Can we reform immigration just by calling things as they are?
Heralding the upcoming legislation battle about immigration reform, in her column in The Washington Post, Tamar Jacoby gives us an inside look into the process.
Opting for “comprehensive immigration reform”, Ms. Jacoby carefully avoids defining what it means. As proponents of increased immigration and granting legal status to undocumented immigrants, claim the term “comprehensive”, one may only guess that this is the objective of Ms. Jacoby. However, one can imagine resolving our immigration crisis just by capturing and forcefully deporting all presently undocumented immigrants, by militarizing the borders that even a mouse could not sneak in, and by using Arizona style police methods in chasing and removing those who still manage to come in. This approach, formally, could be called comprehensive as well.
Tamar Jacoby explains that we should try reforming immigration without defining the problem as otherwise we could poison the well with partisan politics. Behind carefully crafted wording of the Washington insider, the message is clear: the minds of some legislators are fossilized on ideologically biased positions, and are not susceptible to any rational arguments. Other legislators care less about immigration, but more about how some of their gestures could help them in the upcoming election. Ms. Jacoby warns that we need to navigate carefully in this Capitol Hill reality, because otherwise immigration reform would fail, as it did a few times in the recent years.
One may question this approach, arguing that previous attempts of reforming immigration failed due to that dancing around fossilized minds, private agendas of legislators, and because no one focused on comprehending the problem. Hence, it is time to call things as they are.
Until 1924, Europeans could freely arrive to America. Many did. Those who found work here, stayed; about 25% returned. As a result, about a hundred years ago, the U.S. emerged as a new world’s superpower. It is worth remembering that immigrants made America rich and powerful; especially in times when this position is diminishing.
The Immigration Act of 1924 practically stopped all immigration. One may argue that it was a coincidence that the Great Depression of 1929 occurred exactly when the booming construction business started suffering due to a shortage of low paid immigrant workers. However, one can argue as well that the Immigration Act of 1924 was one of the pivotal causes of the Great Depression, and made growing out of depression harder and longer. It was not the first time that not money, the best financial interest of the nation, but plain xenophobia formed immigration policy. The fear that about 4 million Jews could immigrate from then overpopulated Poland helped to pass the Immigration Act of 1924.
In the 1960s, it became obvious that the country needed more immigrants. Furthermore, it was not possible to keep any longer plainly racist, whites only immigration policy. Politicians went to work, and produced the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Immigration quotas were established based on the ridiculous concept that immigration to the U.S was a gift that the greatest nation on Earth gives away to the rest of the world. A family reunion concept was introduced. A foreigner could settle here thanks to having a brother living here already, without any consideration if he or she offered any set of skills and personal predispositions fitting the needs of the labor marketplace here.
Immigration policy based on the family reunion concept left foreigners without family members in the U.S. no chance of immigration. To address this problem, politicians in Washington invented lottery, the greatest idiocy of our immigration system. People were given immigration visas not because there was some economical need for them to come here at that time, but just because they had good luck at the lottery. Can one imagine a sane employer who would hire workers by a lottery system?
This logic of Washington produced its results in 1980s, when we faced a growing population of illegal immigrants. Instead of acknowledging the mess that they caused thus far, in 1986 politicians added even more to the mix. For the first 210 years of the Union, every American enjoyed the freedom of hiring anyone he or she pleased, regardless if this person came from across the street or across the ocean. It was legal to hire any foreigner one wanted without permission from the big government. Since 1986, one needs to ask the government for permission.
Our current immigration laws are based on the clearly socialistic concept that some bureaucrats in Washington know best how many foreigners should be allowed to come and work in the U.S. In this aspect, our immigration laws are un-American; this is the main reason that they are commonly disobeyed. The government cannot enforce them without creating an apparatus of compulsion comparable to that in the Soviet Union. It is worth reminding that the Soviet Union was established by the free will of majority people living in Russia at that time. Similarly, police methods of dealing with our immigration problem were voted into law in Arizona recently.
We need an immigration system originating from the principle that everyone who can come and find work here should be allowed to do so. Those who stay some predetermined time, let us say five years, should be allowed to apply for a green card, beginning their path to naturalization. We need to abandon family reunion and lottery visas. We need to keep Washington politicians away from micromanaging immigration.
Politicians in Washington need to acknowledge that they caused illegal immigration by voting in ridiculous laws. The solution should not be in adding more regulations, but in abandoning existing ones. In particular, we need to revoke these provisions of our immigration laws that require government permission to come and work in the U.S. By doing so, we would resolve the problem of amnesty, as we would not need to grant amnesty to people breaking the laws that should be declared invalid from their very beginning. The only amnesty we might consider should be for our lawmakers for creating the laws that brought this immigration havoc on us.
This is how it is. Can our lawmakers face this reality? Tamar Jacoby says no. I am afraid, she might be right.
A version of this text was published by Huffington Post