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Immigration reform & DREAMers: A conservative response

On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on behalf of President Donald Trump announced the end of the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" policy known as DACA. This has set forth a firestorm of responses from the political left, right, and middle. As a traditional conservative, I have found very little common ground with any of these responses. The current political atmosphere is more about anger and rage than it is about facts and reason, and thus does not advocate for wise policy decisions.

This is my conservative response to immigration reform and the issue of the DREAMers.

When I say a "conservative response," I am referring to the conservative idea of the "least intrusive government policy, to preserve the greatest amount of individual liberty of U.S. citizens." The best example of this is seen in a free-market economy, where the "invisible hand" balances the needs of buyers and sellers. Conservatives prefer to limit government interference in the market (an important concept later on).

First, who are the unauthorized immigrants in the United States? It is important to note that much of what we "know" regarding undocumented immigrants is assumed. I say this merely to instill a sense of circumspection in discussion. There are estimated to be nearly 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., three-quarters of which are Hispanic. They are more likely than the overall U.S. population to be of working age. Undocumented men are more likely than their U.S. counter parts to be working (91 percent to 79 percent respectively), and undocumented women are less likely to be working than female citizens (61 percent to 72 percent respectively). U.S. citizens who are in school, retired, or disabled contribute to this imbalance. Disproportionately, unauthorized immigrants tend to be poorly educated (47 percent have no high school diploma or equivalent, compared to 8 percent of U.S. citizens) and have lower median household incomes. Nearly 60 percent of adults and 45 percent of children of unauthorized status have no health insurance, while only 25 percent of children whose parents are citizens are without health insurance.

8.3 million unauthorized immigrants represent 5.1 percent of the U.S. labor force (6 percent in Arizona) and are concentrated in low-skill labor jobs. Their employment is largely concentrated in agriculture, construction, leisure/hospitality, professional/business services, and manufacturing. Patterns of living and working have changed, with many unauthorized immigrants now living and working further from traditional ports of entry, (possibly due to high amounts of Border Patrol and enforcement activity). Additionally, undocumented workers are moving away from states who were hit hardest by the economic downturn of 2008.

Three-quarters of children of unauthorized immigrants are U.S. citizens. 4 million U.S. citizen children live in mixed-status homes, where one parent is unauthorized. 6.8 percent of K-12 students have at least one parent who is undocumented. There are more than 800,000 DACA recipients.

What does this mean for the U.S. economy?

For the last 50 years, the U.S. has raised the education level of its adult population dramatically. This increase in human capital has led to massive innovation and the boom of the dot-com era. Productivity soared, increasing the standard of living in the U.S. and around the world. This has created a gap in low-skill level labor in the U.S. that citizens do not fill. The economy is large and expanding, and citizens are constantly working to increase their skills and thus their income. Therefore, companies that require low-skill labor use immigrant labor to fill their labor shortages created by citizen workers' increasing skills.

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This is a global phenomenon - nations with strong education systems and high-tech economies use foreign labor for low-skill level labor. If jobs in construction, manufacturing, and farming are unfilled, economies languish. This is particularly true of construction and manufacturing, where growth needs capacity. One need only took to Tucson as an example – the economy has picked up, but shortages in low-skill labor have caused slowing.

The need for low-skill labor in the U.S. is decreasing and becoming a much smaller portion of overall employment demand in the U.S. At the same time, the population is getting more educated, and has lower birthrates. The government response to immigration has been heavy regulation, capping work visas at 66,000 per year for H-2B visas and what works out to be the same number for H-2A visas. Green cards are capped at 675,000 per year.

These numbers do not come near to meeting the labor demands of the U.S. economy, where 8.3 million undocumented workers are already employed. For this reason, the federal government has essentially "looked the other way" at unauthorized immigrants. The need for labor, combined with the federal government's over-regulation (limiting legal workers) led to selective enforcement.

This severe limiting of visas and green cards has not allowed for the flexibility of the needs of the U.S. economy, creating a scenario where companies with low-skill labor are willing to facilitate the presence of undocumented immigrants. This, combined with the economic conditions in Mexico, drives immigrants to the U.S.

It is important to note that illegal immigration follows economic patterns. When the economy in the U.S. displays strong growth, migration is higher and vice versa. The inflexibility of the limited number of visas and green cards does not allow the economy to expand or contract. Due to the economic conditions during the recession of the Obama presidency, unauthorized entrance was at a low point.

This pattern of allowing the labor force to expand and contract by selectively enforcing immigration was largely tolerated until 9/11, when security concerns became paramount, and a porous border was seen as a liability.

During this time, immigration became a "political" issue - another casualty of the partisan divide in Washington D.C. Our current ideas regarding immigration were largely built in this milieu. The minority party voted against legislation proposed by the opposition, or proposed legislation that they knew the opposition couldn't support in order to get damning headlines.

Headlines impact public opinion, which is important for elections. Republicans filibustered the DREAM Act, which they had written back in 2001, effectively killing it on the floor, because the Democrats revived it during Obama's presidency. Likewise, Democrats opposed the same legislation they would later support under President Obama because it was proposed during the Bush. This led to presidential overreach by Obama's enacting DACA, which is vehemently opposed by Republicans.

DACA is policy that is not policy, but exists because policymakers refused to do their jobs for fear of popular opinion.

The true hallmarks of a genuinely conservative immigration policy would be efficiency and security, benefitting the U.S. economy without hurting citizens and balancing the needs of labor in American industry. It would allow for growth, accounting for the needs of American families, and preserving individual liberty.

