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Thursday July 31st 2014

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Every Possible Argument Regarding Immigration Reform…from an ethical perspective

The black and white (the system):

1)      Illegal Immigrants have broken the law.  If we view ourselves as a law-abiding nation that works because of the rule of law, we should be appalled by this situation.

2)      Companies who hire illegal immigrants have broken the law.  See above.  If we punish them, the demand for illegal labor will drop.

3)      This country (the USA) was founded by – you guessed it – immigrants.

4)      This country is made stronger by immigrants bringing their trades, skills, intellects, and experiences from all over the world for over 2 centuries.  This is evidenced by the incredibly diverse culture as well as the sustained GDP growth of the USA, from which we all benefit.

5)      (3) and (4) pertain to legal immigrants as well as illegal immigrants – though not in the same proportion.  We must then examine the fairness of rewarding those that break the law and punishing those that follow the law, stand years on wait lists, and spend remarkable amounts of both effort and money to come to the USA.  It is not fair, ethical or legal.

6)      Immigration quotas for each country have not been revised in over 20 years.  Perhaps we should revisit these to accurately reflect the current state of demand (or fix the demand {item 2} and then revisit the quotas).

7)      $10 tomato argument –

  1. Short term – prices on things from produce to newly constructed homes go up marginally (remember there is a relatively free market at work to moderate these forces).
  2. Long term – innovation and automation will bring prices back to levels more palatable to the market.  See (8) below.

8)      Government, in not enforcing immigration law and allowing people to work for slave wages, is in effect SUBSIDIZING products that benefit from the low-wage labor markets – on the backs of these poor illegal immigrants.  This stifles the innovation and automation that would otherwise enter these markets.  Innovation will always find a way to optimize price for consumers’ benefits, and here the Government is standing in the way.  There are some things that are impossible to export, for those who try this argument.  Final point – how were wheat and almonds harvested 100 years ago?  How are they harvested today?  (Answers – by hand.   by automated equipment designed, built, operated, and maintained by Americans)

9)      To argue that the economic boom of the 90’s would not have happened without illegal immigrants is just plain silly.  The boom was in large part due to the Plaza Accord of 1985, which made the US dollar weak and led to a boom in manufacturing (last time I checked that is skilled labor) that sustained us through most of the 1990’s until Clinton reversed it in the 1995 Reverse Plaza Accord, which had the opposite effect – a strong dollar which decimated US manufacturing and relegated us to the role of World Consumer.  Other factors in the boom of the 1990’s were historically low interest rates, which induced large amounts of business investment.  Again – nothing to do with illegal immigrants.

10)   Economic Impact Argument –

  1. Illegal Immigrants do not pay (completely) into the system which they and their families draw from.  The same can be said of drug dealers and prostitutes who are paid under the table and do not pay (fully) their taxes. This is clearly illegal and unethical (if not also unpatriotic, per our current Vice President).
  2. Illegal Immigrants (particularly those from Central and South America) send hundreds of millions of dollars back to their home countries every year.  This is money taken out of our economy.  Anyone remember the multiplier effect from Econ Class?  There is a multiple attached to this figure that makes the NEGATIVE effect on GDP much larger than the hundreds of millions that leave the USA every year in this manner.

11)   Crime Argument – crime rates go up with illegal immigration.  Argue the whys and hows another time.

12)    Impoverished Southern Neighbors Argument – A foreign policy issue actually, but more to the point, if immigrants from these countries are here illegally, they cannot take full advantage of the benefits of living and working in the USA.  An example – in Georgia if you make and keep a 3.0 average in high school and college, your college tuition is paid and you get money for books.  Opportunity for anyone who wants to benefit themselves, on the government dime.  Of course, you have to be a citizen to get these benefits – it has its privileges.

The grey (the warm and fuzzy):

A)     We do have ethical obligations to each other as human beings.  It’s how we are wired.  I do not wish any human goodwill/ill any more than another based on their country of citizenship.

B)      Illegal Immigrants endure a perilous trek to get into the USA to work for below market (some would argue market) wages with no healthcare.  If ethics enter the conversation, this should be appalling to all of us, and we should look to reform the system, even if our tomatoes cost $0.75, instead of $0.50, as a result.

C)      Ownership argument -

  1. Previous generations of legal immigrants retain the culture of their homeland, but embrace that of their new home – calling themselves Americans, using English as a primary language, and a great many fought and died under the flag of the USA in the wars we have fought.
  2. Current Illegal immigrants do not have this ownership, because they have not earned it.  The effect is that they retain their homelands’ cultural identity and do not fully integrate themselves into the US culture.  They have no stake in the game – if you will.  This is bad for the USA “melting pot” culture as well as for the overall respect of our laws, communities, and environment.  Think how much most Americans take for granted the freedom for which their ancestors fought and died.  Then think if you pretty much had those freedoms, but better, you were not accountable, how little you would value your country of residence.  Welfare has this same problem.  Those on it are unhappy with what they are given, because they have not earned it.  Much Psychology going on here and I am not fully qualified to explain it.

D)     Slippery slope argument – ethically speaking, once you break one law (entry of the country illegally) it is easier the next time when faced with an ethical/legal decision to do it again.  Crime rates in areas prone to illegal immigration would support this argument.

So if we don’t like the current state of affairs – what reforms should we implement?  Let’s start by agreeing on some common goals:

Immigration Reform Goals:

  1. Limit human suffering (including slave labor, human trafficking, poor living conditions, etc.)
  2. Re-establish the “Rule of Law” that makes the greatness of this country possible (Adam Smith’s take on the necessary requirements for Capitalism).
  3. Encourage Legal Immigrants to come to the USA to the benefit of both immigrant and the USA.  They are our lifeblood.

Can we agree that these 3 items are the core of what needs to be fixed?

OK, then how do we go about it?

Immigration Reforms in Action:

  • Enforce the laws that are on the books for Illegal Immigrants – deport them, but do not hold it against them when re-applying to be legal workers in the US.  If phrased this way, we offer both a carrot and a stick approach.  Go home, apply legally, and we won’t hold it against you that you broke the law the first time.
  • Enforce the law and increase the penalty for Companies breaking the law when hiring illegal immigrants.  Illegal immigration is a push/pull problem.  Remove the demand, the pull will drop significantly.
  • Revise the quotas for legal emigration from various countries to reflect the current demand.  Note – this demand for workers abroad might change abruptly when companies are held accountable, in particular for unskilled labor.

Anyone notice a common thread in these reforms?

They aren’t actual reforms, just enforcing the laws that are currently on the books.

Hence – The Rule of Law.

The “Rule of Law” as explained by Adam Smith is the fundamental principle that makes capitalism possible.  We should embrace this principle, as Americans of past generations have, and realize that we – for the most part – are all descendants of emmigrants to this great nation.

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