Monday, May 28, 2007

Immigration and an Entitlement Society

I'd like you to give me $33 per month for the rest of your life, please. Outrageous request? Please read on...

A week and a half ago, had you asked if I was in favor of "comprehensive immigration reform" I would have told you "yes". However, the more I read about the Immigration Bill, the less and less I like it; and the more I consider the non-enforcement parts of "comprehensive immigration reform," the less and less I like them.

To start, I think we can all agree that the current system "is broken." As I consider the current system though, I'm not particularly convinced that it's broken because of lack of legislation. Illegal immigration is, in fact, already illegal today without any new legislation.

What is broken is the enforcement side.

Now, granted, rounding up and mass deporting 12 million individuals would be both drastically expensive and nearly impossible. I'll also grant that deporting about 4% of our workforce (assuming 12 million illegal immigrants and a US population of 300 million, about one in twenty five persons in the United States are illegal immigrants) would be economically catastrophic.

But, I don't accept that allowing those 12 million individuals to stay here indefinitely is a valid solution either. They broke the law, that needs to be accounted for.

The bill now being debated does try to account for that with a $5,000 fine. In that regard, that "penalty" prevents the bill from being "amnesty" (in the strict sense of the word), but it hardly seems like a punishment, and such a measly "punishment" hardly seems like it would deter future illegal immigrants from crossing the border.

One thing that this bill does do is put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship. Ironically, this at the same time we are concerned about the growing costs of Social Security and Medicare ... and we want to add 12 million beneficiaries to those programs?

Looking more broadly than just Social Security and Medicare, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation ran some numbers. Using data from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, he figured out that about half of these twelve million lack a high school education. And looking at the typical immigrant high school drop out in the U.S., he found that they generally pay about $10,000 in a taxes per year, but receive $30,000 in government benefits. That's a net loss of $20,000 per year per individual. Ouch.

If you expand that across that apparently 6 million illegal immigrants that lack a high school education, and assume they all became citizens, you arrive at $120,000,000,000.00 a year. Let's spread that over 300 million individuals. We arrive at $400 each. Are you interested in giving the government $400 more per year? Neither am I. I can think of plenty of things I'd like to do for $33/month (including philanthropic things!) other than giving it to the government because we have an influx of individuals taking three times more in government benefits than what they pay in taxes.

The bottom line of immigration, I think, is that we need to change the incentives. Illegal immigrants cross the border illegally because it's worth their while to do so. The economic opportunities outweigh the risks. Since your average American citizen is becoming more and more educated, we have areas in our economy that would (and do) benefit from unskilled laborers. Why not reform (simplify) the immigration process and make our allowance of how many legal immigrants we accept per year large enough to let in a sufficient number that the desire to come illegally is drastically reduced?

At the same time, if you add enforcement at the hiring level, requiring employers to check the status of their workers, and giving them the tools they need to do so, illegal immigrants that come won't be able to find work and will leave.

Paths to citizenship that will cost the American tax payers $120,000,000,000.00 a year are not the way to go though. And, as I whole I think this bill does much more harm than good ... John Boehner was right.

BTW, if you are looking for in depth details and analysis of this bill, allow me to recommend:

Update: I think I got that $5,000 figure wrong... Quoting from a recent Heritage Foundation publication, "Rewarding Illegal Aliens: Senate Bill Undermines The Rule of Law":

The most controversial component of the Senate's Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 is Title VI, euphemistically entitled "Nonimmigrants in the United States Previously in Unlawful Status." It would create a new "Z" visa exclusively for illegal aliens. This title would change the status of those who are here illegally to legal, essentially granting amnesty to those "previously in unlawful status."


The price of a Z visa is $3,000 for individuals—only slightly more than the going rate to hire a coyote to smuggle a person across the border. A family of five could purchase visas for the bargain price of $5,000—some $20,000 short of the net cost that household is likely to impose on local, state, and federal government each year

The publication actually goes into detail on ten controversial (outrageous?) provisions of Title VI. It concludes:

What becomes unmistakably clear from the details of the Senate's bill is that it is not a "compromise" in any meaningful sense. Indeed, the sweeping amnesty provisions of Title VI cripple law enforcement and undermine the rule of law.

Well put.

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