The best example of this is the "Bracero Guest Worker Program" of the 1950s and '60s under President Eisenhower, enacted as part of the Migrant Labor Agreement of 1951, as an amendment to the Agricultural Act of 1949. It allowed for the market to determine the number of immigrants to enter the country, shrinking the unauthorized population by 90 percent, which provided the labor needed for growth and increased security by reducing the number of undocumented workers. Current policy forces immigrants to find other methods of entry. A proper work-visa program would funnel workers into legal streams, and allow fees and taxes to fund things like public health care and education.

Connected to this policy is border security. Current policy is hamstrung by the need to allow some immigration to ensue, which means that security risks inevitably occur. The U.S. economy needs immigrants, and the vast majority of immigrants are not a threat to our national security. But we need to know who is coming in. Our current border security is not efficient, nor is it cost effective. It needs to focus on security rather than immigration enforcement.

Finally, what do we do with unauthorized immigrants? First of all, study after study shows that they are not lazy criminal moochers, as is often projected. Most are well integrated into American society, paying taxes and Social Security, which they will never receive. They work in formal businesses, own their own homes, shop in neighborhood stores, attend local churches, and send their children to public schools. They contribute to local economies, both in purchasing as well as providing labor to help U.S. businesses thrive. Beyond coming to the U.S. without permission, they commit fewer crimes per capita than U.S. citizens. Most importantly, they fill an important role in the U.S. economy.

The question is, what do we gain by rounding them up and deporting them?

First, deportation would require great expense. Billions would be spent towards this endeavor - money that would be better spent on border security and infrastructure improvements. The second could would be the effects on the U.S. economy, ranging from economic disruption to destabilization. Removing unauthorized workers would disrupt agriculture, construction, and manufacturing, which would cascade to other areas of the economy.

You cannot simply remove 5 percent of the workforce and expect no consequences.

Third, many illegal immigrants have citizen spouses and children. Would this splitting up of families make a more or less healthy society? Most DACA recipients are employed, attend school, serve in our armed services, volunteer, participate in religious services, and contribute to society. Isn't that what we ask for in our citizens? Many have never known life beyond our borders, have no memory of the nation of their birth and speak English. Aside from assuaging feelings, the U.S. simply gains nothing.

None of this reflects our values or our ideals. It only speaks to our divisions and rhetoric of rage. What we need is sound policy that will increase efficiency and productivity and limit our liabilities and costs.

Mass deportations will not accomplish this, and neither will maintaining the status quo. We cannot simply continue to overlook the security or the economic needs our nation. Legal status of immigrants, whether as workers or residents, and a secure border should be our goal.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

John Winchester is an outreach coordinator at the University of Arizona. He ran for the Pima County Board of Supervisors as a Republican in the 2016 District 1 primary, challenging Ally Miller. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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3 comments on this story

3
12 comments
Sep 14, 2017, 10:18 am
-1 +1

An Atlantic Monthly article that shows that most economists’ thinking that an increased influx of immigrants provides more jobs for Americans is FALSE and does harm jobs for US workers and the economy:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/01/does-immigration-harm-working-americans/384060/

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990DEFDC1430F934A15750C0A9609C8B63

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/03/27/notes-on-immigration/
The Conscience Of A Liberal—Paul Krugman

“First, the benefits of immigration to the population already here are small.”
” But as Mr. Hanson explains in his paper, reasonable calculations suggest that we’re talking about very small numbers, perhaps as little as 0.1 percent of GDP.

“My second negative point is that immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants. That’s just supply and demand…

“Finally, the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear. “

Also, it is patently untrue that “immigrants” are the solution to low rate of start-ups:

http://smallbiztrends.com/2015/01/immigration-reform-declining-start-rate.html

2
12 comments
Sep 14, 2017, 10:11 am
-2 +1

The U.S. currently has eleven non immigrant guest worker visa programs.
http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/employment/temporary.html

There is no cap on the number of workers allowed into the U.S. under the H-2A temporary agricultural guest worker visa program.

http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/263529-funding-deal-hits-backlash-over-increase-in-worker-visas
“The provision could more than triple the number of H-2B visas for foreign workers seeking jobs at hotels, theme parks, ski resorts, golf courses, landscaping businesses, restaurants and bars. The move is intended to boost the supply of non-agricultural seasonal workers.”

http://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Resources/Resources for Congress/Congressional Reports/2011 National Immigration & Consular Conference Presentations/H-2A_and_H-2B_Visas.pdf

Alabama had to bite the bullet and hire LEGAL Immigrants for its AG Industry:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-09-24/africans-relocate-to-alabama-to-fill-jobs-after-immigration-law
Africans Relocate to Alabama to Fill Jobs After Immigration Law

“East Coast began calling Atlanta refugee agencies several months ago looking for legal immigrants to come to Alabama for a year, said Mbanfu, refugee employment director for Lutheran Services in Atlanta. He said the company would have taken as many refugees as he could refer.  The agency connected East Coast with refugees who had been in the country three to five years, he said.”

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2009-09-13-plants_N.htm
Immigration raids yield jobs for legal workers

‘When federal agents descended on six meatpacking plants owned by Swift & Co. in December 2006, they rounded up nearly 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants that made up about 10% of the labor force at the plants.

But the raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents did not cripple the company or the plants. In fact, they were back up and running at full staff within months by replacing those removed with a significant number of native-born Americans, according to a report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

“Whenever there’s an immigration raid, you find white, black and legal immigrant labor lining up to do those jobs that Americans will supposedly not do,” said Swain, who teaches law and political science.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2017/04/28/business/amid-foreign-worker-shortage-bar-harbor-businesses-turn-to-local-labor/
Amid foreign worker shortage, Bar Harbor businesses turn to local labor

1
12 comments
Sep 14, 2017, 10:08 am
-2 +1

Is this what to expect from DREAMers?:

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/commentary/sdut-ruben-navarrette-one-dreamers-missed-lesson-2015jun24-story.html

Ruben Navarrette: One Dreamer’s missed lesson in good character

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