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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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Lindsay, would you say we have open borders internally? Because RadGeek wrote: "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." It seems to me that answers several of the questions you posed in your response to him.

It's interesting that a lot of stuff that seems reasonable doesn't make much sense once you start to take it apart. Take the check at the border for invasive species. Totally understandable. Except why is it important to check someone going from Mexico to Texas for invasive species but not someone going from South Carolina to Oregon?

Actually, it is sometimes important to check for invasive species when high-risk cargo crosses state lines. Some meat products also have to be inspected if they're going to be shipped across state lines.

It's also important to check people and goods coming in from elsewhere.

If the US has a right to enforce a federal weed eradication policy within its borders, it should also have the right to interdict weeds at its frontiers.

Suppose we're talking about nuclear weapons, instead of weeds. RadGeek, shouldn't a country have the right to declare itself a nuclear-free zone and enforce that rule at the border?

We can't give up all physical border security. We can't give up some kind of cataloging and processing for new arrivals. I really don't think you'd want us to if you considered all the disadvantages that accrue to migrants who don't have official status.

Your "open border" proposal is just the status quo, minus the punishments for migrants and the deportations. That's a great start, but it's not a solution to the larger problem. Just letting people circulate freely without actively inducting them into our system is ghettoizing.

So what's the problem?

The problem: Demagogues who sense the public is getting sick of the "war" on terror.

Yo Lindsay, go easy on eradicating the weed?! It's the best Canadian import (OK second after yourself, though you are a dual citizen so you are not an "import" I suppose.) How many growhouses in Vancouver, outnumbering coffeehouses 30 to 1 or something?

Suppose we're talking about nuclear weapons, instead of weeds. RadGeek, shouldn't a country have the right to declare itself a nuclear-free zone and enforce that rule at the border?


In the long run, like over evolutionary time, invasive species will have a much larger effect on the world's biota (including Homo sapiens) than nuclear weapons will ever have.

Lindsay's link to the invasive species problem in Hawaii is a good example. Ever wonder why there are no Hawaiian citrus fruits in your local supermarket? It's because the Mediterranean fruit fly is ineradicably established there. The fly (among a bazillion other pests) is also the reason you have to dump fruits and plants and other vegetable matter at the agricultural inspection stations you encounter when driving into California. There's no particular reason the Mediterranean fruit fly can't establish itself in California, Florida, Texas, Brazil, and any other place where citrus is grown. And that's just one pest, disease, parasite, predator, weed, among thousands that are, or will soon, affect practically every plant and animal and landscape we use.

are, or will soon, affect...

are, or soon will be, affecting...

I'll learn English someday.

LB - that we're all sensing that we're all getting sick of the bullshit war on "terror" is not a problem. It's the solution.

As for the fruit fly...organic solution:

Place paper cones in bottles of/with beer (ie. not empty bottles) place beer bottles with cones in 2 corners of room(s) and wait 3 weeks.

Voila!

But where are the bees? That's the question.

That's a great start, but it's not a solution to the larger problem. Just letting people circulate freely without actively inducting them into our system is ghettoizing.

Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | December 06, 2007 at 01:51 PM

So what's the problem?

Posted by: mudkitty | December 06, 2007 at 03:10 PM

The problem: Demagogues who sense the public is getting sick of the "war" on terror.

Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | December 06, 2007 at 03:21 PM

Oooh, you had me until that last snark, LB. Seemed like you'd been doing some reading since last immigration thread, like you realized "hey, instant amnesty and flooding unlimited unregulated unskilled labor into the market might not be such a good thing, for American workers nor for the undocumented alike. Seemed like you "got it", how having an unchecked open borders system (which make no mistake, in reality is exactly what we have now) isn't healthy for the country or for the newcomers themselves either, who never assimilate for the first generation.

But then, instead of focusing on the employers who benefit from the current system, it's the political demagogues, or the messengers so to speak who point out the civil/democratic/market problems in reality setting up a two-tiered system of serfs and employers is not such a good thing, who you see as the problem.

