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Why Illegal Immigration Matters

The last round of Republican debates has brought the issue back to the fore, even though some hosts and pundits have warned the party not to get sidelined by discussing illegal immigration. But the question is does it matter?

Republicans in the last few years have begun surrendering values issues to focus on economic issues, but illegal immigration is not a values issue. It's not even simple a law issue-- it is an issue of basic economics.

The social safety net is undermined by demographics and uncontrolled spending, but the arrival of large numbers of people with large families who work off the books is a major load. It's a major load in the UK and through Europe. It's a major load here.

There are two diametrical responses to this problem. Some form of legalization, whether it's full amnesty or a path to citizenship or a special status for migrant workers. Or enforcement.

The problem with the variations of the first approach is that it is attempting to tame the problem without actually addressing it. Illegal immigration exists because employers want cheap labor and because illegal immigrants want access to a First World economy and its social safety net.

Amnesty or a path to citizenship does nothing to address either problem. Employers will still want cheap labor and illegal immigrants will still keep coming. A path to citizenship will legalize some of them, but that will do nothing for the overall problem.

Migrant workers gives employers access to cheap labor, but only temporarily. Liberal activism is sure to regulate any migrant labor and price it above that of illegal aliens-- and that puts us right back to square uno. On top of that giving millions of people access to a vast country in which they can easily vanish, or just make their way to sanctuary cities, can't be described as securing the border.

In Europe, temporary workers eventually became permanent citizens. That is how Germany picked up so many Muslims. Europeans have learned that if you let someone in, they're going to stay. So again all the middle of the road alternatives lead back to the same place. The illegals become legalized and demand for illegal labor remains high.

Illegal immigration is less of a problem than it used to be when our economy was thriving, but it's still a major issue. And the heavy load on social services at the state level is bringing down already burdened state economies, which will have to be bailed out all over again.

Some state governors have chosen enforcement, but Texas governors have traditionally not been in favor of strong enforcement. They do have to win elections, and so does the Republican party. The last time a Texan was in the White House, it took a revolt from his own party to avert immigration reform. And here we are again with a major unsolved problem in the headlights.

Enforcement remains widely unpopular and that's not at all surprising. The America of today is much more a country of immigrants than it used to be, and even for many conservatives, deportation is a non-starter. Which just leaves tightening current border security, which can mean anything from talking about building a wall to sending up some drones to help the border patrol spot one out of a thousand crossers. Mostly it means nothing at all.

Deportation isn't all that unfeasible, but few politicians are ready to accept the political risk of it. Republicans are still courting the Latino vote, and while there's more diversity and division within the Latino community on illegal immigration than conventional wisdom would have it, it still tends to lean in favor of some form of legalization.

That leaves us with the current state of the situation where the government occasionally pretends to enforce the law, and the public pretends to nod approvingly. But at the same time, failing to address the problem makes the long term prospects for American economic and political viability fairly dim.

Americans don't think in terms of cultures anymore, they think in terms of systems anymore, which makes it hard to formulate a compelling argument against illegal immigration. If people from a failed state move here, then they're exchanging one political system for another, which means that once they cast their vote, they're Americans. Of course it doesn't work that way.

The American system is its own culture, but it is also shaped by the cultures of immigrants. Move enough of Mexico to the United States, and the United States will be a lot more like Mexico. It's an indisputable truth that hardly gets addressed. There are good things that will come of that, but more bad ones, considering that Mexico is a failed state with a political culture that is as unworkable as it could possibly be.

The economics of the situation are even worse. Incoming immigrants are unskilled manual labor in a country which is already short of manual unskilled jobs. Latino employment has increased and unemployment has decreased even in the middle of an economic recession. The actual off the books numbers would be even worse.

The Northeast and the West Coast have been bleeding jobs for years. Texas has been picking up jobs and 40 percent of that job growth has been to illegal immigrants. 81 percent were taken by newly arrived immigrants, legal and illegal. Of those 93 percent were not US citizens.Native born American employment in Texas has actually fallen by 5 percent.

Those numbers do come from a decidedly biased source, but they're not all that hard to believe. And they set up a much larger problem. The liberal approach has been to move us to a European style economy with high taxes, a welfare state, natives that have three degrees and no jobs, while the jobs go to immigrants. Add on the bubbles to provide a temporary prosperity before a recession sets in and the picture is complete.

Clearly this isn't working. Bubbles and cheap labor paid for with expensive social services don't work. Neither does going into hock to pay for spending which will eventually come due. After inflating the cost of labor, illegal immigrants are a loophole that allow many businesses to cut costs at a high price. The high price comes due when the cost of a social safety net that native workers can't afford to maintain is realized.

Then add on crime rates. There's no reason for illegal immigrants to work off the books and there's no reason why off the books labor shouldn't be criminal. Smuggling drugs pays better than being a busboy. So does stealing and stripping copper. We have some job growth in mining, but there's plenty in illegal mining too.

