Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Immigration and the Honest Inquirer

I'm not one of those people who gets worked up about illegal immigration. The giant flare-up over illegals constantly scampering over the border struck me as a possible entitlement and law enforcement problem, but I don't usually regard the situation with much alarm. Part of the problem may be competitive selectivity. I have other priorities and none of them are worth sacrificing to any project that might bear the remotest whiff of racism which scuttles almost anyone tagged with it permanently.

Maggie Gallagher has me rethinking the issue. Her latest column does a nice job of explaining why regular folks are increasingly upset over immigration. Here's a bit:

What should we do about illegal immigration? How it looks depends in part on where you stand. Me? I'm an ivy-educated "symbolic analyst" living in a slightly less affluent ZIP code of one of the most affluent U.S. counties. For me, personally, illegal Mexican immigration means that when a foot of snow falls, two nice guys show up and offer to shovel the driveway for $25.

But for my friend "Mary," the whole issue looks different. She cleans houses and baby-sits for a living. Her son paints houses. In both cases, they are competing directly with a new flood of immigrants who don't mind living doubled or quadrupled up (changing the character of neighborhoods) and for whom $10 bucks an hour is a premium wage.

I don't think the fact that she and her family notice (and object) makes them racists. Economic studies suggest that overall, immigration is a net wash, or a slight plus, for the American economy. But the pluses and minuses are not evenly distributed over the whole population: Lesser-skilled Americans who compete for jobs that don't require Ivy League credentials take the hit, while people like me enjoy a lot of the benefits. A 2003 Hamilton College poll found that only 12 percent of Americans worry that immigrants might take their job. I suspect these are the folks for whom the fear is quite realistic.

Meanwhile, a nationally representative Quinnipiac poll released March 4 concludes that 88 percent of all Americans see illegal immigration as a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem. By 62 percent to 32 percent, voters oppose making it easier for undocumented immigrants to become citizens. More than four in 10 Americans would prefer not to give U.S. citizenship to children born in this country to illegals (a right guaranteed in the Constitution).
"This poll reflects local concerns about immigrants gathering on street corners, waiting for jobs, or packed into illegal housing and the like," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Red state, blue state and purple state voters agree: Illegal immigration is a serious problem."

The part about "Mary" and her son hits me with particular force. I think it may be the case that many folks, like readers of this blog, media members, and me, have not cared much about immigration because it doesn't affect our lives that much. If anything, it ensures we have cheap labor. For other people, it matters a lot and has a day to day impact. That fact alone may call for others of us to engage in reappraisal.


Amy and Jordan said...

Thanks, Hunter. I would tend to agree more with your initial position. It's no secret that bad laws tend to undermine overall regard for the rule of law. At least one aspect of the answer to the problem of illegal immigration is a reexamination and liberalization of our current laws for legal immigration. Some more thoughts and responses to this post here.

Hunter Baker said...

Something keeps nagging at me about this whole thing. The government seems to not want to stop illegal immigration and the Mexican government seems to want to facilitate it or legitimate it. What are the motives here? Who wins and who loses? There is usually an economic reason in the mix and I'm looking for one here.

Hunter Baker said...

There are at least a couple of problems that strike me as troublesome.

1. Illegals don't pay taxes. An American worker would have done so, thus government revenues are decreased.

2. Illegals surely send as much of their money home as they can spare to help relatives. That transfers wealth out of the U.S. Is that the Mexican government's angle. Privatized foreign aid, albeit through an essentially illegal process?

Kathy Hutchins said...

Hunter, I'm not so sure about illegals not paying taxes. I think they probably pay taxes at about the same rate a similarly situated citizen would. Most of these people don't make enough money to pay individual income tax, and in most cases if their employers are not withholding FICA, they wouldn't for citizens either, they'd be playing that game where they call them independent subcontractors instead of employees. SSA has billions of dollars in accounts that cannot be linked to real people; either the SSN has never been assigned to anyone, or it is the duplicate of someone with a different name. Some of this is undoubtedly clerical error, but most of it has to be FICA taxes withheld from people who gave false SSNs. And of course they pay sales tax, and property tax either directly or in the form of passthroughs from their landlords.