Keep reading, kiddo. And keep thinking from other points of view...

And that's just one pest, disease, parasite, predator, weed, among thousands that are, or will soon, affect practically every plant and animal and landscape we use.

Eh.
One benefit of living north of the freeze zone.

Our groundwater is still good here too. Thanks be.

Mary, I don’t recall Beyerstein ever advocating opening up borders to any and all as you imply. She is, after all, an immigrant/emigrant herself and has obviously given the matter some thought. People do, and will, move around. They always have. Nothing is going to change that fact. As long as life in the United States is even marginally better than much of the rest of the world, immigrants will be leaking in at every seam. We’re going to have to simply accept that, and deal with it.

One benefit of living north of the freeze zone.
Don’t be too sure. Exotic earthworms are eating the soil out from under your feet as we speak. King crabs are colonizing Europe’s northern shores. Antarctica’s not immune either. And there’s plenty more where that came from.

One sad effect of the war on mexigrants is that the new fence we’re building along the border will seal off ocelots, jaguarundis, and jaguars. Jaguars and the other cats had been wandering north of the border during the last few years (I work with a guy who had been involved with a project documenting jaguars in Arizona.), but now we’ll be free of wild cats, but probably not Illegal aliens. Hooray, another victory.

Lindsay:

RadGeek, do you think that the government should relinquish all control and supervision over the flow of people across our borders?

Yes. I think that both the Border Patrol and the ICE internal security forces should be completely abolished, as should the entire visa / resident alien documentation system, with complete amnesty for all currently undocumented immigrants. In terms of traveling freely, establishing a temporary or a permanent residence, getting a job, etc., moving from Ottawa to Michigan should be no different, and involve no more scrutiny or documentation, than moving from Michigan to Ohio.

Any legitimate functions that the Border Patrol and ICE serve (say quarantining people with dangerous communicable diseases or apprehending known criminals) can and should be served by ordinary police forces, without regard to immigrant status.

For example, do we have a right to deny entry to war criminals?

I don't have a firm opinion on whether or not governments would have the right to deny entry to known war criminals. But if they do have such a right, the problem is how to identify war criminals from among the general pool of immigrants, and I don't think there's any way of creating an ex ante system for identifying and screening out war criminals that won't violate the rights of millions of non-war criminals by subjecting them to heightened government scrutiny without probable cause. There's no reason to think that the average Mexican worker is secretly a war criminal, and no non-xenophobic reason for treating prospective immigrants with a greater presumption of their criminality than U.S. citizens would be.

But anyway, why deny war criminals entry, even if it is within one's rights to do so? If you've identified a war criminal trying to get into the U.S., why not let them in, and then arrest them within the country and pack them off to the appropriate tribunal?

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.

I also support plans to extend driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, although perhaps for different reasons. But I don't see how this cuts against the open borders proposal that I advocate. If driver's licenses or government identification documents are a desirable thing to have for long-term residents, then all my proposal would require is precisely what you advocate -- that these licenses or documents be available to all long-term residents, without requiring them to produce documentation of immigration status (since that sort of documentation would no longer exist).

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?

I don't understand the inference here. It seems to me that you're conflating immigration restrictions with a naturalization process. All I've proposed is that the immigration restrictions be done away with. As far as my argument goes, you can implement whatever kind of process you like for naturalizing immigrants once they are here; my only claim is that the government shouldn't be making any efforts to stop them from getting here, or to control how they can make a living once here, or to throw them out over arbitrarily imposed time limits or restrictions on their peaceful activities.

Similarly, when I moved from Michigan to Nevada, I didn't have to send any prior notice to the government and I didn't have to undergo any kind of pre-screening or submit to any government restrictions on how long I could stay or what kind of work I could take. I just moved into a new house and started working. There are defined processes that I have to go through in order to do things like establishing official residency, getting a local driver's license, registering to vote, etc. These processes just aren't linked to any kind of ex ante screening at the border.

