Legalize it?

Legalize it?
  •  emoticon

The moderate, the old saying goes, is a man with his head in the oven and feet in the freezer who praises the mild temperature. The GOP’s attempt to strike a “moderate” position on immigration reform seems no less nuts.

America, as we all know, has an enormous population of illegal immigrants, somewhere between 11 and 20 million, depending on who you ask. According to an extensive 2009 Pew Research study, they comprise about five percent of the US workforce, including nearly a quarter of all agricultural workers. In states like California and Nevada, their share of the labor market is said to be as high as 10%.

Legally speaking, all these people should be deported. Under the terms of Section 237 of the US Immigration and Nationality Act, after all, deportation is the catch-all punishment for any alien present in the United States under any sort of unauthorized pretence, and presumably America’s laws exist to be enforced.

Unfortunately, they can’t.

Forcibly deporting 20 million people from the United States would be one of the single largest resettlements of human beings in modern history, comparable only to the post-WW2 expulsions of Germans from the former Nazi colonies of eastern Europe. It would also require a massive spike in government spending to properly carry out; a 2010 report from the Centre for American Progress put the price tag at around $285 billion — the rough equivalent of two years fighting in Iraq at its worst. And this wouldn’t be one of your classic spend-money-to-make-money government programs either; another study claimed jettisoning all that labor could inflict a loss of $2.6 trillion to America’s GDP.

But if not deportations, then what?

The solution preferred by most Democrats has long been the so-called “path to citizenship,” whereby anyone living illegally in the States can earn a pardon for his lawbreaking if he agrees to begin a process of naturalization. Such a scheme was the at core of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate last spring; under its terms, illegals could become full US citizens after 10 years of residence and successful completion of a three-year legalization program.

Republicans, meanwhile, hate this sort of stuff.

What you’re talking about is an amnesty for lawbreakers, they say, and reenforcing the idea that America is a country that not only fails to punish foreign invaders, it actively rewards them with its highest honor. Millions of legal immigrants are currently pursuing US citizenship through the long slog outlined in the Immigration Act; what does it say about a nation that treats these people like suckers in order to give priority to those who knowingly jumped the line?

Yet the party’s been equally clear that mass deportations are off the table. Marco Rubio now speaks in dark tones about those wanting to “round up” illegals, while other right-wing darlings like Senator Mike Lee refuse to even say the d-word, and instead claim to want nothing but “dignity and respect” for our undocumented friends. Even “self-deportation” — the awkward phrase Mitt Romney coined to refer to the strategy of passing burdensome bills (like the infamous Arizona ones) to make American life so unbearable for illegals they’d leave just to escape the hassle — seems to be a no-go. “It’s not our party’s position,” says the RNC chief. Some Republicans have even used the Obama administration’s unprecedentedly-high deportation record as an anti-Democrat talking point.

That leaves only one option left: decriminalization.

When we talk about drugs, particularly marijuana, a policy of decriminalization is often seen as occupying the common-sense middle-ground between a heavy-handed War on Drugs on the one hand and permissive legalization on the other. It basically means acknowledging the wrongness of a deed, but imposing only the lightest penalties for committing it. Neither disincentive nor acceptance, in short — just murky grey resignation.

This seems to be the GOP’s model for what to do with illegals.

On Thursday, Congressional Republicans emerged from a two-day New England retreat waving an 800-word declaration of principles on immigration reform. Among other things, it vows “no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws” but does support the idea that they should be able to “live legally and without fear in the U.S.” providing they’re willing to pay “significant” fines, learn English, and steer clear of the welfare office.

In short, they basically want to create a second tier of Americans. While the native-born and lawful immigrants are all either citizens of the United States or in the process of becoming so, the GOP plan would exempt millions of residents from this equation and instead consign them to a sort of limbo in which they’ll pay American taxes and be subject to American laws, but enjoy none of the voting, travel, or employment rights that come with being an official member of the American family. They’d no longer be “illegals,” but neither would they be “immigrants” — just members of a permanent, decriminalized, foreign-born underclass.

That Republicans could make peace with such a brazenly repugnant policy is the product of the strange sort of madness only partisan politics can provoke.

In the aftermath of the GOP’s depressing loss in 2012, there’s been endless hang-wringing over the vast “minority gap” separating the Dems from the Reps, with particular anxiety reserved for the fact that America’s speedily-growing Latino population went for Obama by a two-to-one margin. This has produced an unprecedented Republican interest in Hispanic outreach, which has in turn produced an unprecedented Republican interest in immigration reform. Which has provoked an unprecedented backlash from the party’s anti-amnesty base, which has resulted in head-in-the-oven-feet-in-the-freezer compromise policy of alien decriminalization becoming official doctrine of the Republican canon.

