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December 05, 2007

Memo to the netroots on immigration

Elana Levin of DMI has a great post on the netroots and immigration.

DMI's recently-updated report on progressive immigration reform makes some points that aren't repeated nearly often enough.

First, immigrants contribute a lot to the American economy, regardless of their status. We hear a lot about the costs of immigration, but the real picture is a lot more complicated.

On average, undocumented workers pay more in taxes than they consume in government services. Their payroll taxes help subsidize Social Security and Medicare because they pay in without collecting benefits.

As progressives, we can't ignore the ways in which the immigration system hurts the most vulnerable members of our society. A large pool of illegal labor drives down standards for everyone because in-status workers have to compete with counterparts who operate without benefit of minimum wage laws, health and safety regulations, or the right to organize. As usual, draconian prohibition creates a lot of problems of its own.

"Open borders" is a straw man. Nobody advocates that. Obviously, the immigration system is supposed to help some people come in and keep other people out. We can debate the criteria and the numbers, but ultimately that's what immigration is about. "Open borders" is a canard.

What we have now is an immigration system that doesn't even succeed at its stated purposes. We are not in control now. It's absurd to think we can regain control by mass deportation or a multi-billion-dollar border fence. These are simply not practical solutions to the problem.

Americans hate to be told "no." We assume that if there's a will, there's always a way.
Some people just won't believe physically securing the borders of our vast country won't deliver the results they're looking for. If you want to reduce the number of people who sneak into the country illegally, a fence is just a bad means to that end.

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_"A large pool of illegal labor drives down standards for everyone because in-status workers have to compete with counterparts who operate without benefit of minimum wage laws, health and safety regulations, or the right to organize."_

There's actually a fair amount of evidence that, at best, this is probably over-stated. The reason is that most immigrants, even illegal ones, only rarely compete with natives- in the terms of economics they tend to be "complementary" rather than "competative". There is of course some competition but it's not as great as you might think, and the additional economic activity from immigrants usually makes up for the difference. (Howard Chang, economist/lawyer at Penn, is one of the best to read on this subject.) Where there _is_ competition is between new and old immigrants, but it's hard to see how this justifies limiting immigration more seriously than we do now. Finally, even illegal immigrants have a right to organize and bargain collectively. This is often a hollow right, but nonetheless it's so.

Just how are you rightwigers going to secure the borders anyway? Even if you could.

I'm not so sure "open borders" is a straw man; last I heard, it's the official position (which I support) of the AFL-CIO, on the grounds that undocumented workers' right to organize will remain hollow as long as the threat of deportation hangs over their heads; even if direct job competition between immigrants and US-born workers is limited, it's an unfair contest when one group of workers has less effective right to organize than another.

They should band together.

The AFL-CIO supports immigration reform, but not open borders. They support some form of amnesty, but amnesty and open borders are not equivalent.

Whatever alternative path to citizenship or residency reformers may propose--it's all antithetical to the idea of open borders. For one thing, amnesties are generally time-limited. You can't give amnesty to people who haven't broken any laws yet. Any prescribed path to citizenship presupposes enforcement of immigration laws.

from the AFL-CIO site linked above:

In our view, there is no good reason why any immigrant who comes to this country prepared to work, to pay taxes, and to abide by our laws and rules should be denied what has been offered to immigrants throughout our country’s history, a path to legal citizenship. To embrace instead the creation of a permanent two-tier workforce, with non-U.S. workers relegated to second-class “guestworker” status, would be repugnant to our traditions and our ideals and disastrous for the living standards of working families.

