On Immigration

Amazingly, it appears that the Shithole Shutdown (TM) is coming to a quick end, because Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer did what Democrats do best: caved compromised for the good of the institution. The question is whether Republicans in both houses of Congress are willing to reciprocate, and most liberals don’t think they will. But my guess is that this is what Schumer is counting on. Republicans have both houses of Congress and the White House. They have the initiative, and they are the ones being proactive. It was Donald Trump who decided to end President Obama’s DACA order, and thus made this an issue for Congress. It was Mitch McConnell and the Congressional Republicans who withheld Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding last year so they could make that an issue for the next budget debate. And they used that to set up a choice between supporting DACA recipients and CHIP recipients. By bargaining for CHIP, Schumer put the ball back in Republicans’ court and obliged Stephen Miller or whoever Trump’s substitute brain is this week to come up with a DACA deal before February 8. And if that doesn’t happen, it will be a lot harder for them to blame the Democrats. And as we know, blame is the only objective here.

The general issue of illegal immigration is something that I have been mulling over in my head for quite a while now, but obviously the present situation makes it that much more relevant.

Be warned: What I say here has something to piss off everyone in the family.

The issue is that in regard to the Latin American community (the main ethnicity of immigrants being discussed) we are actually dealing with three related but distinct groups. First, you have the people who were born in another country and came to this country illegally (the so-called ‘undocumented’). Second, you have people who were likewise born in another country but were brought here illegally by their parents when they were young children, were raised in this country, and are effectively Americans except for a legal technicality (the ‘Dreamers’). And finally, you have the children of such illegal immigrants who were born here, and are full American citizens, but have to worry about their families being deported.

It matters that these are related but separate groups. The conservative, anti-immigrant position fixates on a few points. One is that immigrants (again, principally Hispanic) are allegedly not assimilating to the larger culture, especially with regard to learning English. Statistically at least, that’s not the case. According to at least one 2007 paper, first-generation Mexicans (presumably including illegal immigrants) still lag behind in learning English. However second-generation immigrant Hispanic children acquire English just as fast as Asian or European immigrants. Moreover, support for making English the official language of the US is nearly equal among white, black and Asian populations, but while a distinct minority of first-generation Hispanics favors this policy, a clear majority of third-generation Hispanics do. Indeed that might help account for why 28 percent of Hispanic voters went for Trump in 2016.

This is contrary to the racist or near-racist idea that certain people are innately unable to adopt American values (whatever those are). When Hispanic Trump supporters were interviewed, some of them said that they were citizens from families that had lived in the United States for generations. They didn’t identify with the negative stereotype of recent immigrants that Trump was trading in. Thus, the longer one’s family has been in the US (or the farther back one’s heritage goes) the more likely one is to adopt mainstream or even conservative positions. In turn, this indicates that the more assimilated or “American” a person feels, the less likely it is that they will automatically identify with liberal-left institutions. Certainly it is not guaranteed that they will vote for Democrats just because they’re “people of color.”

Another complaint is that “illegals are taking our jobs.” This is not entirely true, but there is a certain amount of truth to it. George J. Borjas, writing for Politico, says: “The typical high school dropout earns about $25,000 annually. According to census data, immigrants admitted in the past two decades lacking a high school diploma have increased the size of the low-skilled workforce by roughly 25 percent. As a result, the earnings of this particularly vulnerable group dropped by between $800 and $1,500 each year.” This is countered by the (mostly liberal) apologia that unauthorized immigrants are “just doing the jobs Americans won’t do.”

In the current economy, without the same job security and benefits of the European job market, Americans work harder and take less vacation time than workers in EU countries. The number of people holding multiple jobs came to about 5.2 percent of the working population in 2016. There is no such thing as “jobs that Americans won’t do.” There are jobs that Americans will not do for no minimum wage and no safety standards.

But American citizens and people raised in America would know their rights and the laws of the system. For “under the table” employers to act the way they want, they would need people who don’t know their rights and if they did, are hindered from acting on them due to the threat of deportation.

For that, frankly, you need an illegal.

Yet, liberals who are generally against libertarian positions on free trade agree with libertarians on this one point of free movement of labor. (And vice versa.) The same people who object to corporations “outsourcing” jobs to countries with lower wages and safety standards do not consider that hiring illegal labor amounts to outsourcing within our own borders. And the liberal position on this ignores all of the standard liberal objections to laissez-faire economics, including the point that you need a government to establish the rules of trade in the first place.

By the same token, conservatives who go on about “borders, language and culture” elide the fact that this country is under replacement fertility rate, that immigration is the main reason we still have population increase, and that as the Republican voter base becomes older and whiter, they are going to need a browner labor force to pay for their Social Security and Medicare.

Hispanic American citizens (and to a lesser extent Dreamers) have been educated in this country and thus have access to greater career opportunities than immigrants who do not have documentation or legal status. Younger generations of immigrants are more likely to identify with the old culture, and more likely to see themselves as vulnerable to government policy where minorities are concerned. For different reasons, Republicans and Democrats have ulterior motives in leaving the legal status of immigrant families up in the air, and to leave the current immigration policy up in the air so that current and future immigrants stay in illegal status rather than go through a bureaucracy that takes years to confirm residency.

Ultimately, Republicans are looking for a captive labor market and Democrats are looking for a captive voter demographic, and that is why we do not and will not have a consistent and fair immigration policy, because a consistent and fair policy would not be of benefit to either side.

It also means that there is neither a good faith argument nor honesty on either side. For instance, in Vox, Ezra Klein says, “I’ll admit I’m unnerved to see not just Trump, but McConnell and others, begin to refer to the core issue as ‘illegal immigration’ — the more they define DREAMers as illegal immigrants and a DACA deal as amnesty, the harder it will be for them to back down and eventually cut that deal.” There’s just one problem: Technically, the Dreamers ARE illegal immigrants and a DACA deal IS amnesty. Conservatives should not be afraid to say this. And liberals should then reiterate the moral argument: Dreamers were raised in this country and have no ties to their country of origin. They did not choose to come here, and should not be punished for what their parents did. But if we let them stay (which is both the moral and practical policy) we are doing the same thing that Reagan Republicans did and putting off a consistent policy on controlling immigration.

Indeed, that amnesty is much of the reason that the Republican political culture is so hostile to negotiation and compromise now, because for decades they’ve been chewing over the idea that compromise means “they” get everything they want and “we” get nothing. And in the long term, the actual racists took advantage of that, which is how the party of Reagan and the Bushes became the Tea Party and then the Party of Trump.

An actual solution would mean creating a real government policy through Congress and not just kicking the can down the road and using the conflict as a pretext to rile up the base by blaming the other guy. An actual solution would be a permanent solution, one that would acknowledge human rights while also asserting the priority of the government to control immigration. The latter is not an inherently racist position, but as with the rest of Republican conservatism, it has become such due to the embrace of Donald Trump and a voter base that is proudly reactionary. That is why we are where we are and why negotiation is increasingly impossible under the current politics. Which is why anybody who cares needs to seriously look at the current political leadership and plan to change it.


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