Something is missing in the passionately debated border security, as a part of the immigration overhaul. Advocates for increased border protection bring up the issue of the nation’s security as the main reason for all the elaborate and expensive border protection provisions. People sneaking throughout the border are mostly low skilled and seeking entry level jobs in the U.S. It is a mystery to me how by picking strawberries at American farms or cutting meat in American slaughterhouses they can endanger the nation’s security.
Is there any enemy that tries to conquer our country by sneaking its agents through the border? No, Mr. Smith, an American employer has a job to offer and instead of hiring Mr. Jones, his neighbor, he prefers Mr. Gonzalez from Mexico. There are more Joneses than Smiths; hence, as a majority they voted in a restrictive immigration policy. Joneses want the government to use its military to stop at the border foreigners who want to compete with them for jobs. Nothing better describes the enemy that made our borders insecure than the old phrase from Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The immigration amnesty of 1986 is perceived as a failure because it did not stop illegal immigration. I am old enough to remember that in 1986 the core opposition to amnesty was the same as now: Americans wanted limited immigration, perceiving immigrants as taking their jobs. It was obvious then, that there was no way to stop foreigners from coming across the border illegally or by overstaying their visitor’s visas. Hence, in order to pacify opponents of the amnesty, the bill had a provision making it illegal for American employers to hire undocumented immigrants. As an employer then, I remember that the law had no teeth in it. I cannot know what was in Reagan’s mind on this issue, but I suspect that Reagan hoped that that law would never be fully enforced. This law can be fully enforced only in a totalitarian state as the Soviet Union was; it is a far reaching government restriction of the freedoms of individual; it is against the spirit of the Republic. This law, as well, should be challenged as unconstitutional, but as constitutional lawyers advise me, because of the Slaughter-House Case from 1873, it might be hard to win it. After all, for the first 210 years of the Republic, an American employer had the freedom to hire anyone regardless if this person came from across the street, across an ocean or across the Rio Grande. Forcing employers to ask for permission from a Washington bureaucrat to hire a foreigner does not sound to me as a concept favored by someone believing that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.“
Protecting American jobs is often mentioned in debates about immigration reform. Some Americans may lose jobs to immigrants, but usually civilization progress is the cause. In construction for example, not long ago it took weeks for a team of skillful carpenters to build a house frame. Today, those frames are prefabricated, and it takes a crane, one skillful man and one helper to put a house frame in days if not hours. This helper might be an immigrant, but he is not the reason why carpenters have less work. With commoditization of software programming, the prices for routine tasks are defined worldwide by what programmers in India are willing to accept. It is our choice whether this Indian programmer will work here, pay taxes here, pay rent here, buy his car here, or he will be employed in a foreign subsidy of an American corporation, paying taxes there and spending their profits there.
Immigration in general expands economy. An employer, not a bureaucrat in Washington, knows best how to increase productivity by hiring a few immigrants here or there. If a meat packing factory replaces Americans with immigrants on the production line, it likely will expand thanks to a lower labor cost. This opens opportunity for new, even better paid jobs in management and maintenance. This prospering factory generates new jobs in the community as well; hence, Americans who lost jobs to immigrants on the production line have plenty of opportunities to find other jobs, if they want to adjust. Protection of American jobs as it is now incorporated into our current immigration law puts our government in business of maintaining status quo, as opposition to progress. It means curbing productivity of the most productive among us at the cost of providing doubtful assistance to those who are too lazy to adjust to progress.
Making border security a condition of proceeding with the immigration reform is putting things upside down. We have unsecure borders due to our unrealistic immigration law, due to putting our military as a government tool of micromanaging the labor market. Despite that this is pure socialism, many people calling themselves conservatives support this policy with a straight face. If we recognize that the faulty immigration policy caused the massive illegal immigration, then one should expect that the immigration reform would establish a new policy that foreigners who can find a job here would be able to come and work here legally. This way people seeking employment here would not need to cross the border illegally. Only drug dealers, smugglers and other criminals would cross the border illegally, but then why should dealing with them be part of our immigration policy?
The mantra of immigration opponents is that if we relax rules of admission, the next day billions of immigrants would arrive. If this was true, we would have them already, because as far as reports from the border tell us, almost everyone who wants to cross the border illegally eventually does it. Hence, the size of our population of illegal immigrants is defined by the needs of our labor market, not by the effectiveness of the border security. Even more, if we allowed free labor movement, during recession, unemployed immigrants would go home, knowing that they could return.
The lofty talk about border security in the context of our immigration reform is big baloney. Whatever immigration related problems we have on our borders they can and should be corrected by establishing realistic immigration policy that people seeking employment would have no benefit from coming and staying illegally. We will obtain full border security if instead of a double or triple layer fence on our Mexican border we will form an even better fence guarding our supposedly free market economy from the politicians eager to micromanage it.
Henryk A. Kowalczyk is an author of the Freedom of Migration, an alternative immigration reform proposal, www.freedomofmigration.com