Monday, April 10, 2006

Common sense and illegal immigration

More on the true economics of illegal immigration
When conservatives don't get it about illegal immigration
Price-setting and illegal immigration
The politics and economics of illegal immigration

Alan Reynold's new column on illegal immigration is a real gem. Not only does he exhibit amazing clarity of thought, he demonstrates that he knows the real deal with immigration laws. Some highlights:
I never said we should not secure our borders. But border guards and immigration officers get no respect. The United States convicted 21,821 of immigration violations in 2003, and formally deported 202,842 in 2004. If anyone really hopes to deport 12 million, there aren't enough buses....

What I most object to is self-righteous pontificating by people who have no idea how our immigration laws work, or why they don't. I keep hearing radio talksters and cable newsters being outraged about how unfair it is for illegal aliens to "jump to the head of the line." They should wait their turn, too, just as legal immigrants do. But there is no such line. Waiting lines are for relatives, not workers....

Forget the silly idea that there are only so many jobs to go around. We are aging fast, and the country will soon run short of younger workers who can take a load off our creaking backs....

Those who talk tough about enforcing our immigration laws need to first understand just how ridiculous those laws really are. Then they need to explain just how they would go about enforcing those ridiculous laws and why tough enforcement would not simply increase the incentive to hide.

The House wants to declare illegal immigration a felony. Did the House actually expect law enforcement to attempt arresting an estimated 5.4 million men and 3.9 million women and sending them to federal prisons? What would we do with their 1.8 million kids?

Many illegal immigrants can hardly imagine a more luxurious life than a federal prison. If Congress invited Central America's poorest young men to a prepaid vacation at Club Fed, they'd gladly volunteer by the millions.

Should we slap big fines on businesses caught hiring illegal immigrants? Do we really want a lot of young Latinos wandering the street without work? Many work in the cash economy as migrant workers at small farms, casual day laborers for marginal construction companies, maids, nannies, lawn maintenance workers and the like. They are employed by households or very small businesses, making the cost of enforcement much higher than any likely benefit.

I am not offering easy solutions -- at least not before someone explains just what the problems are and which ones need to be solved first, second and third. Those who offer easy solutions are fooling you, fooling themselves or both. Whenever Congress is so obviously befuddled as it is on this issue, the safest thing for it to do is absolutely nothing.
I do disagree with something he wrote, mostly because of his particular choice of phrasing:
President Bush insults our intelligence when he says illegal immigrants are needed to fill jobs that legal residents won't do. There is no job that can't be filled at a price. If that price is too high, consumers will simply take on more do-it-yourself projects -- mowing their own lawns, cleaning their own homes, growing their own vegetables, cooking their own meals and taking care of their own children or elderly parents. We would not pay any more for fruit and vegetables because the price is set on world markets -- we'd just import more fruit and vegetables from Mexico.
There are jobs Americans won't do, not at the maximum wages that other Americans would be willing to pay. Thus, as I pointed out before, the jobs would not exist for legal domestic labor. Some jobs would still exist, but I would pay for it by having less money to spend on other things, or less free time. Whether I pay more for fruit or I mow the lawn myself, my standard of living goes down. Similarly, we hire illegal immigrants to pick our domestic produce, because it's cheaper than importing equivalents, which improves our standard of living. On the other hand, the only people who would benefit from restricting illegal immigrant labor are union members and their fellow protectionists whose jobs are threatened by cheap, willing immigrant labor.

A lot of conservative commentators push a panacea that Reynolds warned about. I once heard one erroneously (and foolishly) ask, "Isn't it worth paying $1 more for a pound of strawberries to have less violent crime?" -- as if the two were linked! Fixing the problems with illegal immigration is not just a matter of accepting a higher price for produce, or tightening borders. Crime is a lot more profitable than picking fruit for $2 per hour, so when you see an illegal immigrant in the field doing back-breaking work that even Americans won't do for $8.50 per hour, he's not the criminal type you should worry about. And as Reynolds pointed out, how will you have such security that you can deport all "illegals"?

