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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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Parse, I'm not saying that current US immigration law is fair or rational. That's why we need reform. Of course Mexico isn't part of the visa waiver program, but Canada is.

There is a fast-track way for some Mexicans to visit the US with something called a Laser Card, but you have to apply for it and pay a $100 fee.

Yes, coming into the US to work should be a more involved process than crossing a state line. At the very least, people who want to work in the US need to be issued Social Security Numbers or some functional alternative so that we can keep track of their payroll taxes and the legally-mandated contributions of their employers on their behalf.

There's no inalienable right to work under the table in the USA, not for locals and not for migrants. Surely you agree that migrants should be subject to at least the same level of scrutiny as legal residents.

Essentially the Republican attack on Immigration is a secret plant to end the war. Since Illegals have paid for the current Iraq war, we may need more of them.

(this is a joke based on real facts)

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20842
HAVE ILLEGALS PAID FOR IRAQ?


Christopher Jencks's insightful survey of "The Immigration Charade" [NYR, September 27] points out, among many ironies, that employed illegal aliens who are "on the books" necessarily find their wages withheld under nonexistent or expired Social Security numbers. A portion of these withholdings wind up in retirement accounts, but in the absence of a "matched" Social Security account such monies are posted in so-called "no match" accounts, which in aggregate now hold more than $586 billion, according to Jencks. Not all of this money comes from illegal immigrants, but the Social Security Administration believes that most does.

As is not as widely known as it should be, none of the surpluses held by the SSA are in any sense cash. Instead, they are collected by the Treasury Department, which kindly leaves behind IOUs in the SSA cupboard but then otherwise uses the money to fund federal government operations. In other words, they wind up doing the same thing as the income taxes we all pay except in this case, because ultimately we all will have to repay those IOUs, we will pay them in taxes a second time when it comes time for someone to cover Social Security's (and Medicare's, etc.) inevitable deficits.

In the meantime, contributions made by illegals held in "no match" accounts will never be repaid to them in the form of Social Security payments. Since money is fungible and since the Iraq war in round numbers has cost maybe $500 billion, one could say that the illegals have very generously, if involuntarily, financed the whole misadventure.

Re .."In the meantime, contributions made by illegals held in "no match" accounts will never be repaid to them in the form of Social Security payments. Since money is fungible and since the Iraq war in round numbers has cost maybe $500 billion, one could say that the illegals have very generously, if involuntarily, financed the whole misadventure.."-

aw heck...I thought that they'd paid for the S&L bailout. Are you SURE they counted it up right? Check again, OK? ^..^

(from parse) .." But accepting that the population shift would have some real effects, decreasing the disparity between countries.."-
Right... you'll have "a bloody race to the lowest common denominator"...


(ibid) .."how do you address RadGeek's moral question: what justification do you have for denying entry to some people in order to protect the privilege of another group?"
I suppose it depends upon what is considered "privilege" here. Is the cumulative pile of socio-cultural development a "privilege"? Should it be the bounty to the strongest pirate? Does "community membership" have responsibilities as well as rights?.. or neither? Should I be able to photocopy your PhD from Stanford in order to get a better job? Just because my ancestors helped set up a monetary system, should everyone have the advantage of its present universal stability? Once a government, by OUR Support, provides a service to deliver mail that includes universal addressing systems, etc. should it be OK for corporations like Fedex to cherry-pick the system?.. at the government's expense? Should Ivy League grads get to ensure the enrollment of their offspring at their old schools? There are a lot of issues around "immigration" that don't present themselves to the eye right off the bat. There's the use of immigrant labor to exacerbate class & race issues to which the immigrant laborer is simply a pawn in a much larger struggle. There's the obvious issue of immigrants avoiding a struggle with an unfair local system (eg the oligarchs common throughout Latin America). There's no "Free Lunch" (although it may appear so, when you observe people using a credit card). A nation's children presently grow evermore sedentary (& obese) as they're encouraged to train their thumbs to manipulate figures on a screen, while millions of immigrants are doing "the impossible"- ie mowing lawns, weeding gardens, painting, putting roofs on, changing bedsheets, dusting etc- because "it's just easier that way". Kids need to break a sweat, too... but will more & more see doing so as an "inappropriate behavior"... something that only the Latinos, Thai & Hmong "should" do... (and don't even wonder about young black teens, for example- who have even less comfortable "suburban mobility" than they had a generation ago... because you don't hire Black kids to do ANYthing... because... they're Lazy, & Sassy, and they'll talk to your daughter, and they'll steal from you, and... you can't trust them like you can a nice, hardworking, socially vulnerable, incomprehensible latino- who Always smiles when You do...) ^..^

Lindsay,

A more substantive reply to your points will have to wait a little while due to other work, and it may be worth a post of its own at my blog. For the time being, though:

Yes, coming into the US to work should be a more involved process than crossing a state line. At the very least, people who want to work in the US need to be issued Social Security Numbers or some functional alternative so that we can keep track of their payroll taxes and the legally-mandated contributions of their employers on their behalf.

I don't think that anybody, whether native or immigrant, should be forced to contribute to Social Security in order to get a job. If they don't intend to draw benefits that they didn't pay in for, then it's none of the government's business. But if you think that it is necessary to issue new SSNs and subject immigrants to withholding taxes, then go ahead and issue those SSNs. But all that takes is one more sheet of paperwork to do at the point of employment, probably at the same time as the W-2. It has nothing in particular to do with imposing any kind of special restrictions or special ex ante screening for immigrants at the point of the border crossing, or as a condition for establishing long-term residency, and there's no reason why enforcement should be considered a matter for immigration law, or punished by deportation, rather than merely considered a matter for tax law, as it would be considered if the person working off the books were an American citizen.