Immigration reform advocates say that legalization can fix the problem, but as long as Mexico is a bleeding wound and its economy is tethered to money sent home by immigrants, there's no reason to believe that's the case. We can't legalize everyone and so long as the demand remains, the supply will be there. It's the drug war all over again.

We have a high cost of labor, some of which goes to a social safety net, which employers would like to bypass. Liberals want the safety net, but they also want the illegal immigration.

Republicans who adopt this contradictory reasoning are defending the indefensible. We can have the social safety net or illegal immigration, but we can't have both. So long as the social safety net makes illegal immigration appealing to employers and illegals, then illegal immigration is here to stay. And the added cost of illegal immigration to a social safety net which they take from, but do not pay into, will bring down the social safety net.

We can deregulate everything, in which case Americans will be left with no jobs and no social safety net. Or we can regulate everything, which would mean an expensive social safety and  some jobs, or we can keep trying for a halfway solution. But no solution that does not address this problem is even worth talking about.

But since immigration and the social safety net are both popular, then politicians can't point out that you can't really indefinitely combine both. Most Americans of both parties will choose the social safety net over illegal immigration, but they won't get that choice. And that's the real problem.

The last time we had this debate over the cost of cheap labor and its importance to certain sectors of the economy at the expensive of native jobs, it ended in a civil war. Slavery was just one means of getting cheap labor. The full moral and economic cost of slavery is incalculable. It nearly destroyed America. And the price of illegal immigration may end up being even higher.

Does illegal immigration matter? Absolutely. Are we likely to seriously address it? Unlikely. The issue is wrapped up in race and in the hypocrisy of corporations who donate to the Republican party but oppose immigration reform, and corporations who donate to the Democrats and support the social safety net, both of whom leave a mess that everyone will have to clean up.

As long as Mexico remains a pipeline for cheap off the books labor, and as long as a social safety net increases the cost of domestic labor-- the problem will remain crying out for a solution.


  1. Its an awful thing when a nation will not protect its own borders and its own citizens.
    Perry is a disaster regarding immigration and tuition for illegal immigrants, but so was Bush, so is Barry, so will they all be. They simply don't care about the nation, only their jobs.

  2. It was painful to hear Perry talk of college tuition for illegal immigrants:(

    My poor mother, second generation Italian American, wouldn't have given the world for a college education. There were no such things as student loans or grants in the 1940s. Your family was either rich and could afford it or you soaked up every life/cultural experience and every bit of history, English, math, music, arts you could get in grammar and high school.

    Now people like Perry want to provide college tuition to criminals coming into the country illegally.

  3. Illegal immigration is an issue of economics (so is legal immigration, for that matter), but also of culture (ditto legal immigration), of the rule of law, and, in the end, of national sovereignty. Because it is all these things the problem is that much more urgent. I would even say that one of the reasons people hold the government in such contempt is that it doesn't deal properly with these basic problems.

  4. 2005 San Diego Union-Tribune article on history of the caution sign.

    The assignment to create the road sign landed on the desk of Caltrans graphic artist John Hood in the late 1980s. He was asked to design an image that, in the blink of an eye, would alert drivers to the unexpected sight of pedestrians in their headlights.

    Text signs that had been posted on Interstates 5 and 805 near the border, urging "Caution Watch for People Crossing Road," proved too wordy to register with motorists. Meanwhile, close to 100 undocumented immigrants had been killed on county freeways over a five-year span.

    One particularly deadly spot was on Interstate 5 at Camp Pendleton, south of the Border Patrol checkpoint. Immigrant smugglers would stop their vehicles and order everyone out, instructing them to cross the freeway toward the beach. The idea was for the immigrants to walk north and then, once they had skirted the checkpoint, cross the freeway again to the vehicle, which would be waiting on the other side.

  5. It's the law of interconnected vessels adapted to economics, as long as there is more to be gotten from one vessel than the other the flow shall be in that direction. The only way to stop it is to close off the connection which in this case to actually do would mean employing the entire American military to police and secure the borders.

  6. Granted, Perry has not done a good job of explaining himself on this issue. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt here, because I think he is so familiar with the realities of immigration that he thinks they are obvious to everyone (much like the Israelis think it is obvious to everyone that they are the good guys, and the Arabs... not so much).