We're still going to need checkpoints to inspect goods and make sure all the applicable duties and tariffs get paid.

Well, I don't think that the government should be collecting duties and tariffs on imported goods, or limiting entry chokepoints for inspection. Those who do think that duties and tariffs are important don't need government-controlled chokepoints to do that, either; the U.S. government's physical control over the land borders and the sea coasts used to be far, far looser than it is today, but nevertheless they got by just fine, even when import duties were almost the only source of federal revenue.

But. If this sort of thing is both justified and desirable, then channeling cross-border traffic through government chokepoints isn't necessarily inconsistent with what people call open borders immigration policy, which refers to the right of people to travel freely across the border without government restrictions, not necessarily the presence or absence of inspection stations. (Does California have an open border with Nevada? I'd say so, in spite of the agricultural inspection stations. Although personally I think that the inspection stations are foolish.)

So, if you please, I support what you call "physically open borders." If what I can get is checkpointed borders with non-discriminatory inspections, but free and open crossing without any kind of government visa system, then that would be less than what I advocate, but it would also be big step forward over the system we have now, which serves to criminalize, forcibly pauperize, jail, and/or kill millions of immigrants every year.

Just letting people circulate freely without actively inducting them into our system is ghettoizing.

Not as ghettoizing as constantly forcing them to live with the threat of imprisonment and forced separation from their friends, family, livelihoods, and homes.

I haven't said anything against having naturalization procedures. I just denied that those procedures should be tied to restrictions on crossing borders or living and working within the country.

Rad Geek, good luck getting your plan passed into law, in the U.S. or anywhere else on planet earth. As long as we can cross any border sans restrictions we can also pick up one of the free ponies they keep there.

Does California have an open border with Nevada? I'd say so, in spite of the agricultural inspection stations. Although personally I think that the inspection stations are foolish.

Tell that to the vintners worried about the glassy-winged sharpshooter or the orchardists losing sleep over apple coddling moth. Libertarian notions are fine until they amount to the equivalent of arson. Agriculture remains California's largest industry. Dumping a pear or some grapes at an inspection station costs you nothing. Don't be ridiculous.

>But if they do have such a right, the problem is how to identify war criminals from among the general pool of immigrants, and I don't think there's any way of creating an ex ante system for identifying and screening out war criminals that won't violate the rights of millions of non-war criminals by subjecting them to heightened government scrutiny without probable cause.

I'm sorry -- I just thought this was a really funny sentence. Unintentional Monty Python.

>jail, and/or kill millions of immigrants every year.

Millions, huh? Millions.

cfrost: Rad Geek, good luck getting your plan passed into law, in the U.S. or anywhere else on planet earth.

I didn't say that my proposal is popular. I said that it's right. I am not foolish enough to think that being right guarantees being popular. Or amoral enough to believe the converse.

As for California farmers, they surely are foolish if they believe that they can practically maintain a quarantine zone larger than most European countries by forcing individual drivers to lose their pears or grapes at an agricultural checkpoint. I'm not too worked up about it in the grand scheme of things, though.

Dock,

Thanks for the dishonestly selective quotation. I do wonder who you think you're fooling, though, since the source is right above your cherry-picked selection. The existing immigration system certainly does criminalize millions of immigrants -- tens of millions, in fact -- and forcibly pauperizes many if not most of those by dramatically restricting the kinds of jobs that they can find or their opportunities for advancement. The number who are jailed and deported is in the hundreds of thousands per year (the government only tabulates statistics on "criminal alien" deportations, which are upwards of 80,000). The hellish crossings of the desert that current immigration policy forces on new immigrants "only" kill a few dozen people a year. I feel so great knowing that my government "only" forces a few dozen desperate people per year into a slow and agonizing death from dehydration or exposure in 115 degree temperatures.