I honestly don't see how this differs from open borders, except that the specific phrase isn't used. It seems to me to say--as 19th century law said to my Irish-born great-grandparents, and pre-1924 law said to my Ukrainian-born Jewish mother and grandmother--that immigrants are welcome, and if they want to become naturalized US citizens, they can. In any case, with or without the phrase, the AFL-CIO policy proposals seem to me fair and reasonable, and well-crafted to minimize employer abuse and bureaucratic ordeals.


abajo aquí en la frontera tenemos un refrán: ¿cerca de cincuenta metros? cincuenta una metros para la escala. cuentan que las ciudades de la frontera de California son casi $1.5 millones perdidosos a la semana debido a los problemas que cruzan la frontera. al tancredo y a los otros fanáticos en la edición, los de nosotros que vivan aquí tienen solamente una petición. déjenos solos. por favor.

"Open borders" is a straw man. Nobody advocates that.

Oh, really? I do.

The anti-labor and racist effects of giving government the power to discriminate against peaceful workers, based solely on their nationality, should be obvious. If self-identified Progressives are not willing to oppose, on principle, the government's surveillance, stopping, stamping, recording, searching, restraining, beating, jailing, and exiling peaceful workers who have never done anything to violate anybody else's rights, based solely on those workers' nationality and an arbitrary government-imposed quota, then so much the worse for Progressivism.

I generally agree with the AFL-CIO's stance. But it's just plain inaccurate to describe that as supporting open borders.

Open borders would mean that anyone could just show up here and go about their business. Open borders would mean that anyone could work here legally, regardless of immigration status. AFL-CIO is arguing that there should be a process that allows qualified people to become naturalized citizens.

Even if we did exactly what the AFL-CIO suggests, we would still have customs and border patrols. We wouldn't abolish the Coast Guard. We wouldn't allow human trafficking. We wouldn't get rid of the agricultural inspectors who check to make sure nobody's accidentally bringing in invasive species. We wouldn't do away with visas for tourists and students. We wouldn't open up the country to war criminals and convicted felons.

There would be a process, a line, fees, background checks, oaths, etc. Maybe some people would get higher priority than others depending on their skills, or whether they were related to people who are already here, or whatever. Or, maybe it would be first come first serve. And we'd have to figure out rules to govern who could stay in the country while their application was being processed, and what kinds of things they could do during the waiting period (Work? Go home for a visit? Etc.)

Even if we went back to the days of Ellis Island, we didn't have open borders. In fact America has always had strict rules about how you go about becoming American, some well-founded and some outright racist.

It's misleading to say that someone who favors a more permissive immigration policy wants open borders. That phrase connotes some kind of free-for-all. What reformers want is a different process, not abdication of process. In fact, one of the main reasons to want reform is because people aren't going through the proper channels and this lack of oversight and control is a problem.

AFL-CIO is arguing that there should be a process that allows qualified people to become naturalized citizens.

Yes, as there has been for a long, long time, even before the first immigration law, which I believe was the Chinese Exclusion Act. But that's not in contradiction to saying (as the AFL-CIO statement does) that anyone who wants to come and work and pay taxes ought to be allowed to; they don't mention background checks, oaths, or fees. A naturalization process--how a foreign-born person becomes a citizen--seems to me entirely distinct from the immigration policy I, and Rad Geek, and--I still think--labor support, best summed up as "Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me."

When we start perp-walking the employers (the large employers) of illegal immigrants to jail for breaking the laws, then maybe we will start to have immigration reform. When we start treating Mexico like a legitimate and equal partner on the world stage (because in the end, this is about the right's fear of brown people), than maybe we will have immigration reform.

Even if we went back to the days of Ellis Island, we didn't have open borders. In fact America has always had strict rules about how you go about becoming American, some well-founded and some outright racist.

If you mean federal laws that imposed restrictions on who could enter, live in, or work in the country, then it is certainly not true that the U.S. has always had such laws. There were no such laws prior to 1882.

If you mean federal laws that impose restrictions and define procedures for immigrants, once they have arrived and set up in the U.S., to achieve status as naturalized citizens, then it's true that the U.S. has always had such laws. But naturalization laws aren't the primary issue in debates over "open borders." The primary issue is the right to cross the border freely and to live and work where you choose.