Yet as far as pandering goes, there’s little reason to believe this will work.

Polls routinely show Latinos don’t actually care much about immigration reform — which only makes sense, given the vast majority of them are not illegals, or even immigrants. A Pew survey taken shortly before the 2012 election had only 34% of Hispanics ranking immigration as an “extremely important” issue, behind healthcare, the economy, education, and even “the federal budget deficit.” As Ann Coulter (stay with me here) reminded in a powerful editorial the other day, the reason non-whites tend to vote Democrat by such large margins is simply because they tend to be liberals by quite large margins. Even if the Republicans were championing the most progressive immigration policy in the world, in other words, they’d still probably lose the Latino vote thanks to the party’s right-wing views on taxes and abortion and whatnot.

Immigration is a thorny issue to be sure, and one that absolutely deserves serious debate and consideration. Unfortunately, Americans don’t really debate immigration anymore, they debate illegals, and in doing so elevate what’s essentially a law enforcement question to the conversation’s central issue, while reducing the actual central issues — how high immigration should be, what sorts of immigrants should be prioritized, and what exactly immigration is supposed to be doing for the country in the first place — to mere footnotes.

But such substantial matters will never be discussed so long as Republicans continue to prolong and complicate the illegals side-chat with absurd decriminalization “compromises” that represent the worst of both worlds.

At some point, the GOP will simply have to make peace with putting America’s undocumented millions on a path to citizenship (a path that deserves to be long, onerous, and accompanied by substantial improvements to border security) or learn to defend the pragmatic humanity of the status quo in which illegals remain criminals, but only a tiny minority ever suffer the consequences.

Neither of these positions will be vote-getters, to be sure. But it’s not like much else the party’s doing these days is either.

Move on while you can.


  1. Bill Stephens

    Deport Justin Bieber back to Canada! ;-)

    I support legalization of marijuana, and the sale of it in liquor stores. Your own LCBO (as well as the PLCB in Pennsylvania) would not only reap tax dollars, they would also reap millions of dollars in profits.

  2. Colin Minich

    I also endorse the idea of forcing Bieber to be body checked at the end of the first period at every Toronto Maple Leafs game (and Canucks game) for the rest of the season.

  3. Ashburner

    I'm fairly certain the Republican party is only fighting so hard about this for business reasons and not any moral or legal superiority. The simple fact is that a great many businesses are only able to operate (or post record profits…) because of illegal labor and it's also one of the major reasons that food prices are so low. EVERYONE in business is terrified of how the public will react to food prices that are 2-3 times higher than normal, especially because wages will have to be adjusted to make up for this new reality. It's hard enough to justify doing business in the US to people who need flat 10% growths, I can only imagine what they would do if they suddenly had to start paying US workers 15-30% more just to keep them fed.

    The Democrats aren't innocent in this ether. Notice the ten year period needed to qualify? Sure, it serves as a good judge of whether or not someone is here to cause trouble, but also serves to keep the economy moving through illegal labor. You'd lose a good portion in the initial launch but not enough to cripple the farming industry or raise food prices enormously. All the while Left voter turn out takes a noticeable rise…

  4. Rachael

    2-3 times higher would be pretty bad, but I see no reason to believe it. 10-20% increase in the price of high-labor foods like produce is more like it.

    Our wealth isn't based in cheap labor, it's based in massive amounts of capital: social (peace, laws, good government), human (education, trust), and physical (factories, infrastructure.) Globalization is driven by competition to shave off pennies and accumulate ever more profit, not by a need to sustain the American way of life. Americans were rich before globalization, and for that matter, average American income has stagnated since around the time globalization took off.

    It's that difference you yourself state between "only able to operate" and "post record profits". The businesses care either way, but we don't have to.

  5. Jake_Ackers

    Actually manual labor is the smallest cost of operation for farms. Consider everyone else that goes into farming. Land, research, seeds, fertilizer pesticide, marketing, sales, transportation, cost lost, etc. etc. etc. Labor is small. Labor is a huge cost when it goes to direct businesses like small business in which labor cost is about 65 to 75% of costs.

  6. bobwulf

    Hah! "In short, they basically want to create a second tier of Americans." I have to say that after reading the summary of the their position all I could think of was the Perioikoi in Lacedaemonia, which oddly enough almost works as a basis for comparison.

