The issue of illegal immigration has become one of the biggest talking points in U.S. politics of late. It is a complicated and serious problem, and most of the people who get all worked up about it ignore key aspects of the debate while contradicting themselves. This is true for members of all major political parties. Let’s break things down into a basic representation of current conceptions:
- The left view: This is the United States of America – a nation built by immigrants. We cannot, in good conscience, construct walls and turn people away.
- The right view: This nation is in constant danger from terrorist attack. We have a huge border with Mexico that we are doing a poor job at securing; enemies can enter the United States from Mexico at any moment. Also, among the millions of workers who (illegally) cross the border simply to search for jobs, many cross the border specifically for the purpose of committing crimes.
Obviously, these views I have constructed are not representative of every single politician in office according to party, but pretty close. That said, let’s look at the two major parties’ avowed economic sympathies:
- Democrats claim to be the champions of American industry. They frequently support tariffs, import limitations, and other such measures to protect domestic companies from foreign competition. They also strive to help “the little man” by fighting for higher wages and benefits for low-level earners.
- Republicans claim to be the champions of free enterprise. They tend to support an easing of trade limitations and the free flow of goods and services over borders. They argue that artificial ceilings or floors for prices or wages kill economic growth and cause shortages.
The problem here is that these general economic sympathies fundamentally contradict the economic philosophies to which they tend to be attached. For instance:
- Democrats frequently rant and rave about how Republicans outsource U.S. jobs to China. However, why is it evil to give U.S. jobs to Chinese but good to give U.S. jobs to Mexicans? If they really cared about protecting U.S. jobs, the first thing they would do would be to end the employment of illegal immigrants once and for all.
- Democrats claim to champion the interests of the poor and downtrodden – regardless of nationality. They often back this up by supporting efforts to send aid to ailing economies. But why is it good to give other countries free money and bad to engage in free trade with those countries? Both result in better foreign relations, but only one delivers a direct payback (in the form of lower prices for goods).
- Democrats want to maintain high minimum wage levels and high government benefits, but if we simply open the gates and let anyone come here who wants to, the low-level workers already here will face massive competition for the existing jobs, and it will become impossible to continue our current government benefit programs. (For instance, $600 per month from SSI may not sound like much to you, but that would sound glorious for millions of people in other countries.)
- Republicans claim to support the free market, but if they do not promote free international trade, they do not support the free market. Mexicans (and folks from other countries) are coming here by the millions – some of them risking their lives – for the opportunity to earn $8.00 per hour. Do you think there just might be an unmet demand for low-level labor in the U.S.? This is true even when unemployment rates are high. Farmers in the U.S. frequently make listings looking for workers and find that U.S. citizens just do not want to bend over all day in the sun – even for more than minimum wage. Mexicans and Nicaraguans, however, will. If they want the jobs we don’t want, let them have those jobs!
- Republicans claim to champion the American Dream and the idea of working hard to earn an honest living and move up in the world. Well, that is exactly what these people want to do. They want it more than most of the people already living here. Let them come.
In case you have not guessed it, here is the basic type of system that I am in favor of:
- Easy entry and registration for any non-criminal (or non-suspect) who wants to come here and work.
- A gradual, reasonable pathway to citizenship conditional upon proof of economic responsibility.
- An effective system of identification on the federal level, incorporating a picture ID card tied to an electronic database of fingerprints.
- A system of fines for employing unregistered workers and rewards for reporting such violations.
I know that a lot of conservatives and libertarians would be outraged at the idea of having a federally mandated ID. However, the reality is that we will not solve the immigration problem so long as we rely on a piece of cardboard with a number on it. It’s time to get into the 21st century, deal with this problem, and stop harboring ideological contradictions. Giving you the ability to prove that you are who you say you are and minimizing criminals’ ability to steal your identity is exactly the kind of thing the government is there for. (Such an ID system would also minimize voter fraud and put us on the level of more technological nations like Brazil.)