Ah, but what if that illegal immigrant is receiving more in social services than he benefits Americans? I've pointed out many times that abolishing the welfare state for everybody, citizens and non-citizens alike, will take care of conservatives' complaint that illegal immigrants use so many social services. Once that happens, the government-created distinction between legal and illegal immigrants will disappear. Maybe that's a too-easy solution, but should we be surprised that big government is the cause of the principal problem with illegal immigrants?

Someone recently commented on my blog,
illegal aliens almost by definition can not pay taxes. in order to work they use false document under false names and often documents of other people. They also use our public health care system to have babies. Then they lend their babies to legal hispanics who file taxes and get thousands in earned income credit. I suppose that is also a job Americans won't do.
I have asked before, is that why we should welcome immigrants, so we can tax them to hell and back? The comment is fair to point out the abuses of the welfare state, but it doesn't go far enough and call for the abolishment of all government social programs. Besides, and I'll have to look for the statistics later when I have time, while illegal immigrants consume a lot each year in per capita government spending, American citizens in fact consume more. And no offense to the reader, but only a naïve person would believe that only illegal immigrants cheat on taxes. Besides, if it deprives big government of money that it tries to coerce from anyone, then good!

I recently asked in a comment on Difster's blog, "Ultimately, though, what's the difference between a legal immigrant and and an illegal one?" To my pocketbook, there is none. Several years ago, I was moving and needed help with my furniture. I didn't want to impose on my friends, who'd feel obligated to help for no pay (it was a Monday, anyway, when they'd be working). Professional movers would have charged a mint, however, I knew that many Central Americans congregated in the heart of Brewster. There are various spots in Westchester and Putnam Counties where "day laborers" wait to be hired off the street, usually for odd jobs, and they'll work hard for less than Americans will pay.

There were two that morning, and though neither spoke any English, I remembered enough Spanish (and could effect enough of a South American accent so I didn't sound too gringo). "Necesito un hombre para trabajar, mover muebles. Diez dólares por cada hora." ("I need a man to work, move furniture. Ten dollars for each hour.") The elder, a thin 40-ish man whose hair had a little gray, accepted. And during several hours of lifting and driving, the fellow worked incredibly hard, never complained and never asked for so much as a coffee break. We didn't learn so much as each other's name, let alone where we were born, but it didn't matter. The only important thing to him was earning money when he'd otherwise earn none, and the only important thing to me was hiring a hard worker for the least possible cost.

Did I deprive an American of an employment opportunity? You betcha...and so what? Did he commit a crime? Not that I am aware of. Therefore, what business is it of anyone's that I hired him instead of a professional mover or even Big Bird?

There you have my confession; I guess I can say goodbye to any hope of holding a Cabinet position. Right, Linda Chavez? I'll never get over the bruhaha regarding her hired "domestic help." For heaven's sake, what kind of a society crucifies a woman whose employee voluntarily accepted the work? By looking out for her own self interest (hiring someone for the least possible cost), Chavez nonetheless provided a better living to a woman who would do far, far worse in her native country.



Blogger M. said...

As far as illegals paying no taxes---that's not entirely true. They pay sales taxes, fees, etc... for everything they do.
They just don't pay income tax, which they would likely get a refund for the entire amount AND EVEN MORE (Earned Income Credit)at the wages they earn.
So, in a sense, it's better if they don't pay income taxes so we don't have to refund them more than they put in.

Monday, April 10, 2006 2:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Illegal immigrant even got the guts to flood our streets to protest about the unfairness of rules and laws in the US against them. Duh, they violated the rules when jumped over the border! What is more irritating is that they are dragging the issue of immigrants in general. well not all immigrants are illegal to start with, secondly it is an issue of illegal immigration. Third, even if they pay taxes on the goods they buy... they also flood our county hospitals and drain our countries resources.
No to illegal immigration.... send then back across the border....
their numbers in the street are just so little, compared to the overall number of legal migrants living in the US anyway.

Monday, April 10, 2006 11:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is not that the illegals seek healthcare at our county hospitals but that our govt. offers free services. Anytime you price a good or service below it's market value (especially if you give it away) the demand will exceed the supply. Free service--everyone shows up--even those who really don't need it.
Immigration would not even be a concern if our govt. wasn't promising so many free services.
We need to call for an end to ALL Welfare...foreign and domestic.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006 8:36:00 AM  

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