And we'd have to figure out rules to govern who could stay in the country while their application was being processed, and what kinds of things they could do during the waiting period (Work? Go home for a visit? Etc.)

What business does the government have subjecting a peaceful Mexican immigrant to a higher level of scrutiny or restriction in the right to engage in everyday activities such as working or visiting home, than they would subject an American citizen to, simply because the object of their scrutiny happens to be Mexican rather than American?

Isn't that just institutionalized bigotry?

The AFL-CIO thinks that law-abiding people who want to come here and work and pay taxes should be allowed to do so. That's what I think, too. That's not the same as advocating an open border. There's a condition: If you want to work and pay taxes, then you ought to be some way for you to become an American citizen or legal resident (i.e., completing certain requirements). Those requirements might be a straightforward as entering the country through an approved processing point like Ellis Island and undergoing a background check, but they're still requirements.

It's very important that we set up an efficient system to welcome people into the fold in a fair and orderly way. The reality is that it's going to be time consuming to process all the people who want to come. Even if we agree in principle that everyone who wants to work here should get a chance, the discussion doesn't end there. Do we mean that everyone should be allowed to show up immediately? Or do we mean that everyone deserves a chance within 3-5 years of submitting their application? If it's going to take time to get through the backlog, we've got to decide if anyone deserves priority, or whether it's first come first served.

There are a lot of policy questions that have to be debated if we want to make the system better.

I don't know where the AFL-CIO stands on the fee structure for processing citizenship papers. However, when people say a "path to citizenship" that means a structured process, not an open border.

I don't know where the AFL-CIO stands on the fee structure for processing citizenship papers. However, when people say a "path to citizenship" that means a structured process, not an open border.

A structured process for people who are already here, safe from the threat of deportation. I think we may be talking past each other but I continue to believe there's a fundamental distinction between (a) coming to the US and working, without being tagged as "illegal," and (b) setting in motion the naturalization process. The first condition means the border is "open" in that people could come here when they chose and work, regardless of whether or not they had the right kind of visa or permit or fell within a more or less arbitrary quota; the second means that, if they wanted the full rights that come with citizenship (and were ready to give up their citizenship in their countries of origin), there would be a process for them to do so. Two distinct things, as I see it, though the people they cover are overlapping sets.

It seems that there are two separate issues being conflated here, the immigration policy and the naturalization process. Are we talking about restrictions on who can enter the country or only on who can become a citizen?

Without additional proof, I would remain skeptical that illegal workers in fact pay into the Social Security system or that their employers do. A few illegal workers have valid social security numbers or their functional TIN equivalent but a great many don't and get paid in green cash money as day laborers, off the books. Meanwhile, if they get hurt and go to the ER in a public hospital because they don't have health insurance, they are getting treated out of public resources.

I am all for liberalizing immigration laws to eliminate and incorporate this economic force into the country, in part to get rid of much of the under the table money.

If there's one thing that this country respects, it's property. But if you squat on property for 21 years (or less or more depending on state), you can adversely possess and file for title for property which you have held continuously, notoriously, openly and exclusively. I think we should look at illegal immigration the same way: sort of like lawful residence by estoppel or common law marriage. Not because illegal immigrants deserve it per se but because the society deserves a meaningful solution. Adverse possession sometimes results in injustices but it's on the books for good order and common sense reasons. Ditto here.

Re: .." I think we may be talking past each other but I continue to believe there's a fundamental distinction between (a) coming to the US and working, without being tagged as "illegal," and (b) setting in motion the naturalization process.."-
Yes, there are 2 distinct issues here. Like rootlesscosmo & Rad Geek I support the former as an "open border" process, with this caveat: It only works with with citizens of countries with whom it is RECIPROCAL, ie the country has to be willing to allow ME to go there & work legally, if I want.
With regard to Capital, generally, and Human Capital, in particular, there should be reciprocity. If money can flow to Wall Street from... wherever, then (in my rosy scenario) it must be allowed to flow in both directions; and Human Capital should be granted similar rights. ^..^

"Open borders" isn't an accurate description of any progressive immigration policy or amnesty deal.

