Is Immigration Amnesty Bad Public Policy?

Nativists quickly label any legalization plan as immigration amnesty and a magnet for more illegal immigration, but is that true? America’s Nativist lobby, led by the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA went into hyper-drive when the ‘gang of eight’ U.S. Senators announced plans for sweeping immigration reforms.

Net illegal immigration from Mexico recently dropped to zero, reflecting Mexico’s healthy economy and jobless U.S. economic recovery. Cartoonist Michael Ramirez offers his own perspective:

immigration amnesty

Copyright Michael Ramirez – reposted with permission

America’s Mass Amnesty Experience

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued his The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction giving amnesty to all confederates who swore a loyalty oath. Andrew Johnson continued Lincoln’s policy but added 14 exceptions.

Progressive era liberals were avid supporters of racial eugenics and passed very restrictive immigration laws to ban Chinese in 1882, all Asians in 1917 (Asiatic Barred Zone Act). Strict strict quotas followed in 1921 and 1924, with 85% of immigrant visas reserved for Nordic Northern/Western Europe, banning non-European immigration.

Early 20th century immigration shifted to Southern/Eastern Europe. Italy furnished 200,000 per year, but Italy’s quota was set at just 3,845! By the late 20s several million immigrants from Southern/Eastern Europe were here illegally, and granted immigration amnesty. In the 30s, “Mexicans” were blamed for depression era joblessness. One half million were deported; 60% of the “Mexicans” were citizens, and the rest mostly legal guest workers.

1965 immigration reforms removed nation quotas, and remains the policy foundation today. The “braceros” guest worker program implemented during wartime labor shortages was eliminated in 1960s due to pressure from big labor, laying the groundwork for future illegal immigration. Historically, whenever demand for immigrant labor far exceeds quotas, mass illegal immigration results.

During the Vietnam War, 100,000 Americans fled to avoid military service. In 1977, Jimmy Carter granted pardons to draft evaders, who by then had already lived at least several years in exile.

In 1986, Congress granted amnesty to most unauthorized immigrants, and 3 million received green cards. None of the dire consequences predicted by Nativists occurred. It’s no surprise we hear the same arguments today.

Is Immigration Amnesty a Magnet?

Opponents of immigration reform insist amnesty is a “magnet” for more law breaking, but what does history say?

In the civil war, millions of Americans committed treason, punishable by death, and yet despite Lincoln’s mass amnesty we have not experienced another civil war.

Did mass immigration amnesty to 1920s immigrants spark more illegal immigration? No. The great depression and massive unemployment deterred immigration in general. The next wave of mass illegal immigration came in the 1950s, when labor needs of a resurgent post-war economy far outstripped braceros quotas.

There’s no evidence amnesty for draft evasion led to more draft evasion. The Vietnam war was hugely unpopular among young Americans at the time. Many believed they would be denied conscientious objector status.

Did the 1986 Immigration Amnesty Increase Illegal Immigration? What is Amnesty?

Immigration restrictionists quickly label any immigration reform leading to legal status as immigration amnesty. However, amnesty is akin to a pardon, forgiveness without punishment for a wrong. All proposals in recent years required stiff fines, and long waits for permanent resident status behind those already ‘in line.’ Some plans barred citizenship forever. Nativists intentionally conflate “amnesty”  with “path to legalization” despite a range of solutions between mass deportations and mass immigration amnesty.

Congress promised to follow up with guest worker reforms and border security. Guest worker reforms still haven’t happened to this day, due to Big Labor opposition. Congress did follow-up with more border security, but slowly.

Is Immigration Amnesty the Answer?

Immigration amnesty by itself will not fix our broken immigration system, and is unfair to legal immigrants who waited a long time, some since 1989. Problems are solved by addressing root causes, not ‘band aids.’ We admit 1.8 million guest workers each year, while another 7.5 million ‘guest workers’ lack legal status, filling jobs not enough Americans want. Robust guest worker programs that flex with our economy are urgently needed, and would enhance border security by diverting migrant workers to legal channels.

Nativists claim we are overrun with immigrants and our economy will collapse due to immigration reform, but as a percentage of population the U.S. ranks #22 among 34 OECD nations. Our legal immigration level is just 0.334% of populationTiny Luxembourg ranks #1, accepting 3.116%, while affluent Switzerland accepts 1.751%. Canada accepts 0.825%, 2-1/2 times that of the U.S. The Nativist lobby wants draconian cuts to ‘traditional’ 1956 levels, or 0.084%, #32 of 34 OECD nations. No, we are not overrun with immigrants!

The lesson of 1986 is piecemeal solutions and ‘ band aids’  don’t work. If Congress followed up with robust guest worker programs, we wouldn’t have 10 million immigrants here illegally! True, we have more than in 1986, but illegal immigration waxes and wanes with our economy. The magnet is jobs, not future amnesty that is far from certain.