    My daughter and her family live on a cattle ranch in TX, within walking distance of the border, so I have seen it up close. For those who know only tv pictures of the AZ desert, it may come as a surprise that the TX-Mexico border is a RIVER. It's called the Rio Grande. Perry says it's impractical to build a wall on the border, but what he should be explaining is that it's impractical to build a 1,200-mile wall down the middle of a river. (2) Border agents there don't want a wall because they feel it puts them in more danger, not being able to see across to the other side (I'm just telling you what they say). (3) Michele Bachmann can easily say that such a wall should cross "every yard," but perhaps she has not met the folks who live along the Rio Grande on the TX side. In my experience they are not people who would take kindly to government seizure of their private property; many of them trace their ownership back to Spanish land grants and would see such a massive governmental intrusion as cause for self defense. (How conservatives can so easily disregard the near-sanctity of private property rights and the importance of ownership is beyond me.)

    Last point. Just because Perry thinks a wall is impracticable does not mean he doesn't support border security. The fact of the matter is that the state of TX cannot possibly assume the entirety of what is a federal obligation.

    See http://hotair.com/archives/2010/08/10/video-obama-refuses-letter-on-border-security-from-rick-perry/ and http://governor.state.tx.us/files/press-office/080910_PerryObamaletter.pdf

  7. And one more thing, if I may. I don't remember any Republican on the stage in this last debate who did not enthusiastically embrace states' rights and the return of education to state and local levels.

    Yet at the same time, they (And many others who take similar positions) feel free to excoriate the state education policies -specifically, who pays what tuition- passed overwhelmingly by the TX legislature and duly signed by the governor. There is a word for this, and it's called HYPOCRISY.

  8. Anonymous25/9/11

    If you want someone who is tough on immigration for POTUS, you'll be hard pressed to elect anyone from the southwest region of the US. With Perry, with a little research, it shouldn't be a surprise that he would support in state tuition for illegals. Even conservatives in TX defend the Dream Act that the state passed overwhelmingly. As rational as they are trying to make it sound, immigration is and always will be a hot button for conservatives.

  9. Anonymous25/9/11

    Chances are we are going to continue to see a push for more comprehensive immigration and amnesty from both Dem and GOP. I agree, it is unlikely we are going to address it.

    Hypothetically most of these illegals after becoming US citizens will vote Democrat demand more social services from the government. A lot of them have no interest in assimilation creating an enclave balkanized areas in the US - many believe this is reparation for once land that belonged to Mexico.

  10. Sorry, but the simplistic view that the U.S. is derelect in sealing the 2K-mi. U.S.-Mexico border is wrong, because it's unsealable. Once one concedes that, one has to accept ever-enroaching anarchy, or look for a new paradigm.

    One has already been found: the Megamerge Dissolution Solution, where the U.S. Congress invites the Mexican people to dissolve their failed state and reorganize as 10 new territories the size of Utah, then apply for statehood. The old landlocked border will then expand to the Mexican coasts, where it can finally be controlled against real illegal aliens from other continents, while the new U.S. sector will attract mass southward migration, developing it to the same level as the other 50 states. Yes, it will take years of phasing, but it's the ONLY TRUE PERMANENT SOLUTION.

    That's right, I'm on top of it like everything else. Find out more:


  11. Megamerge Dissolution Solution.

    Good name as it's the United States that it dissolves

  12. State education policies are Texas' prerogative, and their implications for a candidate running for a national office are a legitimate concern for the nation

  13. Anonymous25/9/11

    Or how about moving tens of millions of Somalis, Yemenis, Saudis, Sudanese to the US or anywhere in the West. Will that country still be the US or the UK?

    Now here is something that not just threatens the economy of the UK, but the very survival of the UK as a historic state with its own culture.

    The truth about polygamy: A special investigation into how Muslim men can exploit the benefits system


    It is estimated that there are upto 20,000 polygamous unions in the UK. The real estimate is likely to be ten times higher or more.

  14. Historyscoper -- that's cute. Daniel, the socio-economic model you assert is certainly correct, but it's not the whole story. Just as in Argentina where literally everybody knows that "Las Malvinas Es Argentina" (the Falklands are Argentinian) and that the Brits own it by virtue of their imperialism, the massive majority of Mexicans believe that the entire American southwest is by rights and history Mexican, and taken from them in an imperialistic war. What we are witnessing right now is nothing less than an enactment of the Mexican-American Oslo Accords. It will take a generation or three, but they will take it because we have become dumb and soft, and can't even recognize an invasion when it is happening.

  15. Sure, which is why the Mexicans won't be dissolving their country just because we invite them to join us.

    Not to mention that the northward migration doesn't end with Mexico. If we turn Mexico into the new Puerto Rico (with 20 senators no less and enough congressmen to fit a population a third of the United States) sizable chunks of the rest of the continent will keep on showing up.

    Not all illegals are Mexican, many are Ecaudoran, Honduran, etc, maybe we can integrate all of Latin America into the United States.

    Or maybe if Mexico joins us, we can finally have a Mexican style immigration policy where we enforce immigration laws.

  16. Now why is it that these issues aren't issues at all on the northern border?

    I don't know much about Perry but I can't vote for anyone who would reward people for criminal behavior.