>The number who are jailed and deported is in the hundreds of thousands per year

Thank goodness. Dramatic reduction.

>I feel so great knowing that my government "only" forces a few dozen desperate people per year into a slow and agonizing death from dehydration or exposure in 115 degree temperatures.

Hell's bells, man -- better than millions.

Re "The existing immigration system certainly does criminalize millions of immigrants -- tens of millions, in fact -- and forcibly pauperizes many if not most of those by dramatically restricting the kinds of jobs that they can find or their opportunities for advancement.."-

Does restriction of certain privileges that presently accrue to citizens "forcibly pauperize" anybody, without their active participation? Am I "forcibly pauperized" because I'm prevented from selling shoulder-launched Ground-to-Air missiles wherever I'd like? This sounds like that wonderful chapter in NAFTA that allows a corporation to sue because, due to some stinking environmental standard, the corp won't realize the profit they could make if the law were repealed (or never promulgated in the first place).
Re the "Ruritanian" who shouldn't be penalized because her gov't won't let me go there, I say "If gov't is part of the game, then it's tough titty for her. Either we both get to emigrate or neither. The thing about "open borders" as Rad Geek proposes is the surest way back to feudalism that exists. "Where's the Most Money being made? I wanna go THERE!" And when we all converge, the Lords of the Checkbook can simply allow us to kill each other off until he has his army of the Fittest. And if Ruritania sucks so bad, what if everyone leaves there, and rides in here to enjoy the infrastructure- including our political system as it has evolved over time- to the detriment of those who put it in place and keep it together? Do I want all the North Koreans to come to Oregon & leave the Dude & his Army to hold down the fort back home? Uh, no... although I'm sure that any number of them could find work in Portland & thereabouts.
I appreciate that "nationhood" is an artificial polity- unlike blood clans- but I find it superior to those biological memberships. It is a step toward a "One World citizenry"- which can really only happen by the kind of association that the UN offers. If EVERYONE is a member of NATO, &/or the EU, (etc) we have a shot at the kind of equity that will make border guards & papers, etc far less relevant. We're not there, yet. If you want change at the ground level as well as at the top, then support controlling the flow of Capital... and the equalization of the paper stuff with the "muscles blood & brains" variety. Poor people in places on the earth where the wealthy are free to send their money abroad should have as much right to leave their country as that money does... but it has to be reciprocal. Otherwise, the army of lefty baby boomers won't be able to go off to Chiapas & work for .75 a day (and stir up "enlightenment") while we live on our SS checks. ^..^

Linday, so far your comments have discussed the necessity for physical security at the border to prevent nuclear bombs, war criminals and invasive species. You've also argued for the necessity of a naturalization process to bestow the benefits of citizenship for immigrants. I'm not clear though, on how you stand on RadGeeks core argument, which he's repeated several times: requirements for entering the United States for work should not be more restrictive than the requirements from moving from state to state, and they should not depend on the country of origin or citizenship status of willing workers. Do you agree or disagree with him on that?

Herbert Browne, your argument seems to be that allowing open immigration would encourage a massive population shift toward countries with a higher standard of living, which will decrease the standard of living in those countries. Obviously, the problem is self-correcting to some degree: as the standard of living decreases in countries attracting large numbers of immigrants, the attractiveness of that country as a destination for immigrants would decrease. But accepting that the population shift would have some real effects, decreasing the disparity between countries, 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?

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.

I basically agree that governments should have far less control of the movement of people. I was a kid in Germany when they built the Berlin wall, and heard first-hand no end of grim stories about what restricted movement actually meant for real people. On the other hand I want trucks stopped at the border to guarantee that their brakes are functioning and that any hazardous cargo is accompanied with the proper paperwork. I would also like to have immigrants, legal or illegal, pass a driver’s exam and be forced –yes, forced- to buy insurance. If someone is bringing children across, I’d like to have someone check to see that the kids actually belong to someone. And so on. There are plenty of reasons to set up filters at borders and plenty of good reasons to keep a weather eye out on what and who is moving across national borders. It does not have to be oppressive, or at least not nearly as oppressive as is currently the case.