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Bob Quasius is the founder and president of Cafe Con Leche Republicans – original link

Immigration Reform for the Sake of National Security

by Bob Price (re-posted with author’s permission – original link)

Immigration reform should be viewed as a matter of national security and not social engineering. Currently our immigration system is more about family reunification than it is about economic needs and national security. In fact, the current system is so broken that we have millions of undocumented people wandering around the country,  and we have no idea who they are, why they are here, or the history of their background. The current system must be reformed, not to pander to the voting block of one particular group or another, but rather because our national needs require it.

Many times groups try to label any attempt at immigration reform as amnesty. They dig their heels into the ground screaming “Amnesty, Amnesty” like it is some kind of honorable battle cry. The reality is, their blocking of immigration reform has actually granted a de facto amnesty to those who have entered the country illegally and those who entered legally but remained after their visas expired. Millions of people are allowed to stay without examination as to purpose or history. This is a dangerous situation to us all.

Furthermore, our current stance of increasing border security (which should continue) without correcting the problems of our broken immigration system have led to much lawlessness along the border and across the nation. While our borders have become more secure, we do not have any kind of guest worker program for people to come here legally, which has created a market for human trafficking and slavery. Instead of simply applying for a legal work permit, people who are starving for work to support their families are forced to engage in criminal behavior to come here. Not only do they spend thousands of dollars to human smugglers, they end up bringing their families because it is too difficult to come and go legally.

The revenue of human trafficking along our borders also helps fuel the armies of the drug cartels. A virtual civil war is going on along our southern border making parts of Mexico more dangerous than Iraq. Thousands of Mexicans are being killed because of this. Furthermore, once the human cargo has arrived in the United States, we have created more lawlessness as many unscrupulous employers will illegally hire these workers and improperly misclassified them as independent contractors, pay them sub-standard wages, steal wages from their workers and deprive the government of much needed tax revenue.

Most of the millions of people who are here and who come here illegally, do so without any evil intent. They come here seeking work and wages whereby they can support themselves and their families. But for those who do come here with criminal intent, our broken system enables them to hide in the shadows. Once they have committed crimes, they can simply change their names and disappear into the darkness, or they can simply move to another community and start over again. A reformed system should provide for a biometric identification system which would render annonymity much more difficult.

In addition to the national security needs of our nation, immigration reform is also needed for economic reasons. Despite the fact that our nation suffers from high levels of unemployment and underemployment, there is still a high and unfulfilled demand for manual labor workers. Our current education system is focused on sending people to colleges and universities for high-paying white-collar jobs. In the mean time, employers in the service, construction, agriculture and many other industries struggle to find workers.

Immigration Reform and Guest Worker Programs are not about providing cheap labor to employers. It is about providing workers who are willing to do the work. I remember hearing President Bush, in a State of the Union speech, say that we need immigrant workers to do the jobs American’s won’t do. I was angry – very angry. I thought that was a lie. But as I have studied this problem and talked with employers who want and can’t find legal workers in adequate supply, I have learned that it really is true. Groups like FAIR, the Center for Immigration Studies, and NumbersUSA claim that a guest worker program would create a slave-labor class of workers. The exact opposite is true. Our current broken system has already created a slave labor pool of unidentified workers who cannot compete in the open marketplace and who are afraid to report substandard wages and wage theft.

McAllen International Bridge between US and Mexico

Workers participating in a legal guest worker program would be able to compete in the open marketplace for jobs. If an employer attempted to abuse the worker’s rights either by paying substandard wages or comitting wage theft, the worker would be able to report the employer’s unethical and illegal behaviors as well as move to another job.

Immigration reform would also help legitimate employers in the marketplace. Under our current system, unethical employers are able to have an improper competitive advantage over companies who seek to follow the law. They do this by avoiding taxes through misclassifying workers as independent contractors, paying substandard wages and even stealing wages from a captive slave-labor market. In addition to unfair business competition, these unethical employers also place a burden on taxpayers. By misclassifying workers as independent contractors, they allow deadbeat parents to hide from the child support collection process thereby adding single parents not receiving child support to our welfare roles. Furthermore, by not providing workmen’s compensation and health insurance benefits to their “independent contractors”, workers who are injured on the job end up being dumped in emergency rooms adding to our expanding healthcare costs. Additionally, many of these employers hold these workers under hostile conditions where they are truly held as captors in a slave-labor market.

Border Security and Immigration Reform must both move forward. Not because it is pandering to one side or the other, but because it is the right thing to do for our nation’s security, social and economic needs. The current standoff plays into the hands of Democrats who want to keep the issue as a wedge issue to separate some conservatives from voting for Republicans. But more importantly, it is simply an ongoing amnesty for the people who are here and for those who illegally and improperly profit from this stalemate. We must continue to make the borders more secure, but we cannot wait until some date in the future to also address the issue of reforming our broken immigration system.