Raids can't change economicsToday, with our immigration system all out of whackwith virtually no way for the workers driving our economic growth to enter the country legallythere isn't much hope of getting control with workplace raids. After all, even the biggest raids, like the one today targeting a Nevada-based cleaning contractor, net no more than a few hundred illegal workersout of the eight million currently employed in the U.S. And because of what's wrong with the system, busting a business on the wrong side of the law is like closing down a speakeasy during Prohibition: before the raid is over, another illicit operation will likely pop up not far away.
But once we reform the systemonce there is a legal way for the workers we need to enter the countryworkplace enforcement will be critical. After all, the only real way to prevent foreigners from entering the U.S. illegally is to make it impossible 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 lawin this case, laws out of sync with our labor needs. But once the law is realisticonce our immigration quotas line up with the flow generated by supply and demandwe'll need to enforce it with all the means at our disposal, including vastly increased worksite enforcement.
This is the be all and end allthe secretof immigration law. The way to get control on the border is to get control in the workplaceeven if that workplace is thousands of miles away.
Getting control on the job is a two-part processpart good-cop, part bad-cop. A big part of the problem right now is that even employers who want to play by the rulesand I believe the majority of American employers, particularly companies with brand names, would rather be on the right side of the lawhave no accurate way of knowing whether the workers who apply for jobs are legal or illegal. There's no reliable computerized system to verify the names or ID cards workers provide. And if the employer asks too many questions, he can be, and often is, sued. But once our quotas line up with our labor needs, we can and should expect more from businesses, and we'll owe it to them to provide the means: a national computerized employment verification system modeled on credit card verification.
Yes, this will be expensive to set up. Yes, every new worker hired, immigrant or native-born, will have to be verifiedanything else would invite discrimination. And yes, this will mean we all need to show some kind of counterfeit-proof cardwhether a new "hardened" Social Security card or a driver's license or a visa or something elsein order to get hired. But that's the choice we face: either a national work authorization system or continued, uncontrolled and uncontrollable illegal immigration. There's just no 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 the difference between legal and illegal workers, we need to crack down, and crack down hard, on employers who persist in breaking the law. Today, with our nudge-nudge-wink-wink system, in some industries, virtually every employer does the best he can and then looks the other waythat's the norm. Once we change the lawonce there's a system in place that allows an owner to grow his business legallywe'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 the system, then the good-cop, bad-cop two-step. We need better immigration enforcementtougher, smarter, less hypocritical enforcement, particularly in the workplace. But we shouldn't expect it to come to much unless it's part of a package that includes more realistic quotas.
Tamar Jacoby is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
There they go again"The check is in the mail."
"I'll respect you in the morning."
"With 'realistic' immigration quotas, we'll start enforcing the law."
Tamar, I don't doubt your sincerity for a minute, but no one else believes that enforcement will start happening in the future once today's illegals are legalized and legal immigration quotas are increased. Nothing in the history of immigration policyor indeed, of modern American governmentpoints to such a result. In fact, unless the new law meets The Wall Street Journal's standardsthat paper's editorial page has repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment reading "There shall be open borders"it is as certain as anything can be in the study of human behavior that ten years after the passage of a Bush-Kennedy amnesty we will have nearly as many illegal aliens as we have now.
Immigration advocates are already calling the current modest efforts at enforcement a "reign of terror"; they're not going to be satisfied with an extra 500,000 immigrant visas a year. Whatever standards and limits you favor (and you've said that you don't support unlimited immigration), there will always be demands for higher numbers and looser standards. It's economic gibberish to claim that our economy has some sort of fixed "labor needs" that will be satisfied if only quotas are increased a little, or even a lot; the demand for immigration to the United States is, for all practical purposes, unlimited, and doubling immigration to 3 million a year, or quadrupling it to 6 million a year, will quickly stimulate large parallel flows of new illegal immigration. Then we'll be right back where we started, with you arguing for more "realistic" quotas and again promising to enforce them in the future.
Thus the logic of your position leads inevitably to open bordersor, as President Bush put it in 2004, allowing an unlimited number of workers, from any country in the world, to take any job, in any industry, anywhere in the United States, at any wage above the federal minimum. Not only is this the president's stated goal, but there's no real way to stop short of it, once we start down the path you suggest.
The spate of workplace enforcement that we've seen over the past few months is clearly a political gimmick by the White House to make amnesty more palatable, but it's also an implicit acknowledgement that no one believes the claims of immigration expansionists that they will support enforcement of new laws, if only we make them more "realistic" and "in line with our labor needs."
The positive aspect of the administration's enforcement show is that it's actually working. Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff has just said that the flow from Mexico is abating because of the new enforcement measures; what's more, preliminary census survey data suggest that the foreign-born population is growing more slowly and, as a result, wages for less-skilled workers have begun to go up. And we're actually seeing previously-ignored American workers being hired to replace illegal aliens in the wake of meatpacking raids in Colorado and chicken-plant raids in Georgia.
I define that as successlet's keep it up, and not crush the first flowers of stepped-up enforcement by legalizing lawbreakers and 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