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There is No Crisis at the Border — What I Think is Really Broken in Immigration (and Both Parties are At Fault)

January 15, 2019, 11:54 am

Kevin Drum has a good roundup of immigration statistics that really help to demonstrate that there is no new crisis at the border, and in fact with the exception in a rise of asylum requests, the border has been getting quieter for 10 years.

I think there are clearly elements of immigration that are broken.  I will highlight three that will likely alienate both sides of the political aisle. By the way, none of the three has to do with a wall.

  1. I don’t think we let in nearly enough legal immigrants each year — all the Conservative talk that they just want people to follow the legal immigration process is all so much BS.  The legal immigration numbers are such that it is simply impossible for many to qualify.  But all this is unnecessary for many as they are not actually after permanent residence or a life of leisure on welfare.  A lot of the people who cross the border illegally just want to work temporarily and go back home.  We need a far larger guest worker program where workers can go back and forth as much as they like.  Ironically, a lot of permanent settlement here by illegal immigrants is due to tougher border controls, not lax ones.  They would rather go back and forth and just come over to work, but given the risks in crossing the border they have incentives to stay on this side.
  2. A lot of the bad things Trump is trying to do at the border can trace back to the sanctuary city movement.  I initially was sympathetic to the sanctuary movement, as I support more immigration and know illegal immigrants who are good people just trying to make a life for their family.  I have turned against it as I have seen the reaction it has created.  I think a lot of the impetus behind the stupid wall proposals is that Republicans feel like the traditional immigration defense-in-depth enforcement approaches have all been undermined fatally by the sanctuary movement and that the only way to stop illegal immigration is right at the border.  The detainment and family separation issues last year seemed to be directly tied to the sanctuary movement, as Republicans most feared (probably rightly in many cases) that any border-crossers released waiting hearings would just run for a sanctuary city and be impossible to process at that point.
  3. For years I believe we had a national consensus that admitting refugees is a good thing, and that consensus seems to be broken.  Stories from Europe of violence and other issues stemming from the wave of mostly Muslim immigrants the last few years (the media is so polarized on this I still cannot figure out if these issues are real or imagined) have turned Conservatives against admitting refugees.  I will say the Left has not helped at all by expanding the definition of what constitutes a refugee and by weaponizing Central American refugees in their resistance to Trump.  We waste all kinds of money on foreign aid and other programs that, at best, don’t work.  But we have an incredible power to help the world.  First and foremost by trade and dropping our trade barriers.  But second by admitting a good number of the world’s stomped-upon and destitute to this country.  Our historic numbers of such folks admitted I would argue have always been miserly, but as a minimum we need to at least stick to those levels.

As with many of my posts, I am still thinking through this.  I grew up an immigration restrictionist but today simply cannot think of a reason why (welfare state and public services aside) we have a right to restrict people’s movement across borders.  I don’t have a problem limiting public services for some time period and voting rights, but if someone from Mexico and I contract to rent a room in my house or work for my company, I don’t think the government can restrict that.  I understand that there are perhaps limits to how many immigrants can be accomodated in a year for a variety of practical reasons, but we are way below those limits (as proven by our experience in the 19th century).

Disclosure: Like pretty much 100% of the Americans reading this, I am from a family of immigrants.  And like pretty much every other immigrant group, at one time or another my group has had the exact same language used against it that Conservatives use against Hispanic immigrants today.  My family happens to be German, and escaped the Kaiser in the late 19th century.  We have had it pretty good as far as immigrant groups go, but we had our time in the barrell in WWI.  I was at a party a while back and a woman who was a 2nd generation immigrant was railing at Mexicans for not being like other hard working immigrants who integrated into America.  I asked her where her family was from, and she said Hungaria.  I told her that early in the 20th Century Eastern Europeans like her family were treated to EXACTLY the same critiques and the strong immigration restrictions early in the century were mainly to stop eastern and southern (read: Italian) Europeans who were considered “bad” immigrants.  Replacing the Chinese who were the previous “bad” immigrants.  Replacing the Irish who were the “bad” immigrants before them.

Postscript:  I did not mention it above because I was talking more about the Mexican border and I don’t think there are a lot of PHD’s swimming the Rio Grande, but we for sure should be raising or perhaps waiving entirely any restrictions on talented, highly educated people from coming to this country.

Postscript #2:  I know folks have criticized me for my calling it a Berlin Wall on our border.   Sorry, but I have seen the Berlin wall from both sides and the wall prototypes look like the Berlin Wall to me.   I honestly am not sure why a border wall is immoral when set up by one side but moral when set up by the other.  Its the same wall restricting the same movement.  People respond that “its OK to wall people out of your house but not to be walled in.”  But the house analogy for immigration is totally flawed and drives me crazy.  The country is not one property unless you have a Marxist definition of property.  If you want a better analogy, the county is not a house but is an apartment building with 100 million apartments.   I want to welcome people from outside up to my apartment to visit me or maybe live with me or work with me. You want to change the door code and keep my visitors out.