Thursday, April 21, 2005

Land of Opportunity?

     Immigration is a funny issue. Not really "haha" funny, unless you count Yakov Smirnoff, which I don't. The United States was built on it, yet Americans have very mixed feelings about it. A recent mini-post about the Minuteman Project brought up a small discussion about immigration and its effects.
     It's hard to know where to begin on such a complex topic. I should first note that we need immigration like we need air or water. The United States is one of only a few first-world countries that is growing and not declining. The only reason for that is immigration, since so many natural-born Americans are having less than 2 children. The replacement fertility rate is 2.1 children per family (above 2.0 to account for early deaths). The US fertility rate is 2.08, and to be honest, most of that is among our immigrant population. Our entire economy depends on growth. If our population does not grow, our economy stagnates. You may dislike the fact that the country is looking less and less like you (or you may love it, I don't know), but the reality is that we don't have enough children to sustain our way of life. We're trading our national future for private school and nannies.
     That being said, I think most people understand how fragile our national infrastructure is. I commented previously how amazing our government is that no matter how bitter the political fight, the loser still turns out the lights and leaves the keys on the desk. We follow the rule of law, for the most part. Our military stays out of politics - we don't have to worry about the 53rd infantry marching on Washington. All of these institutions exist because we say they exist. They exist because there is a national conscious that keeps these things in place. It doesn't take a nattering nabob of negativism to imagine doomsday scenarios. I think most of us were at least a little afraid in 2000 that the election would never be resolved and we'd have competing Presidents with supporters on both sides. If we let immigration run unchecked and unregulated, how secure will these institutions be? We can debate whether we're a melting pot or a mosaic, but we're really a little of both. Immigrants get the American experience and we train them in the American way of life (SUV's, malls, American Idol). To this extent, Ben's comments on assimilation have a bit of validity.
     One major complaint about illegal immigrants is that they work for peanuts. Because they're undocumented, employers don't always bother paying them minimum wage. Labor unions and workers in low-skill jobs understandably complain that they can't compete. In addition, as Ben pointed out, their earnings aren't taxed. (However, at such a low wage rate, even if they were legal, they probably wouldn't have incurred taxes anyway. Ironically, this is an argument both for and against minimum wage. For: MW helps protect workers from being exploited. In America, we believe the punishment should fit the crime. Should the proper punishment for sneaking across the border be slavery or deportation? Against: It seems the jobs that immigrants take aren't even worth $5.15 an hour. Why should be push for more? But this is also an issue that goes away with increased legal immigration, since if they're legal, they'll take legal jobs.
     Another complaint - they send their money back to their home country. But think about this - they spend some of that money here, on rent, on food, on gasoline (OK, that money goes straight to Saudi Arabia), on entertainment. Any money they send home is still their money. Two things will happen to that dollar that goes to papa in Mexico City: it will come back to the US to buy goods or services, or it will stay in Mexico propping up the value of the dollar. The US Mint makes hundreds of thousands of dollars by making money that goes to collectors. By staying out of circulation, the treasury never has to buy it back. That's what's happening to the expatriate money in this case. Plus, think of the alternative. If a business relocates to Guadalajara, 100% of the salaries it pays (plus 100% of the overhead) goes to Mexico. If the business is in Arizona and hires immigrants, 100% of the overhead stays in the US along with maybe 30%-50% of the salaries. Which is a better situation?
     The last complaint I want to talk about is their use of services. Certainly illegals can be a drain on a local government's resources. But maybe we forgot why we set up these services in the first place. Free schools, available healthcare, transit... we didn't create these out of the goodness of our hearts. These institutions benefit our society more than it benefits the people using them. We have schools, for example, because we have decided we want an educated workforce. If you have ever been in a hiring position, you know how crucial it is to get someone who has been properly educated. Imagine if only private schools were available and anyone who couldn't afford it would get no schooling. Our economy would wither for lack of a workforce. For all the talk about lowering unemployment, when we run out of qualified applicants, businesses suffer just as much. Ask someone working in Orlando in the late 90's, when unemployment there dipped to 0.5%. Try staffing a McDonalds when the Publix across the street was paying $0.30 more per hour. We provide emergency healthcare to the poor because we don't want plagues and epidemics sweeping the streets from time to time. (see above about staffing businesses) These aren't gimmee programs no matter how generous they look. There's something in it for us too.
     We need to protect our borders - there's no question about that. But maybe it would be easier to spot the terrorists trying to cross if there were a trickle of illegals trying to come over instead of a flood. Maybe we should increase legal immigration and make these people legitimate citizens. In a time of trade deficits, maybe our greatest product is American citizenship. Maybe we can parley that into a new period of growth for our country. If you think you can do better, see about asking your friends to all have 4 or 5 children each. Good luck!


