Friday, January 6, 2017


I like to think the immigration problem in America would not be hard to fix by enforcing clear rules and setting a precise number of approved immigrants in the respective categories.  But it seems as if 1/2 the country thinks more immigrants would be better and the other half goes for fewer than our historical average.  Could we agree on a compromise "number" that given our current population would be considered optimal?  Is that a strategy? I realize there is a NONE crowd and there is a proportion we could call generous  that considers more is typically better.  So let's start with the facts.  For the last several years we have had approximately 6 million applications for refugee status, asylum, legal residency, and citizenship every year.  Last quarter we admitted 160,000 new citizens (I know one of them and America is definitely getting a good deal) and the DHS approved approximately 1 million green cards last year.  That's a typical number since 2000.

In my last post I noted that there were in 1965 approximately 260,000 new immigrants per year and since 2000 about 1 million new legal immigrants per year.  If we look at the population as a percent of those born in the USA and those that are foreign born, we see that in 1965 about 3.8% of the population was foreign born while today the number is 14%.  We have become more international and diverse.  The big unknown is the illegal immigrant population which is estimated at 12 million.  There are claims that it is much higher--and there are claims that the number is not actually a set of people but a rotating group of different people that work here illegally and then go home.  At any given time there are about 12 million here "undocumented".

What is frustrating is that the immigration problem has worsened for 50 years because of a deliberate refusal by the leadership to address it intelligently and comprehensively.  They have preferred using it as a foil to score points against the political opposition. They make half-hearted efforts to appease the citizenry but allow complexity to give them payoffs from clients that need cheap agricultural labor in the central valley of California, Iowa meat packers, or large hotel chains that need low cost room cleaners. Others claim they don't see the need for immigration control at all.  The situation requires "flexibility" so that there can be no number placed on the total allowed.  They have a fundamental belief that more diversity is better.  Why more hardworking poor people in America is "better" is assumed, not clearly stated. There is an almost unstated conviction that more diversity is strength. But I think controlled immigration is necessary for any country.  We need a mechanism that allows citizens to determine it.  There should be NO illegal immigration.  All cheaters go to the back of the line.  You cannot have a system  that rewards cheating.

The above is so obvious it is amazing that 50 years of "talking" about it has been unable to solve it.  .  It has been known for 50 years how to manage the border.  Building a wall is stupid and counter productive.  The main reason people come is for economic opportunity.  Others are subject to existential threats of political or social violence. It was 40+ years ago when I worked in Germany as a "Gastarbeiter" and they required that my employer pay me into a bank account.  I could not get a bank account until I showed my work permit.  Voila! How hard was that?  As an added inducement, the taxes that were taken out of my paycheck were returned to me when I left the country.  If the fine were $10,000 to an employer for payments 'under the table' and if immediate deportation was the result of working illegally then the incentives would be aligned to have very limited amounts of illegal work.  In addition all temp or guest workers would have to provide their address in the country.  It's called registering with the local police department.  Any mayor or county commissioner could say, "we have X guest workers in our area". 

I notice the headline in my paper last Sunday asks, should the census ask people if they are citizens? It is curious that that is controversial.   It could be amusing to hear that a certain percentage of people queried wouldn't know.  "No one has ever told me I am citizen and I don't have a citizenship card", they might say.  Addressing immigration may require that we consider National Identity. What is it? To prove it requires presenting a birth certificate but there is no current status card or ID proof. I am by looks and manner an obvious American. I am also 65 years old and get a little miffed when the clerk asks me for my ID to buy a bottle of wine.  It is "required", they say.  How annoying to have to prove the obvious.  I may realistically only be able to assign 10-15 nationalities to their appropriate countries if I was asked but I am quite sure that almost anyone in the world shown a 5 minute video of me talking in an unmarked room would have no problem identifying me as American.   So I do not like the implications of requiring a national identification card or number.  I am an American and slightly rebellious.  But I want to solve this immigration problem and it may require that all of us citizens be listed.  We need to know who we are.   Is a unique national identity number a solution?  Perhaps I would feel better if I called it a citizenship number.... You would have to have a citizenship number to vote or get a passport.  So we wouldn't have a national identity card but we would be on a state and local "citizenship list".  You could get a card if you wanted to.  I don't know how many different classifications we need-but we could talk about it.  The objective is for any city or State administration to be able to say, "this is the list of citizens in my district and this is the list of visa holders and permanent residents".  When you are granted citizenship--you are given a citizenship number.  Employers would be required to have citizenship numbers or a work visa to deduct payroll expenditures. People couldn't get paid unless they provided their immigration status.

Is there anyone worried about fraud?  Fake SS numbers and/or fake national ID #'s.  You can make up a citizenship number.  It is not RFID or tattooed on our left shoulder.    But I note that when I want to get money out of an ATM in an hotel in Bolivia--Citibank is able to verify that it is me fairly quickly and get me some cash.  The identification problem is not intractable.   Congress considers this periodically but the big question is whether having an identity number is an invasion of privacy. Nobody wants to be asked for their papers.  It sounds like the Gestapo.  So do we have to say who we are? Must we identify ourselves?

Some of us may not wish to identify ourselves. Are we free or not?  Sometimes I think the government assumes you are free to do what you are told or pay the consequences.  Perhaps though we are hoping to become better people and are not satisfied with who we have been.  We want the freedom of defining ourselves in a new way.  So we don't like having to say who we are.  We have to accept who we have been but we want the freedom to determine who we might become.  So some of us don't like our identity being who we have been.  We are already using the SS number as our national ID.  Do we need a another # specific for citizenship?  I think we do.  It could be abused unless it was made legal not to be required to give it.  It would only be required for defined purposes.  So if I am walking down the street could a police barricade require me to produce national identification or be arrested? No charges of wrong doing, just a general legal survey to determine whether you belong on the streets or should be shipped back to El Salvador. No.  I do not support that.  Illegal immigrants would be detected in the process of accessing services.  When they register their children in school, when they run a stop sign, when they are hurt and treated in the hospital.  They could live as homeless vagabonds but that would get old.  How would they get paid, buy a house, rent an apartment?  Do anything?

To me the essential problem is public information for public policy. We need to know what is going on.  We have to feel assured that the people we are interacting with are legal status Americans. I cannot determine whether a business I hire uses illegal workers.  Several years ago I had my roof re-done because of hail damage.  I got 3 quotes and one was significantly lower.  I suspected that the workers were illegal.  I received several good recommendations from previous jobs they had done.  I hired them, they did a good job but they arrived in a white Suburban with Texas (Brownsville) plates and not a one spoke English.  The supervisor was from Puerto Rico and spoke English.  When quizzed about their work status, he assured me that they all had their papers in order.  Do I believe it?  Should I ask him to prove it?  Is it my job as a citizen to discriminate against those I suspect may be illegal or is it worse to suspect lawful workers?  Is there any way to assure--I am hiring legal workers?  Does the Hilton hotel in San Antonio even care?  I do not think they do and that makes them fine global citizens but suspect Americans.

If the government will not address the problem then we citizens will have our opinions and frankly they are divisive.  The government can get this right but it will take money and they should appropriate it.  They might have to dial back the Empire and sharpen the domestic focus.  I am not advocating isolationism, only a principled internationalism.  Can anybody become Swiss just because they like Heidi and their opportunities have narrowed where they live?  Of course not.  Europe is in an immigration crisis and America is confused about its own identity. We need to remove the confusion.  We are the generous nation that admits 1 million new citizens a year but we don't accept illegal immigrants and they must go home irrespective of their good reasons for coming.

The key point is that anybody can become an American but not everybody can become an American....


No comments:

Post a Comment