Late, great immigration debate

Today's debate is on workplace raids by immigration authorities. Previous discussions treated the Secure Fence Act, immigration economics and amnesty. Still to come: the politics of immigration.

Raids can't change economicsBy Tamar JacobyMark Krikorian's reply is below.Today, with our immigration system all out of whack—withvirtually no way for the workers driving our economic growth toenter the country legally—there isn't much hope of gettingcontrol with workplace raids. After all, even the biggest raids,like the one today targeting a Nevada-based cleaning contractor, net no morethan a few hundred illegal workers—out of the eight millioncurrently employed in the U.S. And because of what's wrong with thesystem, busting a business on the wrong side of the law is likeclosing down a speakeasy during Prohibition: before the raid isover, another illicit operation will likely pop up not faraway.

But once we reform the system—once there is a legal way forthe workers we need to enter the country—workplace enforcementwill be critical. After all, the only real way to preventforeigners from entering the U.S. illegally is to make itimpossible for them to find work once they get here.

We can't do that with enforcement alone. As Prohibition showed,it's very difficult to enforce unrealistic law—in this case,laws out of sync with our labor needs. But once the law isrealistic—once our immigration quotas line up with the flowgenerated by supply and demand—we'll need to enforce it withall the means at our disposal, including vastly increased worksiteenforcement.

This is the be all and end all—the secret—of immigrationlaw. The way to get control on the border is to get control in theworkplace—even if that workplace is thousands of milesaway.

Getting control on the job is a two-part process—partgood-cop, part bad-cop. A big part of the problem right now is thateven employers who want to play by the rules—and I believe themajority of American employers, particularly companies with brandnames, would rather be on the right side of the law—have noaccurate way of knowing whether the workers who apply for jobs arelegal or illegal. There's no reliable computerized system to verifythe names or ID cards workers provide. And if the employer asks toomany questions, he can be, and often is, sued. But once our quotasline up with our labor needs, we can and should expect more frombusinesses, and we'll owe it to them to provide the means: anational computerized employment verification system modeled oncredit card verification.

Yes, this will be expensive to set up. Yes, every new worker hired,immigrant or native-born, will have to be verified—anythingelse would invite discrimination. And yes, this will mean we allneed to show some kind of counterfeit-proof card—whether a new"hardened" Social Security card or a driver's license or a visa orsomething else—in order to get hired. But that's the choice weface: either a national work authorization system or continued,uncontrolled and uncontrollable illegal immigration. There's justno other way to get a grip.

And then there's the bad-cop part of the routine: raids and fines.Once we've given well-meaning employers a way to tell thedifference between legal and illegal workers, we need to crackdown, and crack down hard, on employers who persist in breaking thelaw. Today, with our nudge-nudge-wink-wink system, in someindustries, virtually every employer does the best he can and thenlooks the other way—that's the norm. Once we change thelaw—once there's a system in place that allows an owner togrow his business legally—we'll need to change those norms.And the way to force a change will be with big, high-profile busts,followed up by hefty fines.

But the key to all this is the combination: first reforming thesystem, then the good-cop, bad-cop two-step. We need betterimmigration enforcement—tougher, smarter, less hypocriticalenforcement, particularly in the workplace. But we shouldn't expectit to come to much unless it's part of a package that includes morerealistic quotas.

Tamar Jacoby is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

There they go againBy Mark Krikorian"The check is in the mail."

"I'll respect you in the morning."

"With 'realistic' immigration quotas, we'll start enforcing thelaw."

Tamar, I don't doubt your sincerity for a minute, but no one elsebelieves that enforcement will start happening in the future oncetoday's illegals are legalized and legal immigration quotas areincreased. Nothing in the history of immigration policy—orindeed, of modern American government—points to such a result.In fact, unless the new law meets The Wall Street Journal'sstandards—that paper's editorial page has repeatedly calledfor a constitutional amendment reading "There shall be openborders"—it is as certain as anything can be in the study ofhuman behavior that ten years after the passage of a Bush-Kennedyamnesty we will have nearly as many illegal aliens as we havenow.

Immigration advocates are already calling the current modestefforts at enforcement a "reign of terror"; they're not going to besatisfied with an extra 500,000 immigrant visas a year. Whateverstandards and limits you favor (and you've said that you don'tsupport unlimited immigration), there will always be demands forhigher numbers and looser standards. It's economic gibberish toclaim that our economy has some sort of fixed "labor needs" thatwill be satisfied if only quotas are increased a little, or even alot; the demand for immigration to the United States is, for allpractical purposes, unlimited, and doubling immigration to 3million a year, or quadrupling it to 6 million a year, will quicklystimulate large parallel flows of new illegal immigration. Thenwe'll be right back where we started, with you arguing for more"realistic" quotas and again promising to enforce them in thefuture.

Thus the logic of your position leads inevitably to openborders—or, as President Bush put it in 2004, allowing anunlimited number of workers, from any country in the world, to takeany job, in any industry, anywhere in the United States, at anywage above the federal minimum. Not only is this the president'sstated goal, but there's no real way to stop short of it, once westart down the path you suggest.

The spate of workplace enforcement that we've seen over the pastfew months is clearly a political gimmick by the White House tomake amnesty more palatable, but it's also an implicitacknowledgement that no one believes the claims of immigrationexpansionists that they will support enforcement of new laws, ifonly we make them more "realistic" and "in line with our laborneeds."

The positive aspect of the administration's enforcement show isthat it's actually working. Homeland Security Secretary Chertoffhas just said that the flow from Mexico is abating because of thenew enforcement measures; what's more, preliminary census surveydata suggest that the foreign-born population is growing moreslowly and, as a result, wages for less-skilled workers have begunto go up. And we're actually seeing previously-ignored Americanworkers being hired to replace illegal aliens in the wake ofmeatpacking raids in Colorado and chicken-plant raids inGeorgia.

I define that as success—let's keep it up, and not crush thefirst flowers of stepped-up enforcement by legalizing lawbreakersand further flooding the low-skilled job market.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that supports tighter controls on immigration.

Other immigration exchanges in this week's Dust-Up< Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5 >

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