  7. James

    The purpose of immigration is to benefit the country. Pragmatically speaking, if the presence of illegal immigrants in the United States helps the economy to the tune of trillions of dollars then the United States should let those immigrants stay.

    Bluntly, I never understood what was wrong with the status quo. The immigrants themselves are okay with it (otherwise they'd leave) and we get cheap labor. Win-win. Why do we need to change anything?

  8. robota rozum

    The smaller of two losses is not a win.

    For instance, Rosa Parks' only two options were to move to the back of the bus or be arrested. I am sure you agree that that was a morally despicable situation created by those in power.

    For instance, if you have two children and a madman says you can pick which one is murdered, I am sure you agree that this does not constitute a "win" for you merely because you make a choice.

    Why do we need to change anything? It is our obligation as fellow humans to treat each other with basic dignity. If the law says otherwise, it is our obligation to change that law.

  9. Jake_Ackers

    Actually illegals use more in services, half don't pay taxes and don't actually contribute that much to our economy overall (well at least not trillions). The cost is more than any benefit, if any. Moreover, I rather give 15million visas to a bunch of Nigerians, Filipinos, and Indians. At least they speak English. There is a HUGE difference between legal immigration and illegal immigration.

    Moreover, cheap labor? Cesar Chavez was against the guest worker program. Guest workers undermine the labor movement by artificially lowing wages. And no one stays in the US temporarily. It creates a permanent underclass who just wait for the next wave of amnesty.

  10. Rachael

    Economists who have studied this disagree with you.

    And yes, people do stay in the US temporarily, or they would if they could. Their families and homes are back in Mexico. Some might want to bring their families, but many wouldn't, and would be happy coming here for seasonal work. But if you have to smuggle yourself into the US to get that work, obviously you can't go home then get back easily, and instead have to stay full time.

  11. Jake_Ackers

    "Congressional Budget Office indicates that between 30 percent and 50 percent of unauthorized immigrants pay federal, state, and local taxes." Okay so not half, but way less than half pay taxes.
    <a href="…” target=”_blank”>…

    Moreover illegals sent a huge percentage of their money home. About 10% of the Mexican economy alone is from money sent back.

    Again this is all irrelevant. We don't need illegals. What we need is 15million legal workers willing to work on a farm. Would you have 15million illegals or 15 million legal immigrants that speak English and are willing to work on a farm and ALL pay taxes?

  12. Rachael

    If they buy things here, they're paying state and local sales taxes. If they pay rent, they're supporting property tax payments (and values) indirectly.

    Willing to work on produce farms? Yeah, Americans aren't willing to do that, and don't have the skills; "unskilled labor" actually takes some practice to do efficiently. Americans aren't willing to be paid under minimum wage to work in crap conditions, often while being sprayed with pesticides. Farmers don't want to hire people who have labor rights.

  13. Jake_Ackers

    Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Payroll and Income tax. And all the other income based taxes. They don't pay that. That is all services being used by them and their children without paying into the system. Still resulting in them using more than they pay in. Which again is all irrelevant.

    You made my point. If Americans aren't willing to work on farms. Then hire LEGAL immigrants. Or the companies are put in a position to buy more machines to do the work. Either way you made my point. There is no need to illegal immigration. Legal immigrants getting paid minimum wage or machinery can do their job. It's the farming companies who refuse.

  14. Rachael

    …no, illegal immigrants *don't* use Social Security or Medicare. *Especially* if they weren't paying payroll taxes, as your SS benefits and Medicare eligibility are connected to what you paid in.

    Maybe Medicaid, depending on how generous the state is. (Of course, they will benefit from emergency rooms.)

    Their children, if born here, are of course US citizens, with a long life of working and tax paying before they start drawing SS.

  15. Jake_Ackers

    But they will use it, if they become legal. Thus having spent years living in the US and not paying into the system and sending money back home. The plan is to get what you paid in. But it never works like that. The poor get more than they paid in and you don't really pay into your account. You pay for the generation that came before. Now that is a problem with the system is in place, I know. But regardless, illegals do use more than they pay in. Plus their children (whether legal or illegal themselves) are getting benefits too without the parents paying into the system.

    Moreover, they still don't pay income tax. At little as 30% pay taxes in the first place as I cited. Again even that doesn't matter. We need legal immigrants, we don't need illegals.

  16. Colin Minich

    On principle I really am against the idea of granting looser regulations and procedures to the people who sneaked their way in here or simply didn't do the right thing. Yes I know some of them are simply brought in by criminals or Americans who'd sell their own kind out to save a dollar. However, for people who want to marry immigrants or those who seriously save up their money and do things the right and honest way, this is a travesty to sudden grant amnesty to illegals because it's more emotional for activists.

