Immigration Follies

Mrs. Chavez,

In a recent column, you argue for granting amnesty to illegal aliens in this country. I'm taking you to task specifically, because your argument for amnesty appears in a conservative newsletter, and you betray nominally conservative principles. No, I don't mean racial WASP principles, but fairness, equality of opportunity, and equality before the law. That said, your reasoning is flawed, and here's why.

First, you argue that illegal immigrants should be granted legal status based on their utility as cheap domestic labor, and our need to overcome our (American) racism and hypocrisy. This is the worst way to start off. Applying utilitarian "principles" quickly has you deporting, say, Elbonians, because most of them are uneducated criminals. How does your argument work when considering Indian and Chinese computer programmers? They are highly skilled, highly paid, speak English, and are not usually discriminated against, but they "steal our jobs". Why not grant amnesty to them as well? Second, you completely ignore the classical liberal tradition of equality before the law. Why grant amnesty to Mexicans, but not Columbians? Talk about racism. Granting amnesty to a specific group smacks of the worst kind: politically motivated, vote buying racism. Not that anyone notices real racism anymore. Third, you claim that amnesty is the "moral" thing to do. Illegal immigrants break our nations laws to get here, then trespass, trash private property, and steal (albeit second hand) when they enroll children in "public" education and other social services. How is it "moral" to fleece me when illegal immigrants aren't paying income tax?

Aspects of the central part of your essay are correct. The IRCA is a failed law. Illegal immigrants come here looking for better jobs. Lower wages paid to immigrants are beneficial to those who buy their services: lawn-care, nannies, wait-staff, construction, and maid service. Then, you miss the core of the real problem. You are close when you state:

"But the fact is, the demand for labor in this country exceeds the supply of U.S.-born and legal immigrants, which is why so many illegal aliens come here to fill the gap."

The "gap" you refer to is the artificial wage gap created by the government mandated minimum wage. Businesses get in serious trouble paying Social Security card carrying Americans less than the minimum wage. It literally can't be done on the books. It's cash under the table, but this is risky since an ex-employee can turn in the business owner. Illegal immigrants are the perfect solution, since squealing to the government over minimum wage will get you deported. It's a mutual blackmail situation. Now, what do you suppose will happen when 3 million workers suddenly find they can demand "minimum" wage and full benefits without threat of deportation? They will.

Now, let's imagine an Amnesty Bill actually gets passed. Since the folks are illegal aliens to begin with, they have no proof of when they got here. They'll have to show up at some "Amnesty Office" to grant "Amnesty Cards", probably setup at the already overburdened Immigration and Naturalization Service offices, by some date several months in the future. Folks in other countries who never considered coming to the United States will be encouraged to come here in the hopes of faking their way into the first round, or waiting for the inevitable second round of amnesty. It will literally be an invasion as people pour over the border to show up at the INS office by whatever amnesty card deadline is set. Thousands will die on the way. The black market in people smuggling will be immense. The schemes, multiple amnesty cards, amnesty selling, and identity stealing will be something out of Germany, 1940.

I digress; let me get back to the original point: the supply and demand of labor. On the demand side, government curbs demand for legal labor and thereby encourages illegal immigration by artificially driving up the price with the minimum wage. When governments create a minimum price for labor, we get the worst of both worlds: higher prices, and unemployment. It's interesting to note that minimum wage laws were created by pressure from the labor unions to keep recent legal immigrants from “stealing” their jobs. The Law of Unintended Consequences is not without a sense of irony, it seems. On the supply side of the equation, we have two more labor union full employment schemes. These were aided and abetted by their idiotic, Wilson Democrat, League of Nations, world-builder masters: Compulsory Public Education and Retirement. The labor unions have an understanding of supply and demand. Cut off the supply of labor using the law to snip the young and the old out of the market, and poof, you just voted yourself a raise as the new supply and demand curves intersect at a higher price. The final government stranglehold on the labor supply is the 1.3 million mostly young, able-bodied military personnel stationed around the world, in addition to the millions of overpaid, incompetent government bureaucrats.

Mrs. Chavez, you are correct in your understanding of the illegal immigration problem as part of the larger demand for inexpensive labor. The market is nothing if not efficient. Create an artificially high price for labor, and the market supplies a substitute. I'll present the solution in small steps, so as not to scare you with my radical libertarian agenda.

First, repeal all minimum wage, maximum hour, retirement, child labor, and compulsory education laws. Some will argue that 6 year old children will be working 80 hours a week in sweatshop factories while hooked to electrodes to keep them hopping. Please. Nike can't even employ kids in Indonesia (at great rates for poor Indonesians, no less) without private groups hounding them. Let watchdogs do their job. Consumer Reports, Ralph Nader, Underwriters Laboratories, and Clark Howard are better than all the government alphabet soup agencies.

Second, bring home our military, and reduce force size. World War II is over, but we're still in Okinawa and Japan. North Korea and South Korea are warming, but we're still in South Korea. The Soviet Union is no more, and the Reich collapsed long ago, but we still occupy Germany with 60,000 Americans. Let's collect on that peace dividend we've been waiting on since the end of the Cold War.

Third, privatize, privatize, privatize. What are all these government functionaries, potentates, and apparatchiks doing in the land of the free? It's time to scrape the barnacles off our ship of state.

I could go on, but I'd just end up parroting most of the libertarian arguments for what a Constitutional government looks like, and this essay is about illegal immigration.

So, now that we've gotten the government out of the labor union full employment scam, the new supply of legal, inexpensive labor will displace some illegal immigrants. If it's legal to hire a young, willing, English-speaking American for $3.00 an hour, why risk hiring an illegal immigrant. With an oversupply of inexpensive labor, many illegals will be incented to take their money, and go home. With a new political party in office, and a sudden influx of cash carrying, entrepreneurial, English-speaking laborers who have seen how it's done in the land-of-the-relatively-free, might the repatriation of a few million Mexicans and other illegal aliens be the medicine needed for those countries to improve? That is the flip side of the immigration coin. People in other countries want to live the American Dream. Let's help redefine the American Dream to cover all of North and South America.

There will always be immigrants trying to come to the United States, yearning to breath free. The solution above is not perfect. Contrasted with the massive influx sure to accompany an Amnesty Bill, this solution heads all of America in the right direction.

July 18, 2001