Blog-post the Second, in which I rant about immigration

I’m spending my summer doing immigration research and advocacy for the American Jewish Committee, and I suppose that the result of being immersed in immigration for 10 hours a day is that I’m simply flabbergasted that it is, thus far, a non-issue. And so I shall rant — though really not a la Lou Dobbs.

President Obama’s pitch-perfect speech in El Paso was little more than cotton candy. It appealed to the “security-first” crowd, while hanging a few pieces of juicy meat just outside the grasp of supporters of comprehensive immigration reform. But it’s perhaps a reflection of how limited the President really is in setting immigration policy (something he was quick to mention). This past month, the DREAM act was reintroduced (Dick Durbin just won’t give up), though whether it has a real chance of passing is anyone’s guess. There were admittedly some problems with the last version, but Congress can’t just keep kicking the issue down the road. Due to the lagging economy, the undocumented immigrant population has actually decreased. But it’s still 11 million people — 11 million people participating in an unregulated labor market, 11 million not reporting crimes to the police because they’re afraid they’ll be deported, and (I say this more selfishly) 11 million potential taxpayers (about half already do pay taxes). And as my previous post on the Soapbox made clear, detaining, holding, trying, and deporting this population would have a gasp-provoking price tag. Which is really a moot point, anyway, since most Americans are, apparently, not Joe Arpaio.

A great deal of the opposition to amnesty is predicated upon the idea that “They’re stealing our jobs.” The truth is they aren’t. Don’t believe me — listen to the Cato Institute. Illegal immigrants actually do fill positions that Americans don’t want. The percentage of Americans without a high school degree has been falling consistently for some time and the void at the lower-end of the job spectrum gets filled by — you guessed it! — immigrants. But because the limit on H-2 (and H1-B) visas is set without any consideration of the number of workers actually needed, the void is filled illegally. Illegal markets exist when some economic need isn’t being fulfilled in the legal market. We can’t get rid of our problems with more fencing, boots on the ground, or a Great Wall of Arizona; we can only change things if we’re willing to buck up (cue music) and admit that we need to fix both the immediate and ultimate causes. And if what I’m saying seems so obvious, almost like a foregone conclusion — that’s really half my frustration. There’s widespread support for a path to citizenship, increased border security, reevaluation of the limits on visas, and a lot of other bedrock aspects of comprehensive immigration reform. Even Rupert Murdoch (an immigrant) is onboard! But somehow, it just doesn’t get done. Oh well, I suppose we should just give some more press time to Anthony Weiner’s…wiener.

Cartoon credit: Tom toles via