Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What to Do

OK, guys, not to turn this into a political blog, but after reading a lot of uninformed or badly informed posts at Gaper's Block and the Chicago Tribune (Eric Zorn's blog and comments), I have found exactly one post that gets at the real issue with immigration. It's from someone with the handle kds:

>Everyday, I work with individuals who are in the process of immigrating to this country legally. >It is an expensive and time consuming process, with artificial quotas that make it extremely >difficult for individuals from certain countries to be able to work here or gain permanent >residency through legitimate channels. I think the only way we can stem illegal immigration, is >to increase the availability of legitimate immigration into this country. Create laws that more >readily allow workers from Latin America (and the rest of the world) to enter the U.S. to work >and then strictly enforce deportation laws against those who are here illegally.

I would add that in the Mexican case we exacerbate the immediate problem by promoting free trade through NAFTA which has had the short-term effect of destroying local agriculture, leaving small farmers broke. (Think the 80s farm crisis here when people were shooting themselves. Then imagine living somewhere where you can't get a job at McDonald's or the gas station because there isn't one.) My economist friend who is smarter than I am says it will take 50 years for Latin America to develop economies strong enough to discourage economic migration. So what will we do in the meantime?

The net economic gain or loss from illegal immigrants to this country is hotly disputed. Someone on Gaper's Block pointed to the Center for Immigration Studies www.cis.org, which describes itself as "pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted." Apparently their stats say that illegal immigration is an economic loss for the country, but they count children of illegal immigrants, who are U.S. citizens, as part of the cost, which I think is at least debatable.

Last night on TV I saw UIC expert Nik Theodore quoted as saying his research indicates illegal immigrants are a net gain for the state of Illinois. Many people complain about illegals who don't pay taxes, but more do than I think is commonly acknowledged, frankly because many are working using fake Social Security cards, which means they pay into the system and take out nothing. (Not that I think using a fake SSN is so great, but that's what happens when it is done.) What is also well known is that illegal immigrants are much less likely then U.S. citizens of similar income to use social services like Medicaid, food stamps, etc. The one place where I would agree they are a cost is on medical services for the uninsured, but since we can't seem to insure 44 million people in this country, if 12 million of them are all the illegal immigrants we've got, I think there's a bigger problem than immigration at work on access to medical care.

For an on the ground perspective, there is no question in my mind that illegal immigrants are a net asset in my neighborhood. Most of the people standing on the corner selling drugs, pimping and prostituting themselves publicly on my block are U.S. citizens. Most of the people who keep their kids in the house and work jobs are not. (There are exceptions on both sides, but I'm calling it like I see it here.) And I'll save my post about what's going on with the U.S. citizens in my hood for another day.

Anyway, I'm spouting today, but here's my take in a nutshell. The U.S. has a big red tape problem with what legal immigration is and how to do it. The problem is, as often has been true in the past, we have country quotas that don't correspond to where the demand to get here is coming from. And because the high demand is from people with darker skins, we don't want to change the quotas, except maybe when they hold a master's degree in computer science,but I think we don't even have enough H-1 visas to satisfy the demand for highly-skilled workers, right? Anyway, we do a fine job of creating economic conditions around the globe that make it much more difficult for people to earn a good living in their home countries, then we act all pissy when they want to come here and make a better life for their children, just as people have been doing in this country for two hundred years and more. That doesn't seem fair to me.

I see nothing wrong with the McCain-Kennedy plan to give people who have been here for years a way to legalize themselves. They go to the end of the line to get a green card, they don't butt in front of people who made it through the red tape maze legally, they learn English, they pay a fine. Who among us has not paid a speeding or a parking ticket in their lifetime? Let that person cast the first stone about illegal immigration.

And I really support the DREAM Act, which would make it possible for illegal immigrants who arrived here as children, like Dawn, Joey, Danny, Junior, Oscar, Julian, probably Chava, and most of the kids you've read about on this blog, to get financial aid to go to college and to apply for legal status once they've completed two years. If we don't do something to make it possible for young kids who were brought here from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries to make a life for themselves in the U.S., we're creating a generation of gangbangers with no future. We're wasting a ton of intellectual potential. And don't talk to me about deporting them. They grew up here. As one other smart poster somewhere said this morning, "They're more American than any immigrant will ever be."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

thank you so much mo! we've had some discussions about this recently and I think is one of the best arguments I've heard, especially with the personal experience.

AS

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