    That being said, the Republican response is once again broad and alienating. I seriously think they're only going to be content with their "conservative white male" base and keep on losing except in isolated areas.

    And with weed? Honestly? Let's save taxpayer money putting users in jail and focus on the bigger fish.

  17. Jake_Ackers

    Prohibition didn't work. More crime due to trafficking than use. Crime due to use, happens anyway. Legalize it, tax it and regulate it. Gov't seems to love to do that. Even with hard drugs. Legalize PCP in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. What are they going to do? Fight a polar bear? Legalize weed in the middle of the Nevada desert. What are they going to do? Hug a cactus?

  18. Colin Minich

    That's what I meant to say. They need to legalize, tax, and regulate. Lord knows it'd destroy half the Mexican cartel business from California to Texas.

    PCP though? Yeah how about no thanks considering it'd be a bad idea to have such heavier drugs available to stupid people and teenagers, often synonymous.

  19. Jake_Ackers

    I was agreeing with you. What I meant about PCP, is legalize it but in a remote or enclosed area. Put all the heavy drug users somewhere. It happens anyway, just put them away from the general population.

  20. Rachael

    Hey, the history of the US is largely one of both illegal immigration and human trafficking.

  21. Jake_Ackers

    Can someone explain to me who are all these "Americans that don't want to do jobs illegals are willing to do?" Unemployment in urban areas seems kind of high. Unemployment in the rural South does too. Hmmmm…. wonder what would happen if a Republican said something similar. What would they of been called?

    Self deportation is the solution. They came by themselves they can leave by themselves. Let's just call what this amnesty thing is. 15-20 million votes for the Dems and they get Texas with it. A a few million more cheap laborers for the Reps. Although frankly once they become legal they won't work on farms.

    Now I am the child of an illegal immigrant and of a legal immigrant who overstated the visa. Although I was born in the US. So the child of two illegals. Illegal immigration hurt my family and other immigrants. If my parents came legally we wouldn't of had to have faced the hardships we faced.

    I have a friend who's parents have PhDs and weren't able to come to the US until he became a teenager. He was on a student visa for part of middle school, high school and college. But because he came here on a student visa he wasn't eligible for in-state tuition. Know what he did? He went to college out of state. Not only did my state lose the Valedictorian of the class, we also have to subsidizes the tuition of illegals and have them take the spots of Americans and legal immigrants.

    One guy I knew, his wife studied nursing in the Philippines but waited almost 15 years to come to the US. Yet illegals jump the line and get to stay? How is that fair? How does this benefit our economy?

    Illegals do jobs Americans don't want? Go give 15 million VISAs to people in Nigeria. At least they speak English. Or better outsource the jobs we supposedly don't want. And insource the jobs we do. As opposed to insourcing jobs we don't want and hiring illegals, while outsourcing jobs we do.

  22. @SideshowJon36

    Can't claim to be a nation of laws if you advocate "Decriminalization." Just legalize it. Or don't.

  23. Jake_Ackers

    Everyone knows there is more crime due to trafficking then use. Its the same logic used against gambling. Don't legalize it or "people will get their knees broken." They get broken because they go to the shady gambling place in some basement. And the same logic used against prohibition. If we ban alcohol, alcoholism will stop. Out of sight out of mind kind of thing. At best they could just use the "not in my background" argument and legalize it in the middle of nowheresville.

  24. Eric Stimson

    Hey, guess where that article about postwar German expulsion ultimately comes from?

  25. Kisai

    My point of view on "immigration" regardless of the country is that the laws were written well before the internet, well before modern banking systems and also well before the current state of "oh no the boomers are retiring"

    a) The internet allows one to find jobs without first going to the country. If it's illegal to hire foreigners for the position (as it is, even under free-trade agreements), then the law enforcement should be directed at those hiring illegals, since they are creating the demand.
    b) The modern banking system lets money leave the country. American businesses can hire cheaper foreigners in any country to do all kinds of work that doesn't require them to actually come to the US. The same goes for any other country.
    c) Retiring baby boomers creates the very real threat of specialized jobs (eg doctors and dentists) retiring and not being replaced, but the aging population who needs those services increasing and outstripping supply. Countries like the US poach Doctors from Canada, Canada Poaches them from developing countries… Yet half the time legal or illegal immigrants come here with medical degrees from their home country and end up working as cab drivers and call center workers.

    There is a reason that all the top companies getting H1B's are outsourcers , They're hiring cheaper foreigners to do jobs that replaced US Citizens who previously had the job.