March 28, 2006

Immigration Issues

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is the Washington Postís description of the key points of the immigration bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterdayÖ

The bill would double the Border Patrol and authorize a "virtual wall" of unmanned vehicles, cameras and sensors to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border. It also would allow more visas for nurses and agriculture workers, and shelter humanitarian organizations from prosecution if they provide non-emergency assistance to illegal residents.

The most contentious provision would permit illegal aliens currently in the country to apply for citizenship without first having to return home, a process that would take at least six years. They would have to pay a fine, learn English, study American civics, demonstrate they had paid their taxes and take their place behind other applicants for citizenship, according to aides to Kennedy, D-Mass., who was instrumental in drafting the legislation. Kennedy credited the "faith community" for building support for a guest worker program.

The Judiciary Committee also approved a five-year plan to provide visas for about 1.5 million agriculture workers and allow them to eventually seek legal residency.

The bill still needs to be passed by the full Senate, then reconciled with a tougher House bill passed last year, before it becomes law.

Glenn Reynolds has a short but comprehensive description of the immigration debate at his MSNBC blog site. Let me add three points I haven't seen made elsewhere...

1. Why arenít the unions pressuring Democrats to stop a wage-depressing flow of immigrants? Because they figure theyíll be able to organize guest workers, instill in them an affinity for the Democratic Party, and convert a significant number of them into yellow-dog Democratic voters in the near future.

What is the Republican strategy for countering this? I donít think they have one. They are applying the same political acumen to this problem that they applied to the Medicare prescription drug benefit, where they managed to alienate their base without winning any new support for themselves. I hope the Chamber-of-Commerce types pushing a guest worker program make enough extra profit from the use of guest workers in the short term to buffer themselves against the tax-increases and increased regulation that will come from a Democratic controlled Congress.

2. An overlooked aspect of the immigration debate is how the United States is consistently assumed to be the only country involved; itís the United States and an amorphous sea of non-citizens. The post-patriotic commercial elites driving the debate on the Republican side could earn some popular support by asking the countries sending immigrants to America to make some changes to accomodate the US.

For instance, the US should tie the legal immigration quotas of various countries to their proficiency at teaching English in their schools. Countries that donít want to teach English will have their legal immigration quotas lowered. Countries that do, and do it well, will have their quotas raised.

3. Cultural changes stemming from immigration can occur in both directions. The US has to do a bit of soul searching to explain why we fear that 12 million immigrants are going to change a nation of 300 million more so than 300 million are going to change 12 million.

Along these lines, some conservative foundation-oriented person of immodest means should fund a program for creating civics courses for immigrants that explain a) the history of the US, b) American civics, and c) how the new immigrants to the United States have a wonderful opportunity to learn how the greatest nation on the world operates and an opportunity to use that knowledge to help change whatever corrupt, anti-competitive, opportunity-crushing political culture they came from into something civilized and modern.

I suspect that if the leaders of many of the countries sending immigrants to the US believed that point c) was catching on amongst immigrants to America, there would be renewed interest from outside in stemming the rate of illegal immigration to America.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Scott MacKay has a roundup of the reaction of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation to the immigration reform bill in today's Projo.