None of the progressive solutions that get labeled as "open borders" actually involve opening up our borders. The border is going to be as secure as it ever was, we're just going to use different rules to figure out who gets in.

Giving people who are already here a means to become citizens isn't equivalent to open borders. On the contrary, amnesty (or other "paths to citizenship") only make sense in a context where the border is tightly regulated and sanctions would ordinarily be imposed.

Changing the standards by which we admit immigrants who would like to come here from outside isn't tantamount to opening the borders, even if we change the rules so that way more people qualify. There are still going to be people that we're not going to admit--known criminals, active TB cases, etc.

Even if you accept that everyone has the right to become a citizen if they want to work (or if they're already working), that's only one aspect of the much larger project of overseeing the flow of people into and out of the country.

Changing the number of immigrants we legally admit isn't tantamount to opening the borders, either--even if we decide to let in a lot more people.

"Open borders" makes it sound like society is just stepping back and letting events play out. That's not what we should be doing at all, and it's not really what anyone is proposing.

We should be actively reforming the system on principle. One principle is that the system should be more fair: People should get in based on their established willingness to work, not just their luck in evading detection, or their skill in navigating a bureaucratic maze. If they want to work here, they have a strong positive claim to be included in a nation that bills itself as a land of opportunity. However, the right to mobility isn't unqualified.

We still have the right to manage the flow of new arrivals. For example, even if we agree that everyone who wants to work ought to be able to do so, it doesn't follow that we are obliged to let in everyone who qualifies at the same time.

Reform means taking control, and using that power more wisely and humanely, not abdicating.

herbert browne:

Yes, there are 2 distinct issues here. Like rootlesscosmo & Rad Geek I support the former as an "open border" process, with this caveat: It only works with with citizens of countries with whom it is RECIPROCAL, ie the country has to be willing to allow ME to go there & work legally, if I want.

I don't understand this restriction. Let's say that you want to move to Ruritania, but the Ruritanian government has closed its borders to American immigrants. And let's say that a Ruritanian citizen, who had nothing in particular to do with the Ruritanian government's stupid decision, wants to move to America. Certainly the situation sucks for you, and the Ruritanian government deserves blame for treating you badly. But why should the sins of the Ruritanian government be taken out on some innocent would-be Ruritanian ex-pat, who played no particular role in forming or implementing the policy?

Lindsay:

The reality is that it's going to be time consuming to process all the people who want to come.

What processing? Again, if we're talking about entry to the country, rather than naturalization, then there's no processing necessary: you let people come in via their port of choice and you leave them alone rather than demanding that they flash their papers whenever they try to get a job, try to go to school, etc. etc. I.e., you treat somebody moving from Michoacan to take a job in California the same way that you'd treat somebody moving from Michigan to take a job in California. No processing necessary.

You might say, "Well, what if the Michoacan@ isn't ready to work and pay taxes?" Well, what if the Michigander isn't ready to work and pay taxes? Why should the Mexican immigrant be treated with greater scrutiny and greater prior restraint than the American native? Simply because one is Mexican and the other is American? If not, then what other reason is there, besides discrimination on the basis of nationality? If so, then what possible connection could this have to anything like liberal or progressive values?

"Open borders" isn't an accurate description of any progressive immigration policy or amnesty deal.

Depends on what you mean by "progressive," I guess. The old-timey Progressives certainly were for all kinds of immigration restrictions. But then, the old-timey Progressives were for sedition laws and forced sterilization, too. I would hope that people who call themselves "Progressives" today have moved on.

"Open borders" makes it sound like society is just stepping back and letting events play out. That's not what we should be doing at all, and it's not really what anyone is proposing.

