Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thoughts on Immigration

I haven't yet weighed, or inveighed for that matter, in on the comprehensive immigration reform package in front of Congress. The problem and legislation are so complex, it makes it hard even for people who have done a fair amount of reading about the issue to authoritatively comment on it. Impossible maybe, but here I go anyway.

Let's begin with this from Linda Chavez:

Some people just don't like Mexicans -- or anyone else from south of the border. They think Latinos are freeloaders and welfare cheats who are too lazy to learn English. They think Latinos have too many babies, and that Latino kids will dumb down our schools. They think Latinos are dirty, diseased, indolent and more prone to criminal behavior. They think Latinos are just too different from us ever to become real Americans.


Stripped bare, this is what the current debate on immigration reform is all about.

What garbage. That such people exist is undeniable, but you believe that even though the country by a strong margin opposes amnesty that this is all driven by a bunch of racists? That most of the sober pundits who analyze this bill come away saying only that it's better than nothing? But no, it's much easier to question someone's motivations than deal with their mostly legitimate arguments.

President Bush added to the chorus yesterday:

"Those determined to find fault with this bill will always be able to look at a narrow slice of it and find something they don't like," the president said. "If you want to kill the bill, if you don't want to do what's right for America, you can pick one little aspect out of it.

"You can use it to frighten people," Bush said. "Or you can show leadership and solve this problem once and for all."

Aside from the obvious incredulity at Bush accusing anyone of using fear as a tactic, one might ask what he could be thinking in so directly alienating conservatives. I don't think it's a stretch to read his quote as accusing immigration opponents of not wanting to do what's right for America, again attacking their motivations. I can only assume that Bush's desire to be seen as the guy who "freed" the illegal immigrants and delivered voters to the GOP. Wooing the Hispanic vote has long been a top goal for Rove and Bush.

Most people are not picking out one "narrow slice" of the bill for criticism. By most accounts the things is a mess. There are some things I like about it and some I don't. Senator McCain agrees, but argues that's the best we can hope for, since it's the only kind of bill that can get the votes to pass. He may be right, and if so the question becomes whether it's better to do nothing.

What I like:
  • An earned path to citizenship for illegals already in the country
  • Giving greater weight to more highly-skilled workers
  • Expansion of the H-1B visa program, from 50,000 per year to up to 180,000, depending on demand
  • Better border enforcement
...and what I don't like:
  • The path to citizenship is expensive and impractical. Who's going to go through with it?
  • Though knowledge of English is rewarded under the new "points system," it isn't made the official language, nor is much else done to reinvigorate a commitment to assimilation. We have to be able to deal with the issues of perpetual bi-lingual education and gaming of the dual citizenship system.
  • H-1B fees go from $1500 to $5000 per company hire, with extra regulation. That's onerous for a lot of small businesses.
And in the end, I'll make an educated guess that most of it just isn't going to work. That we lack the will to enforce the more controversial portions of the bill, that it will continue to depress wages on the low end, and that we're going to start over like we did after the 1986 amnesty bill. And yes, even proponents are admitting this amounts to amnesty.

So listen closely, Mr. Bush and Ms. Chavez: I want a lot of immigrants to come to America. I don't have a fear of "the other" and revel in experiencing different cultures. But I want people who come here to want to be Americans.

At my business, we have a list of six "core values" that includes things like passion, innovation, and creativity. When we hire a new employees, we know people may come from any background and have world views much different than our own. But they need to believe in and practice those six core values, because they are what makes our company what it is.

America has core values too, and they're found written in places like the Constitution, but also as an unwritten code of individual responsibility, a strong work ethic, commitment to rule of law, freedom of expression, and others. I welcome anyone here who subscribes to these virtues because how we practice them is how I measure this country. Let's not pretend that illegal immigrants are either uniformly virtuous or lazy welfare cheats. A good immigration bill should allow in a whole lot of the former and none of the latter. I saying we should pass it or not? I can't give an unqualified answer, but I think McCain is probably about right that it'd be hard to improve it much without losing possibility of passage.

If I felt that what is in the bill will actually be enforced (and please, please rework the guest worker portions...), it would be much easier for me to support it for all its flaws, and resign myself to fixing the rest later.

This isn't a bill likely to truly satisfy anyone. It's not a good bill, but if it's the only choice we have, it will be better than the game we're currently playing.

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