There's no intrinsic connection between being an undocumented immigrant and working under the table. It is only because of the existing government restrictions on immigration, and the need to avoid government detection, that undocumented immigrants are disproportionately likely to work under the table.

Or, in other words, to make my point a bit more explicit, the requirement to get an SSN before you start a job, whatever its merits or demerits, would not impose a "more involved process" on "coming into the US to work." It would only be imposing a requirement on immigrants to work, after they had already come into the United States.

That may seem like splitting hairs. But it's significant that the point at which the requirement would be imposed need not be the point at which the immigrant enters the U.S. And that the penalties for failing to do so need not have anything to do with the right to remain in the U.S.

I go to New York most summers to take a temporary teaching job, and when I do I have to fill out the requisite paperwork for New York state tax withholding. But I don't have to fill out those papers ahead of time in order to enter or to stay in New York. And if I took a job off the books in New York without filling out those forms, then the penalty, if I got caught, would be the usual fines. Not being exiled from the state of New York and sent back to my old home state.

cfrost:

Is a lifeboat mentality ethical? Probably not, but that’s inevitably what you’re going to get with a sinking ship. With a world population of 6.5 billion and growing by the second, you’ll have a hard time convincing those who live in the few islands of prosperity to let the masses in.

This argument presupposes that the most privileged people in the world have some kind of business supporting themselves in the style to which they have become accustomed by forcibly interfering with the peaceful migration of the poorest and most vulnerable, and to use force to stop them from taking jobs for willing employers, or to live on property onto which the owners have welcomed them. The comfort of American natives is not worth more than the well-being of people from other countries, and Americans do not gain the right to maintain a particular standard of living on the backs of pauperized foreigners simply in virtue of being Americans.

Nativism is the progressivism of fools. Besides the fact that it's a disgusting sentiment, it also has no basis in anything that could possibly be recognized as liberal values.

This argument presupposes that the most privileged people in the world have some kind of business supporting themselves in the style to which they have become accustomed

I’m not endorsing lifeboat ethics; I’m simply saying that it’s human nature. We’re wolves if you haven’t noticed. I bunked next to a guy on a fishing boat who slept with a life jacket and a huge hunting knife in his bunk. I asked about the knife once and he said that if we ever went down, he’d make sure he got a seat in the lifeboat, and I had no reason to doubt him. That’s just the way people are.

In a democracy people vote for their own self-interest even if it’s completely amoral or stupid or delusional or any combination thereof. Appeals to nativism always yield votes. Non-democratic governments are even worse, as one of the easiest and cheapest means of establishing legitimacy, without which no government can long endure, is to indulge tribalism and xenophobia. It may be atavistic and inappropriate in a globalized, shrinking (some would say collapsing), world, but it’s a fact. Dreaming about a fair and decent utopia gets no one anywhere. Immigration policy can be made more humane, but it will always have to take xenophobia, racism, etc., (not to mention simple, practical matters as per Lindsay upthread) into account. Mohammed will just have to go to the mountain, that’s all.

It's not a lifeboat, folks, it's a planet.

Get science.

Guess I don't exist. I advocate Open Borders.

And no, I am not opposed to agricultural quarantines (and how quickly talk changed in this thread from controlling the movements of working people of color to keeping a place vermin-free!) nor am I opposed to keeping drug dealers from driving their cars through desert wilderness areas. The fact is, I support Open Borders in precisely the sense the wingnuts use the phrase: allowing ordinary people to come and go as they see fit across the (arbitrary, historically socially and ecologically meaningless) US border.

When people are polled about the issue, asked straight out "do you support Open Borders?" many of them say "yes." The wingnuts trumpet the statistic that 40 percent of Latinos polled say they "do not support Open Borders." A moment's use of higher math skills applied to that statistic indicates that as many as 60 percent of Latinos polled DO advocate open borders.

So the assertion that "no one supports open borders" is just flat out wrong. And you know, there's no shame in being flat out wrong. But when you're presented with someone who says he holds the opinion that you've just claimed no one holds, to try to argue that he does not in fact believe what he says he believes is just obnoxious.

Unless your argument is really that no one who matters advocates open borders, and you're talking about the pundit class and its mirror in the political blog world, for whom the issue is a rather abstract matter more important because of the necessity of political positioning than due to any humanitarian reasons.

In which case your statement is probably true.

But you know. I've loved people who walked across the desert to get here. I've been out there and seen the cast-off possessions of people who died in agony. I've seen the damage to irreplaceable wilderness and the loss of human life that result directly from closing the border.

And I do recognize I'm no longer really part of the increasingly self-referential, omphaloskeptic political bloggers' class. But I support Open Borders. So I suggest that if what you mean is "no one I find worth paying attention to," that you say so. You know, for clarity.

Why is it people don't understand the simple premise behind border security? It's purpose is to keep undesirables out and let people who want to work here or become citizens in. The problem with illegal immigration is easily solved: 1. stop the flow of illigals; this can be done easily by setting emplacements within line of sight along the border (no fence needed) civilized people use doors. 2. mass deportation of all illegals with criminal records. this would be expensive but no nearly as much as WE ARE ALREADY PAYING!(schooling, healthcare, incarceration, ect). 3. those illegals who are here, and do work, and have caused no problems, must be put on a fast track towards citizenship. This issue can be easily solved if people put thier emotions on a shelf and look at objective solutions. The tenets of libery and freedom that this country was founded on are non-negotable, and nor should they be. The philosophy of need is the philosophy of death. A is A.

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