02 January 2008|
Rebuttal: National Review Editorial
A seminal moment in PI history, as the venerable National Review warrants a rebuttal
A major effort was launched in Congress last week to pass an amnesty for the ten-million-plus illegal aliens and a guestworker program to admit thousands more "temporary" workers.
The bipartisan nature of the bill -- its lead sponsors are senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy, and it is backed by labor and business lobbyists -- is offered as proof of its reasonableness and political potency. But the immigration issue is such that having Kennedy and McCain on the same side is not at all unexpected, and is certainly no argument in favor of this misguided piece of legislation.
A valid point, although you turn away from it later in the editorial.
The McCain/Kennedy amnesty bill (named, in all seriousness, the "Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005")
Indeed, naming of legislation is an art form on the level of jingle composition, but it is hardly fodder for a reasoned editorial polemic.
Did the fact Mr. Bush named his simple tax cut bill a "Jobs and Growth" proposal diminish its authentic advantages? Clearly, we see that demagogic nomenclature is irrelevant to the overall salience of the policies.
is in large part a replay of the 1986 immigration bargain reluctantly endorsed by President Reagan. That measure promised forgiveness for past illegal immigration in exchange for genuine controls against future law breaking.
Thus, we have the advantage of the guest worker program. It promotes the benefits of immigration (a liquid labor force) while guarding against the disadvantages (criminal influx) and averting the bureaucracy that arises from the distinction (waiting lists for green cards, inter alia).
Some bargain. Over a period of several years, nearly three million illegal aliens (of the then-total of five million) received amnesty, but the enforcement side of the deal -- a prohibition on employing illegal aliens -- was designed to fail, since legitimate businesses had no viable way of determining who was legal.
Deregulation rarely boasts absolute methods of enforcement.
The point could be made tautologically, with the mention of the fact that laws against murder don't prevent all murders. However, the principle is deeper than that.
The state has no way, nor should it ever have a way, of determining whether the middle aged man loading his twelve-gauge in his bedroom is planning to shoot his wife or defend her against intruders.
With this in mind, would you similarly contend that the lack of viable enforcement mechanisms against domestic violence justify the need for widespread gun control?
And after a few years of desultory efforts, even enforcement under this inadequate system was discontinued.
That problem could be quickly solved with an absolute refusal to discontinue enforcement, one would think.
The result was completely predictable: a profusion of fraudulent documentation, a doubling of the illegal population (to more than ten million), and the increasing normalization of something that was widely considered unacceptable only a few years ago.
1) Fraudulent documentation is an unintended consequences of any level of partial reform. The drinking age is 21; fake IDs proliferate. Passports are required for travel abroad; fake passports are discovered on terrorists. It is no more surprising or relevant a revelation as that criminals will bypass gun laws in the pursuit of interpersonal harm.
2) How did you blindly stumble over the statistic that the illegal population doubled when the system supposedly existed without a viable way of determining illegals within the population? Just a thought.
3) The intended normalization of immigration reform is as follows. First, that immigration is ideally a vehicle for law-abiding individuals to find work. Second, that most immigrants are using this vehicle for its authentic purpose. Third, that illegal immigration should be discouraged. Which of these is unacceptable?
In a triumph of hope over experience, McCain and Kennedy contend that under their bill, things would work out differently. Illegal aliens already here would be able to sign up as "temporary" workers and after six years would receive permanent residency and eventually citizenship. In addition, at least 400,000 new foreign workers would be admitted each year, every one of whom would also be on track to citizenship. The enforcement measures included in the bill are risibly inadequate.
I would respond to your claim with the repetition of the observation that all enforcement measures in a liberal state are risibly inadequate.
Bureaucratic inefficiencies are ineluctable realities that may be reduced with intelligent public policy strategy, but they are not peremptory arguments against reform.
Furthermore, what do five million illegal immigrants represent if not proof of the risibly inadequate border protections we currently support with tax revenues?
Supporters of the McCain/Kennedy proposal deny that it is an amnesty, pointing to the fact that payment of a (modest) fine is one of the prerequisites of legalization. But since the goal of an illegal immigrant is to work in the United States, anything that legalizes his presence is a reward; the putative fine is little more than a retroactive smuggling fee paid to the U.S. government.
The arguments against illegal immigration generally do not cite desire to work as a pejorative. Anything that rewards such presence should be considered a benefit to the American economy.
Beyond that, what is the disadvantage of retroactive revenue?
Even the French have figured this out. Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin, the former foreign minister who was such a thorn in our side over Iraq, said last week that amnesty is always a failure: "It's out of the question," Villepin said, when asked about revisiting France's last two amnesties, in 1981 and 1997. "Each time, it creates a chain reaction and a wave of new arrivals."
1) To apply your first argument against you, the immigration issue is such that having a liberal country like France on the same side is not at all unexpected, and is certainly no argument against this necessary piece of legislation.
2) If there were an issue for which France would represent a superlatively atrocious paradigm, it certainly would be immigration. Le Pen, the neo-fascist candidate whose anti-immigration policies form the locus of his political allure, received second place in the last French general election. The xenophobia that accompanied early American immigration is now gaining popularity in France as African and Middle Eastern immigrants are growing in numbers.
The McCain/Kennedy proposal's two elements are each based a false premise. The amnesty portion assumes that the only choices before us are mass roundups or legalization.
It doesn't assume those choices, simply because immigration isn't completely legalized. It's the political equivalent of airline deregulation; it contains elements of liberalization and retains elements of central control.
Illegal immigration remains illegal, only current residents are granted immunity from such prosecution in an effort to spur growth in the labor market and bring transparency to the process.
And the guestworker section assumes that our vast, 21st-century economy can't function without a constant flow of high-school dropouts from overseas.
It can't function to its full capacity without them, no.
Menial labor, as confirmed by studies, is not desired by most natively-born Americans. Unless we wish to remain in permanent trade deficits and represent a complete service economy that is absolutely reliant on importation of basic goods, we should make attempts at encouraging growth in the unskilled labor market.
Neither of these assumptions is true. Only a policy of attrition of the illegal population through consistent, comprehensive enforcement will enable us to successfully manage immigration in the long run. And markets will clear any labor shortages by raising wages and spurring technological innovation.
A policy of attrition would manage immigration in the same way that gun control laws manage gun violence. No matter the limitations, individuals will desire to work within the United States. Now, our current policy of artificially limited immigration has the identical effect of rent controls, namely a created surplus of labor in the market. Furthermore, this artificial surplus has dangerous implications, as these workers face the single alternative of illegal immigration.
Markets won't clear labor shortages by raising wages. They'll clear labor shortages by moving their operations abroad, unless they clamor for subsidies to cover the unnecessarily high cost of domestic labor. This is already occurring.
McCain/Kennedy would be as inadvisable as McCain/Feingold, but with consequences that would be even more fundamental and undesirable. The sooner this measure is consigned to oblivion the better.
Our immigration system's intrinsic inefficiencies drive millions of immigrants into black market traffic avenues, thrusting peaceful workers and potential terrorists into behavior legally indistinguishable.
The effort to make the distinction, for the benefit of the workers and the American economy as well as the law enforcement officials whose effectual sample of illegals contains far fewer potential workers and far more potential criminals.
What moral principle punishes potential workers for the inextinguishable desire to labor within the United States economy? The illegality of the human traffic has no more moral relevancy than the civil disobedience manifested in tax revolts, rent control black markets, or other rebellion against market interventions. Put another way, they disobey laws that impose restrictions against legal employment in order to be legally employed.
A policy of attrition will do nothing but cause economic harm.