Montana Politics

Citizenship Reform the Only Patriotic Option

Written by The Polish Wolf
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First, a note on the title: The term ‘immigration reform’ seems to me a bit inaccurate. Very little is proposed that would change the number of human beings coming to the United States from abroad. Instead, we need to focus on those who are already immigrants (their numbers, at least from Mexico, are in fact relatively steady) , giving them a path to become citizens. There are any number of humanitarian reasons to do this, but a fair portion of American lawmakers don’t seem capable of perceiving humanity without accompanying documentation, so lets look at why citizenship reform is absolutely essential from the perspective of the United States, socially and economically.

Socially, we are currently locked in a situation where millions of people are legally or illegally part of the labor market but have no say in the governance of the country. The advantage this gives to the ‘one percent’ – a steady supply of non-voting labor, is a huge force for producing inequality between labor and capital. Many claim that giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship rewards lawbreaking, and is somehow morally detrimental to society. I would challenge that: imagine instead the effect it has on the rule of law and the perception thereof to have millions of people in the US living and working in violation of the law, and yet hurting no one? How is watching your uncle or next door neighbor get deported for entirely abstract reasons supposed to create a perception that the law and its agents are fair and worthy of respect, especially in the minds of young, legal immigrants living in neighborhoods where this happens? Finally, if crime is a real concern, doesn’t it make sense to give those whose only crime is lacking proper documentation a chance at a legal livelihood, rather than essentially forcing them to work under the table or in actually illegal industries (drugs, trafficking, etc)?

Economically, the long-term cost of restricting immigration in a situation with declining birth-rates is very clear – just look at Japan. it is clear that if the native-born population is experiencing fertility rates below replacement rates, immigration from outside the country is important to keep the overall population from aging more rapidly than it can support its newly geriatric population. The US is fortunate to have a culture that is traditionally open to immigration and millions of people who would like to live here as American citizens. These advantages have saved us much of the demographic shock that has slowed the economies of Japan and (to a lesser extent) Europe. Continuing to demonize undocumented immigrants (and immigrants generally), however, threatens to squander these invaluable resources. And the continuing ease with which the global economy can move jobs across borders and oceans means it is a huge advantage to be able to bring talented workers to the US, not hire them as they continue to live (and pay taxes) overseas. Here the use of non-immigrant visas like the H-1B can be somewhat useful, in moving some of the tax revenues onshore, but they leave the basic problem that the skilled labor you bring here (and give experience to, and train further) is eventually going to go home, to say nothing of the capital-labor distortion of having a whole class of laborers literally inhabiting this country at the whim of their employers.

It is therefore difficult to see how continuing to perpetuate the current immigration/citizenship system can possibly work to the advantage of the US, to say nothing of the undocumented immigrants who directly suffer from it.

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The Polish Wolf

5 Comments

  • I don’t know what if any immigration reform will pass the Congress, but something that nobody’s talking about is that dumping lots of immigrant workers into our economy is going to have a very negative affect on the low-income workers we already have.

    It’s throwing blacks under the bus – At 14 percent for adults and 43.1 percent for 16-to-19-year-old teenagers, blacks still have the highest jobless rate of any minority group in the U.S.

    Importing more low-wage workers will only make that worse.

    • We absolutely need to import more workers, both high-income and low-wage.

      From the Shannon K. O’Neil of the Brookings Institute:

      On the U.S. side of the border, the demographic trends are different but just as definitive. As the eighty-million-strong baby-boomer generation looks to its retirement years (the first members turned sixty-five on January 1, 2011), the economic challenges for the United States are hard to overstate. With baby boomers making up a quarter of the U.S. population, never has the age pyramid been so top heavy. The sixty million Generation Xers that follow will have a difficult time single-handedly filling the soon-to-be open professional slots, leaving approximately five million open jobs by 2018, according to a study by Barry Bluestone and Mark Melnik of Northeastern University.90 Upending the current thinking, the coming decades’ quandary may be whether we have enough workers. Some do recognize this growing need for migrants to boost the U.S. labor force—mostly at the high end of the scale. Thomas L. Friedman and others have called for the government to “staple a green card” to every PhD and engineering diploma.91 Numerous studies show the benefits that well-trained immigrants and their children bring to the U.S. economy. They create jobs—founding a quarter of all the engineering and technology-related companies—and disproportionally drive growth through new inventions and patents.92 Other nations also understand this and are competing to attract the global best and brightest—the founders of the next Google, Intel, or eBay. Less heralded but perhaps as vital is the need for lower-skilled labor. In 1960, half of the native-born male population never completed high school. Today, less than 10 percent drop out before graduation. Yet jobs at the low-skill end—such as fast food, retail, and transportation—will only increase. Studies suggest that by 2016, over seventy million jobs will require a high school education or less, and will likely be increasingly filled by immigrants.

    • Here’s the thing – we won’t be ‘importing’ any more. Immigration from Mexico, our chief source of immigrant workers, is at a net zero. What ‘immigration reform’ (which is actually citizenship reform) will do is give a path to legal work for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here and, if your argument is correct, already taking jobs from Americans of whatever race. Indeed, giving them a path to citizenship will likely increase their wages, making it easier for other citizens to compete with them for jobs.

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