Immigration Fiasco in the Making

In several posts on immigration I’ve come down on the side of increasing legal immigration options while closing off illegal immigration options. The idea is basically summarized as,

  • decrease the costs of legal immigration,
  • increase the costs of illegal immigration.

The problem with the current approach looks like it is going to be a dismal failure. In trying to implement amnesty for those illegals already here, implementing a guest worker program, and securing the border is likely to produce bad outcomes. As Bryan Preston notes,

But anyone with three brain cells might see the flaw in that law right away: Once they’re here, they can get fake papers that can prove they’ve been here for 15 years instead of the actual 15 minutes. Having already braved the journey and broken our laws to get here, does it make sense to think they’ll just tell the truth to the first ICE officer they happen to run across? Of course not. They’ll break additional laws to stay here.

The problem is that government tends to do things very badly. Politicians tend to look at the first plan the comes along, maybe change it a little bit to suit special interests, then go with it. This tends to lead to bad results. Politicians are not going to craft legislation that is going to seriously address the issue. They almost never do. Look at any “plan” on just about any issue that any politician puts forward and you’ll find alot of “tinkering around with the little things”. Case in point, No Child Left Behind. By requiring that states attain 100% proficiency in Math and Reading by 2014 and allowing states to pick their own tests, the result are a bunch of dumbed down tests. It is also not uncommon for rotten policies like this to go hand-in-hand with spending buckets of money either directly or indirectly (i.e. fixing the mess these policies create).

The problem is largely one of size. We have anywhere from 8 to 12 million illegal aliens in the country right now. A guest worker plan would likely admit a large number of people. From the standpoint of checking people out and keeping track of them, it is an expensive proposition. The problem is that there seems to be no will or desire to make sure that the job is done right.

I find it typical of the political system in this country. We spend billions on stupid crap like bridges to nowhere. We keep re-electing these venal and weak-kneed legislators. The budget deficit shows no signs of being reduced, but when it comes to something that is actually important there is nothing there to ensure that it is done correctly.

Update: Also be sure to read Radley Balko’s post on immigration and how the current arguments aren’t…well that current.

In 1891, then-Representative Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA) expressed similar worries about the wave of immigration that brought Representative Tancredo’s grandparents from Italy to the United States. He warned “that immigration to this country is increasing and…is making its greatest relative increase from races most alien to the body of the American people and from the lowest and most illiterate classes among those races.” He was speaking principally of the Italians, but also the Russians, Poles and Hungarians. He observed that these immigrants, “half of whom have no occupation and most of whom represent the rudest form of labor,” are “people whom it is very difficult to assimilate and do not promise well for the standard of civilization in the United States.”

Lodge complained that many of them “have no money at all. They land in this country without a cent in their pockets.” Of the Italians in particular he objected that many “stay but a short time in the United States” in order to “then return to their native country with such money as they have been able to save here.” He warned that these sorts of immigrants, “who come to the United States, reduce the rate of wages by ruinous competition, and then take their savings out of the country, are not desirable. They are mere birds of passage. They form an element in the population which regards home as a foreign country, instead of that in which they live and earn money. They have no interest or stake in the country, and they never become American citizens.”

Compare the above to comments by Tom Tancredo,

Representative Tom Tancredo (R-6th/CO), chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, declares that in the United States today the “vast majority of immigrants are low-skill, low-wage earners, and are a drain on this nation due to their level of poverty.” He asserts that “we are reducing the standard of living for millions of Americans. We are creating linguistic ghettos where millions of immigrants speak no English while replicating living standards such as those found in Haiti, Calcutta and poor nations.”

Tancredo argues that “contrary to what has happened in the United States in the past in our history where immigrant families have come, labored hard, their children have then gone on to the next stage,” the children of Mexican immigrants “are dropping out of high school, never getting to college, and Hispanic Americans…are not moving ahead and achieving the same sorts of goals as immigrants of the past.”

He warns that “Massive immigration in this country will determine not just what kind of Nation we will be, but whether we will be a Nation at all.”

I think most people would look at Lodge’s comments and wince at the thinly veiled racism. The comments by the likes of Tancredo are all too frequently heard on the talk radio programs. Mexican illegals are largely illiterate, they have too many babies, they don’t speak our language, they want California, Arizona and New Mexico to go back to Mexico! The Mexicans are coming, the Mexicans are coming!

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Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. floyd says:

    the cacophony of confounded confusion on this subject maybe the obituary of a nation without the will or sense to survive.the eulogy to read “it was an ill-fated nobel experiment, based on the misguided idea that men value liberty and principle”

  2. floyd says:

    noble not nobel

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    Oh please floyd you are starting to sound like Henry Cabot Lodge and Ben Franklin. The country survived far longer than either of those two esteemed gentlemen.

  4. floyd says:

    steve ; thank you so much!