Of course it's what some people are proposing. I'm proposing it right now. I believe that the government has no business whatsoever in choking off border crossings or in maintaining an internal police force for surveillance and deportation of undocumented immigrants. I think that both should be abolished immediately, and people should be free to move wherever they can find a home and make a living for themselves. Neither "society" (whatever that means) nor the government should be trying to micromanage freely adopted demographic patterns, or trying to exclude or screen people on the basis of their nationality.

We still have the right to manage the flow of new arrivals. For example, even if we agree that everyone who wants to work ought to be able to do so, it doesn't follow that we are obliged to let in everyone who qualifies at the same time.

On what possible basis would you justify imposing these kind of discriminatory prior restrictions, screens, quarantines, dossier-gathering, etc. on Mexicans, Canadians, Guatamaltecans, Cubans, Haitians, etc., but not on U.S. citizens? How do you figure it's "progressive" for the government to privilege one group of people over everyone else, when it comes to basic workaday activities like traveling, setting up a home, getting an education, or making a living, solely on the basis of their nationality?

Reform means taking control, and using that power more wisely and humanely, not abdicating.

Sure, which is why reform is a bankrupt goal: it leaves a fundamentally racist and classist system of power in place, even if it liberalizes the exercise of that power slightly around the edges. I'm not for immigration law reform. I'm for repeal.

Is LB an American? I thought she was Canadian.

A dual citizen!!! Shocking horrors of horrors! Get me my smelling salts!

It's fascinating watching the "progressives" tie themselves in knots over immigration. The blog hostess wants restriction, she's unwilling to just come out and say she's a restrictionist. But I'll welcome her to the club anyway.

Lindsay, I'd be interested in your response to RadGreek, since he is--quite articulately--advocating an "open borders" solution you continue to claim (despite his repeated, clearly stated position) that no one favors. Why should traveling from one country to the United States be different from moving from one U.S. state to another?

So far, I've been arguing that even RadGeek probably doesn't literally mean open borders, just radically more inclusive immigration policies. Maybe I'm wrong. RadGeek, do you think that the government should relinquish all control and supervision over the flow of people across our borders? For example, do we have a right to deny entry to war criminals?

If you were born here, the government collects vital statistics on you. If you come here from somewhere else, the government should collect that information when you get here.

Think about all the situations where you need to show government-issued ID in everyday life. People who come here for extended periods are going to need to get on that same grid that we take for granted.

For example, I supported Spitzer's plan to issue driver's licenses substantiated by ID other than immigration documents. If people are going to come here, they've got to be subject to the same level of monitoring as everyone else. I'm glad that we have means to track citizens. It's good to be able to ascertain that the citizen who got the DUI last week is the same person who got the DUI this week. This same guy shouldn't just be able to get out of paying child support by moving out-of-state.

It's important for a country to know how many citizens, residents, and visitors we've got within our borders at any given time. We need that information to make plans. Whether it's health, or transportation, or housing, or public school--the government needs to know how many people are going to need those services. If we're stipulating that these people aren't citizens, and therefore can't vote, it's especially important to have some official record of their presence.

Suppose everyone's allowed to show up and stay as long as they want. Ex hypothesi, there's no process, so there's no path to citizenship for these folks, even if they spend years contributing to our society. Citizens have rights and privileges, but these people are just hanging out in indefinite legal limbo. Is that fair?

Having a physically open border is impractical. We're still going to need checkpoints to inspect goods and make sure all the applicable duties and tariffs get paid. Under the current system, if you want to come into the country, you've got to enter through an official checkpoint so your belongings can be screened for stuff that's illegal in the US, e.g., invasive species, drugs, explosives, etc. Inspection isn't discriminatory, Americans who leave the country and come back also get checked.

My bottom line is that if people are going to exercise their putative right to live and work where they want, they're going to have to go through whatever bureaucratic processes it takes to make sure they are joining as full-fledged members of civil society.

If you had truly open borders and maintained the concept of citizenship for people who were born here, you'd have serious institutionalized inequality.

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