sideshow bob said...

I come for the opinions, I stay for the Agnew references. And poor Yakov, the final casuality of the cold war.

Johnny Virgil said...

That's an interesting take on it. I think one of the main problems is that today's immigrants do not want to assimilate. They don't want to become American -- they want to stay [insert nationality] in America. I know my grandfather came here from italy. He recognized citizenship for the treasure it was. He learned english. He came here legally. He couldn't wait to become an honest-to-God American. I don't think it's that way anymore. A lot of immigrants want all of the benefits, without any of the responsibility. Look at the hospitals in LA going broke because something like 60% of the patients are illegals with no insurance. I don't know what the solution is. Maybe you're right. We just need to breed more....ha

Mike said...

Special thanks to E-blogger for being down 3 hours last night.

I don't think we need immigration like we need "air and water". Most European countries are experiencing declining population and their economy seems to be getting stronger. China and India have more people than they know what to do with, yet their economies lag considerably behind ours. So I'm afraid that argument doesn't fly.
Scott lists all these great reasons why we should welcome immigrants with open arms and I agree with every one of his points. But, there is a legal way to do things and an illegal way. To come to this country and take advantage of our schools and our healthcare and the benefits of our economy without paying taxes is wrong. Now, Scott points out the poor worker who takes less than minimum wage jobs. What about the ones who manage to land pretty decent jobs. How about an immigrant who works 3 minimum wage jobs and manages to make $40,000/yr? Why should he be excluded from our tax system? I'm not saying I'm against immigration. I welcome and encourage all people to come to the greatest country on earth. But if you're going to do so, do it legally. Become an american and contribute rather than sponge off of society. If you want to discuss relaxing immigration laws to allow more legal immigration, I'm all in favor of it.

Ben said...

The difference between legal and illegal immigrants is that the legal ones have to put in some real effort to get here, to learn enough to become citizens, all that stuff. They have more invested in being Americans. Europe is slowly changing its demographics to Muslim. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it might be here, because most of the those Muslims did not come from free and open cultures like we have. That doesn't make them bad people, but what it does do is mean that over time, as our population changes from majority caucasian Judeo-Christian to Muslim, Hispanic, whatever, the ideals that make our political system so stable (like turning out the lights in the White House when you lose the election), might no longer be the ideals of the majority, and then it might not be so tough to change around the Constitution, and make our system resemble something the Founding Fathers wouldn't recognize. We've changed a lot since 1800 or so, but I bet James Madison could still find his way around D.C. Canada is seeing the very beginnings. They have now allowed Sharia law in place of Canadian courts for certain issues. Right now it seems innocent, and limited only to certain disputes, but it may be the opening of a floodgate. Morally I can't see justification for lowering LEGAL immigration numbers, no matter who is coming in, but it's still something to think about.

Mike said...

America used to be "The Melting Pot". Everyone blended together to form one country. Now we're more like a tossed salad. You can throw a tomato in the bowl but it's still a tomato. Lettuce is still lettuce. We're becoming a country of a bunch of little ethnic groups. Diversity is cool, but we all have to get along. When you say "I want the benefits of America but I refuse to assume american customs" (like speaking english and paying taxes)then you are being selfish.