  17. Anonymous25/9/11

    Perry doesn't have my vote

  18. Great Wall of China worked.
    Hadrian's Wall worked..
    Berlin Wall worked just fine.

  19. Halycon26/9/11

    This looks like a classic case of greed vs nationalism.

    The governments and the corporations want cheap labour and the rest of the costs are externalised. Crime, indoctrination, ghettofication and such don't effect the elites that live in sheltered neighbourhoods full of the apathetic power elite.

    You look at Japan, South Korea and other East Asian countries and they make the corporations consider the national interests and they tightly enforce their borders.

    The new globalist elite have no loyalty to any country and they hate the idea of borders and trade tariffs.

    The people can do more to pressure the government and the government can do more to convince the businesses to think about the people. Better still, the people can take their woes straight to the corporations and boycott them.

    But that means shaking people out of their self-interest and apathy to make them realise that the future is at stake and it's a future where they have smaller voice.

  20. Lemon, The Great Wall of China may have "worked" in the Chinese empire of the 15th century, but that doesn't mean that it's right for America. Why do you (anyone) prefer a wall to ideas like Ranger Recon Teams that Perry formed (including Texas Rangers, Texas National Guard, Counterdrug forces, Highway Patrol and DPS aviation assets)? Why do you think he is wrong in putting these assets on the ground instead of trying to build a 1,200 mile wall in the middle of a river, which is neither practical nor affordable? (And if not in the middle of the river, then on private property, where the construction crews would likely come under fire if they even tried?)

    And for the love of Pete, why do readers fault a state governor, who has repeatedly requested that 1,000 National Guard soldiers be deployed to the TX-Mexico border, instead of blaming the President, Secretary of Homeland Security and Defense Secretary - whose responsibility it really is to secure the border, and who have ignored not only Perry's requests but those of AZ Gov. Jan Brewer as well? I just don't get the hostility.

    It doesn't seem reasonable to favor a wall just because we're frustrated and want "something" to get done. Wouldn't that would be like Congress passing any old bill just to look like they're doing something?

  21. Illegal immigration is a never ending battle.The Dream Act is a recycled idea that has proven to have a negative effect on society,social systems,crime,unemployment and education.

    The cost is not worth the temporaryily reduced labor cost benefits,the minute they receive citizenship they are protected as minorities,receive full social system access,minimum wage,union membership etc.
    Government reports show a clear loss economically ,socially and culturally when programs such as the dream act are passed.

    Crime,third world diseases ,slavery,degrading educational systems,drug abuse,racism and housing deterioration are more side effects of mass immigration.

    With the country at high employment rates,financially stressed and drowning in asylum seeker immigrants we have more than enough people to fill all jobs,not enough welfare to cover legal citizens in need and can not absorb more criminals.

    Deportation and increased border defenses are cheaper than the cost of the votes bought by politicians .

  22. Interesting points, all. Except for the notion (which is all it could ever be for the foreseeable future) of integrating Mexico into the U.S. without dire demographic and economic fallout. As Daniel pointed out, this would not stanch the bleeding from other regions anyhow. But there are some other problems. Theoretically, what IS a border solution then, seeing that the apparent testimony of the governors of the Western border states are not keen on the idea of vast swatches of territory being used for some massive wall, and the border patrol is not too keen on this either?

    Also, there is--unfortunately--more granularity in this issue than commonly presented by conservatives. Like it or not, and believing that the 14th Amendment is long past its own "sell by" date for children born to slaves, and that it never was supposed to have any application for the children born here to illegal parents, but we still have even conservative courts upholding this "birth over soil=Americans" leaning. That might be good, that might be bad, or that might be something in-between. But it IS reality. And the children of illegal aliens who were born so much as across the river are now in the bind of having parents targeted by law enforcement? What now? Send them all back? And if not, because of the law, who on earth is going to propose an amending of the true "spirit of the law" meaning of the 14th Amendment. As conservative like George Will have pointed out, unfortunately we have to move with the letter of the law. The law is not the place for the "spirit" of matters, even if that was the "original" intent, etc. What about the children of illegals who've been here for years and now in school. Take them away from everything they've known with family and friends and plop them on the next southbound bus out of Texas, give them a 10 dollar bill and a bag of pesos, and say "good luck, mucho gracias"?

    Little known in all this is that Obama administration has been quietly sending back far more illegals than Bush ever did, due partly to the softball approach of more business audits and massive fines, where, while deportation is not generally done on the spot, the business owners stand to be in a hell of a lot of trouble. Next, he's nailing the more hard core criminal illegals far more than Bush ever did. So to rack this all up as a demographic plan to bolster mostly the social services handouts or put more people on the dole or increase the Democratic voter base is a tad simplistic, no matter how many conservative blogs claim this is what liberals are ultimately up to.


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