I can understand why someone would support high legal immigration levels. I do so myself. I can understand why someone would support low legal immigration levels, although I think this position is wrong. What I cannot understand, without recourse to the assumption of bad motives, is wanting high levels of illegal immigration. The only rationale I can see is if you want to maintain a permanent labor underclass. If this is really the reason, it's disgusting.

You are right about the transfers of dollars back home. It is Mexico's second largest source of foreign exchange, next to petroleum.

James F. Elliott said...

"...$10 bucks an hour is a premium wage."

Interestingly enough, that's precisely the wage I landed graduating from college into the post-Bush tax cut economy.

How many times can Maggie Gallagher mention that she was educated at an Ivy in one column when it has precisely zero to do with the topic at hand? Seems like someone is a bit stuck on themselves...

I'm one of those people who has a hard time with this issue. I'm a bit of a procedural, law and order type in a lot of respects, but living where I do, I'm also intimately familiar with the human side of illegal immigration as well. One of my good friends is an illegal immigrant, pays his taxes, provides for his (American) wife, and tells a heart-wrenching story of watching his brother drown while they swam the Rio Grande in the middle of the night.

"1. Illegals don't pay taxes. An American worker would have done so, thus government revenues are decreased."

This is not true. While many illegal immigrants work on a strictly cash basis, and it might even be a majority, it's not a supra-majority. Cash-only illegals also earn a highly depressed wage compared to a legal worker. Check-cashing businesses make a huge profit off illegal-immigrants.

"2. Illegals surely send as much of their money home as they can spare to help relatives. That transfers wealth out of the U.S. Is that the Mexican government's angle. Privatized foreign aid, albeit through an essentially illegal process?"

In short answer, yes. This is one of the reasons why the Mexican government does nothing to curb illegal immigration. Another is that most illegal immigrants aren't Mexicans, but Latin Americans. It's not hugely different than, say, sending money via Western Union to your destitute cousin in Fumblebuck County.

Hunter Baker said...

JFE, if it had been the Clinton economy you would have landed a job making $100,000/yr at or It might have even lasted a few months with a deep pocketed venture capitalist.

I'm just having fun here. The tech bubble wasn't anybody's fault, probably a near necessary transitional stage as the market adjusts to an amazing new technology.

The Driving Buddha said...

Let I, the occasional reader, though seldom contributor chime in here from a very unique point of view....

My father was the American-born child of Ukrainian immigrants. He was one of those little faces in the black and white pictures from New York City during the depression. From the way I have always understood, my grandfather was one of the proud Ellis Island brigade coming to America to build it. (Cue Neil Diamond music.) I've even found the ship's manifest of when my grandfather docked. My grandmother, on the other hand from what I've gathered, was an illegal immigrant smuggled over the Canadian border. She passed away in the 1930's when my father was still a child.

So, I'm torn with the potential hypocritical view of being tough on illegal immigration and uphold current law, even though I am a direct product of a previous generation of flaunting it.

To even move to symbolism, the Statue of Liberty is emblazoned with a plaque saying...

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The whole focus of that poem was that America was founded as an immigrant nation. Yes, legal versus illegal might have been a debate then - that I do not know. Legal versus illegal is the focus of current debate, though, I will admit.

But, why not open the floodgates and let those with a dream to build a better place, come to the place to build it? In the original post, the focus is how the lowest in our current rung is the one most likely to lose out from illegal immigration, but will they also not lose out to legal immigration. My grandfather took menial jobs in America in his time. Does not that foster the lowest rungs currently here to better themselves? They live here. They speak the language. They know the customs. They have the upper hand. Should not they play the game?

Hunter Baker said...

You've captured the pro-side quite nicely. Now, we need Pat Buchanan to come in and debate you.

Kathy Hutchins said...

You've captured the pro-side quite nicely. Now, we need Pat Buchanan to come in and debate you.

If we could pull this off, it would provide TRC ad copy for years to come:

What do Joe Trippi, John Lott, and Pat Buchanan have in common? They like to argue with The Reform Club! Come see what all the shouting's

James F. Elliott said...

Ooo! Ooo! If you start an online magazine, can I apply for the position of "token Leftist?"

Just wishin'.


Hunter Baker said...

You'd be like Fred Barnes at the old New Republic.