Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Great Immigration Scam

The same kind of myopic subservience to special interests that brought us the credit crisis and other gems now brings us a host of proposals to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.

The media have refused to look at the situation critically and have helped push the amnesty plan on everyone. To oppose it is to be branded a racist troglodyte of the lowest order. But the truth will set you free, and the truth is an amnesty plan will be bad for everyone but the wealthiest among us. 

When I moved back to New York after several years away, I had a job as an immigration inspector at JFK airport. It was the job that enabled me to move back, and I worked at JFK for about two years. We were trained at a federal law enforcement training center like law enforcement officers. We were given badges and guns, even bullet-proof vests. But many of us, particularly those of us who were sent to work at airports as opposed to land borders, were more like glorified clerks than real law enforcement officers.

Here's an illustration of our immigration system at work: A passenger from India stood before me with a regular tourist visa. "How long do you plan to visit the United States?" I asked. 

"Well maybe two weeks, but you will give me six months," was her reply. Now, unless you are very, very wealthy, you cannot afford to go on vacation halfway around the world for six months. Most well-off Americans can't afford that, and this woman was a middle-class Indian at best. If she was going to stay for six months, there was little doubt she'd be working here illegally. 

We were under strict orders to give every regular tourist or business visa six months no matter what, because that was the maximum allowed under law. Back when more inspectors were giving people two weeks in the country when the person said they were only staying for two weeks, federal offices would be flooded with people working here illegally asking for their time extended for some bullshit excuse or another. To avoid this bureaucratic flood, the answer simply became to give everyone more time here. They could go home to visit every six months to keep up appearances and not technically overstay their visas, and they could go on living and working here illegally so long as they didn't get caught. 

The government knew exactly what was going on, but instead of doing something to solve the problem, they just set policies in place so that no one had to. It is pretty disheartening to see people day after day skirt and break the laws you are supposed to uphold.

Not every part of my experience working for the immigration service was a frustrating disappointment. I saw many people coming into the U.S. who exemplified the best parts of our immigration tradition. I met hard-working people who were proud to be coming to America. I met people who had endured great human rights abuses. I met people who would rather be fry cooks in the U.S. than engineers in their native countries.

But every American with eyes knows that our current immigration system is failing at its function of bringing in people who will be productive citizens and keeping out those that won't. There is not a well-funded lobbying effort among disaffected Americans seeking any real reforms. The U.S. government is allowing unprecedented amount of people into the country, and long ago gave up on the policies that made past generations of immigrants a success. 

Our tradition of immigration worked because it was well managed. Immigrants who came to this country were able to assimilate because we had a system in place that demanded they do so, and selected who was more likely to succeed in the U.S. We are now bringing in large numbers of people less likely to assimilate, and making no demand that they do so. This is a recipe for failure, and both major political parties have embraced this policy of failure. 

Allowing in millions of uneducated people who don't speak English is not good for the country, and it's not racist to say so. We already have too many immigrants, legal and illegal, to assimilate reasonably well. Enacting any kind of amnesty plan will only make this problem worse in the future. A reasonable immigration policy means many good people wouldn't be able to come to the United States, but being a responsible adult means sometimes saying "no" to good people.

But large numbers of unskilled, uneducated workers help create a glut of labor that keeps wages artificially low, and that pleases the moneyed interests that control our political leaders. That is one of the reasons why the current amnesty push has so much bipartisan support. It also puts on a path to citizenship millions of nonwhites, who will presumably all vote Democratic, creating a permanent demographic majority. This scares Republicans enough to try to jump on the bandwagon so as not to be branded as racists—even Rand Paul has sold out.

In fact—and even Paul Krugman agrees— lower wages for blue collar work will have a disproportionate effect on blacks and Hispanics. Where is your disparate impact theory now, Democrats? 

This is the country's last chance to put a stop to short-sighted policies that have screwed over the working and middle classes for decades, and try to turn things around. If immigration amnesty goes through, generations from now our descendants will ask us why we let it happen.

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