Scott said...

Mike, if you made $40,000 a year earning minimum wage ($5.15 an hour), you would have to work 7,767 hours. That's 149 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. Considering there are only 168 hours in a week total, that leaves 2 hours, 43 minutes a day for sleeping, eating, commuting, errands, childcare, etc. Sounds like the American dream to me.
Do you really think there are that many people working 149 hours a week? Somehow I don't think we need to worry too much about them defrauding the government. We're discussing people here, not fairy tales.

Mike said...

Scott, you insist on arguing technicalities while ignoring the true point of my comments. So to humor you let's say an illegal gets lucky and lands a decent job making $15/hr and works 50 hrs/week. That comes out to $42,900 a year (assuming time and a half for hours over 40). Should that person be exempt from paying taxes?

Scott said...

I'm not arguing technicalities. What employer is going to pay $15 an hour and risk getting caught not paying taxes? If you're paying that much, you don't need illegals. What's to stop an employer paying American citizens $15 an hour under the table?
Illegals don't pay taxes because their employers take the risk to hire them illegally. In return for that risk, they pay illegals less than minimum wage. You're chasing after shadows. Next you're giong to claim Wall Street executives don't pay taxes because they're illegal immigrants. (They don't pay their taxes for other reasons - different story)
If you want to make $2.50 an hour and skip your taxes, feel free. Still illegal immigrants who fail to pay taxes they've incurred are still responsible for them, as are their employers.

Mike said...

So you're basically saying it's inconceivable that an illegal could get any job paying better than minimum wage? All these people who come over are living in poverty without a dime to spare? Surely there are some immigrants out there making a pretty decent wage. Many start their own businesses. You could get jobs cleaning toilets in office buildings for $100/week. Maybe they make blankets and sell them. There all kinds of service based jobs they can use to make money for themselves. But you seem to think we should look the other way and have pity on them. I'm just saying if they want to come to america, pay your taxes like other americans do. If they truly live in poverty they don't have to pay taxes anyway but they can still file and be documented.

Shannon said...

This is a topic very close to me as I teach English to legal immigrants seeking jobs are already working and in need of job advancement.

I hear many people argue that illegal immigrants should just become documented. Many people assume this doesn't happen b/c people aren't interested in assimilating or becoming American. This is completely false. In fact, it's impossible to apply to become documented if you are already here illegally and the reasons why America would allow you to legally immigrate are very strict. Check out the US Immigration Website .

Most illegal workers I've come into contact with are begging for a way to become "documented" so they can get a better job. When they contact my organization, we have to inform them that w/o meeting certain, strict conditions (like being from cuba) they cannot get documented.

Remember, documented doesn't mean citizen. Just b/c you have a green card (Legal resident permit) or even a work visa, doesn't mean you have the full benefits of citizenship, such as voting.

Furthermore, at least in Las Vegas, illegal immigrants are very limited in their earning capability. Most live with others, family or friends. If you are illegal, meaning completely undocumented, you cannot readily obtain a SSN (although I'm sure there's always someone who has) and therefore credit. Most jobs in Vegas are service positions in the hospitality industry. No hotel would ever, ever, ever hire an illegal immigrant. If the government didn't get them, the union would.

THese jobs for legal immigrants pay around 10-12 dollars an hour. Illegal immigrants usually find constuction positions for far less pay. The only reason why people hire illegal immigrants, who are probably unskilled labor, is so that they can pay them less than a legal worker. I have never heard of any illegal immigrant making $40,000 a year. Possible, sure. Common, absolutely not.

Keep in mind, that illegal immigrants do pay sales tax.

These discussions are always full of latent resentment and defensiveness . Everyone always forgets how immigrants in the first generation usually don't assimilate. I think it's more productive to base immigration policy on economic factors rather than the assumed cultural threats poised by immigration.