As for California farmers, they surely are foolish if they believe that they can practically maintain a quarantine zone larger than most European countries by forcing individual drivers to lose their pears or grapes at an agricultural checkpoint. I'm not too worked up about it in the grand scheme of things, though.

Let me ask you something: Do you eat? If so, “liberating” the likes of late blight, medflies, hoof and mouth disease, Newcastle disease, or hog cholera is not entirely in your best interest.

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.

And you'll have a hard time keeping the masses out, as our current experience strongly suggests already.

"Is a lifeboat mentality ethical? Probably not, but that's inevitably what you're going to get with a sinking ship."

I'm going to go back and read Primo Levi's account of how he and another man used very limited resources to save a few survivors of the concentration camps, while hundreds more cried vainly on the other side of the door. Truly an ethical lesson for our present, and our future.

Why is it generally easier to cross a state line than an international border? Because the states gave up their right to set their own immigration and trade policies when they became states of the USA. It's the federal government's responsibility to regulate the traffic of people across international frontiers.

In some cases, it's really easy to cross an international border. Countries often work out deals to allow people and materials to go back and forth more easily. For example, the US has worked out a visa waiver program with 27 other countries, including Canada. Under the waiver program, all you need to visit the US is a valid passport.

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect newcomers who want to remain in the US for extended periods of time to officially check in and establish who they are, why they're here, and how long they expect to stay.

RadGeek, I think you're conflating two very different positions. i) The United States ought to grant permission to virtually everyone who asks to come here; ii) The United States has no right to set any conditions for crossing the US border.

(i) is a radically permissive immigration policy, but it's not the same thing as an open border. You still have to ask permission. Entry into the US is still contingent upon getting permission. The US sets the terms for granting permission, which under this policy would be pretty easy to meet.

(ii) is absurd. Unless you want to do away with nation states altogether, you've got to accept a host country's right to control the conditions under which it accepts new people. If you think we should abandon the nation state model, what should we put in its place?

As a matter of policy, we both favor a permissive stance on immigration. People are going to come here, and it's better to expand legitimate channels in response to growing demand than to perpetuate an undocumented underclass. We both agree that as a matter of policy, we should not be punitive towards the immigrants themselves. Deportation isn't a solution. We should be going after the employers who hire undocumented workers. But if we just let people show up and start working, employers would presumably be free to hire them.

Undocumented individuals who have been productive members of our society for a long time accrue "squatter's rights" and deserve a path to citizenship. Moreover, it's short-sighted of the US to get hung up on whether these individuals intially violated the law. They're here now, and they've paid their dues. Let's figure out a way to move forward.

Somehow, Lindsay, I still don't know your answer to the question: Should requirements for entering the United States for work be more restrictive than the requirements from moving from state to state, and should they depend on the country of origin or citizenship status of willing workers?

Also, why should we be "going after the employers who hire undocumented workers." I've worked in several places where undocumented workers were employed alongside native-born and naturalized citizen; they received the same wages, which were competitive with the pay offered by other businesses for the type of labor involved. Why would I want such employers punished?

In some cases, it's really easy to cross an international border. Countries often work out deals to allow people and materials to go back and forth more easily. For example, the US has worked out a visa waiver program with 27 other countries, including Canada. Under the waiver program, all you need to visit the US is a valid passport.

Mexico's probably on that list, right? And our other neighbors in the Caribbean and Central America? And lots of African nations? And South Asia? It's not top-heavy with European states and other countries with majority Caucasian populations is it?

Undocumented individuals who have been productive members of our society for a long time accrue "squatter's rights" and deserve a path to citizenship.

So says one young dual citizen. As we saw this summer, the majority of American citizens disagree.

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