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Yesterday, Simon posted on Michael Reynold's creative immigration proposal, to set a price tag for immigrating to this country, and open the borders to anybody who could meet that price tag. As I had been intending to respond to Michael's creative idea already, I'm posting separately, rather than just joining the comments.
As most here know, I'm not a hard-core anti-immigration guy. We are indeed a nation of immigrants, and there have always been debates over how much immigration is too much, too fast. Each new generation of immigrants is seen as shiftless, lazy, wanting to take advantage of us, unlike the last generation of immigrants, who were of course universally industrious, perfectly healthy, and capable of speaking perfect English.
I'm also on record opining that immigration is not, primarily, a law enforcement problem but an economic problem. While securing the border better than it is now is certainly a necessary component of addressing the immigration problem, it's far from the only necessary component. As long as there are literally millions of Mexicans who find conditions so intolerable in their own country that they see great economic advantage in moving to the United States, we're not going to be able to shut down the border. We're also not going to be able to afford to send INS (sorry, ICE) agents to deport any significant fraction of the 10 to 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country.
For that reason, I admire Michael's efforts to think outside the box. We need to think a bit more outside the box to solve this problem. The anti-immigration crowd believes what the gun control crowd believes... if we just legislate against it enough, surely it will go away.
Alas, however, I think Michael solution is not the one. On the surface, it's very appealing. $20,000 ought to be a sign that one is relatively wealthy (accumulating $20,000 cash in a country like Mexico takes some doing). But it's not.
First, what's to stop the people from borrowing the money from the same organized networks that currently smuggle people into the country illegally? Put the $20k in the bank or in a bond, get into the U.S., and then withdraw it and pay it back (plus a hefty interest, of course). You could lessen this problem by requiring that the $20,000 remain in the bank or bond for a certain period of time, but then you've tied up the working capital of the immigrant, making it harder for them to prosper and increasing the likelihood of their needing government services.
There is already a fairly extensive network of criminal organizations which charge, heavily, to transport illegal immigrants into the U.S. Fees may range from $700 to $1200 for a simple delivery from Tijuana to Los Angeles, to more than $30,000 to make it from Asia to our shores.
The people wanting to come here don't have that much cash up front, so they come as indentured servants. They either spend much of their working career paying off the loan shark interest rates the smugglers charged or the smugglers take it out in trade... often as prostitutes or drug mules. The same people running this trade now would quickly set up a different business: Give the prospective immigrant $20,000 to put up for the American requirement. The immigrant agrees to shut down the account and repay the $20,000 as soon as he gets here. The interest payment is that the immigrant must swallow 10 balloons of heroin before getting on the flight over here.
Leaving the criminals aside, there are so many illegal immigrants here already, they could easily take $20,000 and pass it through several nuclear families within their extended family, using it as the seed money to get new folks in the door over and over again.
Michael's proposal would do nothing to stop the flood of poor immigrants, of course. We would need much tighter border security plus other economic reforms to accomplish that. There are, quite obviously, a lot of jobs available for poor immigrants to take at the moment. They won't stop coming just because we've let in a million smart, more well-to-do immigrants. The family that can put up $20,000 of their own money to come here won't be picking lettuce or cleaning hotel rooms or weed-eating our lawns.
So, Michael's proposal would do nothing to stop immigration by poor people. While it might give us more smart people, it would also depress the wages for smart people, simply by increasing the supply. Perhaps the supply would increase sufficiently so that the wages would decrease to level where we're competitive with India again for call support centers and programming farms. I don't know if that's a good thing or not.
No decrease of poor immigrants, a decrease in wages for the highly educated. I'm afraid that would be the end result if we were to implement your program, Michael.
My own proposal, which I believe I've made elsewhere, is similar, but on the other end of the financial spectrum: Allow relatively unrestricted immigration from residents of our southern neighbor countries, for a modest processing fee of maybe $1,000 and at least a cursory background check in their home country. As you say, we get the benefit of knowing who these folks are, having them fingerprinted, etc. on the way in. The price is competitive with what they're paying the mules already, it's attainable, it's much preferable in their mind then risking their life in a border crossing. Once here, they get their own social security number, cutting down on identity theft and requiring them to pay taxes. Wages and working conditions for the poor immigrants will go up, because the minimum wage law and OSHA will apply, and since they are legal, the immigrants need not fear being deported if they complain of violations of those laws. This will also decrease the relative advantage employers have to hire immigrants as a result of current sub-minimum wage and unsafe working conditions they can currently get away with imposing on illegal immigrants.
There's more to my proposal, but that will be for another post.