Monday, May 13, 2013

It's Time to Face Facts About Illegal Immigration

It's Time to Face Facts About Illegal Immigration:
If rain is pouring and you don't want to get wet, you have a few
choices. You can stay inside. You can put on a raincoat, grab an
umbrella and brave the torrent. Or you can step outside and demand
that it stop.
This last option has obvious advantages. It doesn't interfere
with your daily routine, and it doesn't require rain gear. The only
flaw is that it doesn't work.
Congress faces a similar choice when it comes to
immigration laws. A tentative consensus has formed around a package
of changes that would let many people living here illegally stay
and eventually gain citizenship. But some conservatives are opposed
to what they deride as "amnesty." They insist instead on going on
an enforcement spending spree, while barring undocumented
foreigners from any hope of becoming Americans.
Both ideas reside in a dimension far removed from reality.
Efforts to secure the border have been radically intensified in
recent years without stopping people from sneaking in. Efforts to
make life miserable for those who are not supposed to be here have
not made them leave.
Conservatives usually recognize the futility of resisting
powerful market forces. They know that price controls and minimum
wage laws have a way of backfiring. But some of them exhibit a
touching faith that with enough diligence, the federal government
can seal off the U.S. labor market from the world.
It can't. When a relatively poor country whose jobs pay little
shares a long border with a rich one whose jobs pay much better,
many of those in Country A will migrate to Country B -- even if it
means they must pay large fees to criminal smugglers, risk death in
crossing, do dirty and unpleasant work and endure the constant
danger of being arrested and evicted.
Today, the government spends nearly 10 times as much on the
Border Patrol as it did in 1993. What does Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas,
propose now? Tripling the number of Border Patrol officers and
quadrupling outlays on surveillance gadgets. But if carpet-bombing
the Rio Grande with cash hasn't worked so far, it probably isn't
going to work in the future.
The trouble is that border agents have to succeed every time a
particular migrant tries to cross, but the migrant has to succeed
only once. A 2009 study from the Center for Comparative Immigration
Studies at the University of California, San Diego found that "of
those who are caught, all but a tiny minority eventually get
through -- between 92 and 98 percent."
The enemies of the Senate reform plan often sound as though they
have a much better solution. But the alternative is not some magic
formula that will rid the nation of those residing here without
legal permission. It's merely to consign them to inferior status,
forever. It's the status quo.
What's wrong with that? Just about everything. It means 11
million people, including 1.7 million brought here as children (the
"dreamers"), will go on living among us without the protections of
the law.
As a result, they are more likely to be underpaid, more apt to
work off the books, more vulnerable to crime and less likely to pay
the taxes they owe. There's not much upside for any of us.
If the concern is that undocumented foreigners will impose a
fiscal burden, it makes sense to get them out in the open -- where
they will remit taxes like other legal workers. They can already
get free emergency medical care, and their kids can attend public
schools. It's not as though the current situation is a fiscal
bargain.
One of those young dreamers who is barred from going to college
or joining the military is more likely to become a public burden
than one who is free to pursue her vocational ambitions. A
youngster whose parents are deported may not be able to get the
education to be a productive citizen.
If the concern is that unauthorized immigrants drive down the
wages of American workers, it likewise makes no sense to keep them
in the underground economy, where unscrupulous employers can pay
them less than a normal market wage. Once they can work legally,
their wages are likely to rise, reducing any downward pressure on
earnings.
No one relishes the task of finding useful ways to address the
longstanding results of illegal immigration, but they require
attention. Congress can make an omelet, or it can try to unscramble
the eggs.