor and capital in an important encyclical – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rerum_novarum.

    I don’t have a particular remedy in mind, but I do think the best place to start is by enforcing our current laws regarding the hiring of undocumented workers by businesses. This will change the landscape in Arizona and will then force businesses to advocate more strongly for true immigration reform that includes visiting worker permits etc.

    All of this is to say – that we are all called to respect human dignity but many of us cannot see beyond our personal economic self-interest to understand how this topic is another version of the imbalance between capital and labor.

    Thanks for advancing the conversation. Let me know if you should ever find yourself in Arizona.

    1. John, so great to hear from you. And, I really appreciate your thoughtful response. You raise so many great points.

      Regarding the supply/demand topic, I wonder if we can learn lessons from the sex trafficking problem? Law enforcement officials are increasingly going after the pimps and “customers.” So, to shine the light on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers feels like a policy option that needs to be pursued, IMO.

  2. Joe – I completely agree. Cindy McCain has made this a priority in Arizona surrounding the national events that Phoenix has hosted such as the Super Bowl, last year’s National Championship game and now the NCAA’s – it is interesting to me to think about need to deconstruct issues. Looking at the demand side of many social issues is a factor that seems to be often overlooked. Keep on posting – I read each with great interest. My other friend – John Kobara has a great blog and touches similar themes.

    Check it out when you have time. http://jeknetwork.typepad.com/networking/about-john.html

    1. Looks very cool. Have added his blog to my Feedly. Also, just bought Archbishop Gomez’s book. Thanks for the tips….

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