The United States accepts more legal immigrants every year than the any other country in the world, taking in about 20% of the world’s migrants. Other countries limit immigration to the talented, educated and the rich. The poetic notion of taking in the world’s “tired, hungry and poor yearning to be free” is quintessentially American. Of the million or so legal immigrants every year, about 70% obtain their status by being closely related to another legal immigrant.
For many generations, the United States has been a beacon for people of many nations seeking a “better” life. Today there are almost 40 million foreign born residents in the US, the largest number in our history. Yet immigrants were a larger component of our total population during the sixty year period from the 1860s through the 1920s, when the US first enacted defined immigration quotas to restrict migrants from Southern and Eastern Europe such as Jews, Italians and Slavs. Those country quotas were only abolished in 1965 during the wave of civil rights legislation, and led to many more immigrants from Asia and Africa.
When one discusses immigration policy in America, there are two entirely separate issues which need reform. The first is to define how we are to select new legal immigrants. The second is to find a way to legitimize those 11 million or so illegal aliens in our midst. Many believe that each issue requires different solutions. Diogenes is not so sure.
Perhaps the most effective argument against our current immigration policies are economic ones. Labor unionists bemoan the presence of immigrants willing to work for lower wages, taking jobs away from the working poor and lower middle income Americans. Conservatives argue that immigrants utilize government services at higher rates than the native born, straining limited resources. These arguments are mostly true, especially in the short term, although over time immigrants have added much to the growth and vitality of the American economy. They also mirror the fears of yesteryear. In the 1840s and 1850s, many Americans feared the onslaught of the Irish escaping the Potato Famine. After the Civil War, northern laborers feared the newly freed slaves as economic competitors. One of the hard choices we must all make is whether we want to simply provide for our poor and lower income citizens at the expense of those aiding unfortunates from abroad and who have far less economic means and opportunities. With budgets already strained, it’s not likely that we could do both.
Diogenes believes that America’s standing as an exceptional place in the world is in part based on the fact that most of us, or our parents or grandparents were immigrants. Our school children are already majority-minority and soon our entire society will be so. Let’s open our borders to once again become the home to the world’s huddled masses yearning to live free and brave enough to make the journey. For all the challenges we have and for all the criticism we may take in any part of the world, at the end of the day people want to be like Americans—they want to pursue opportunities that Americans have. We can easily absorb another million immigrants every year. Instead of fencing our borders and increasing the border patrol, let’s control immigration by limiting access to social services and employment to those here legally.
Forget the barriers to change for a moment. If we designed a new system to deal with the problem, what would it look like? For one thing, a fully operational E-Verify system would be needed, and would require bio-metric IDs. Many would claim that biometric IDs would be a huge invasion of privacy. In a 21st century world, this is a canard. (See On Bio-metric Identity Cards) We need such a system for the administration of a host of government programs and to reduce fraud. E-verify could also be used to determine legal eligibility for all government assistance.
Concern that immigrants may become a burden on society has been a long-standing issue in the United States. It’s not clear that recent immigrants consume government services at higher rates than native born Americans. Larger average family size makes immigrants more likely to have children in schools. Since legal immigrants are likely to be lower wage earners, they are more likely than the general population to utilize welfare or other anti-poverty programs. Others note that illegal immigrants, who total more than 25% of our foreign born population, utilize services at lower rates than the native born. But what if we removed the economic argument entirely?
Diogenes proposes that the United States throw open it’s borders to allow another one million immigrants into the country each year if those immigrants agree to do public service or jobs left wanting by native Americans for two years. These would include serving in the armed forces, taking designated agricultural jobs, working for Americorps, the Peace Corps or Habitat for Humanity. Failure to complete satisfactory service should lead to immediate deportation. The economic argument for accepting people after they have done their public service is that they will have earned their way in.
One might ask how such a solution would affect illegal immigrants? Some would argue that illegals should be given amnesty and a path to citizenship, but we have tried that before. We know it only makes it likely that we will repeat the cycle after several years and several million more illegal immigrants. Forcing illegal immigrants to contribute to our society would legitimize their standing here. We need all of our residents to abide by the rule of law. Having undocumented illegal residents in large numbers in our society encourages their exploitation and teaches them to evade our laws.
Many conservatives would argue that our public school system would be overwhelmed by an influx of immigrants if we radically increase the numbers we allow in. Ironically, most of those are the same Americans are opposed to readily available, safe and inexpensive abortions. There are about 800,000 legal abortions performed in the US each year. The Pro-Life movement should be called out for the hypocrisy of their opposition to terminating the pregnancies of unwanted children while also opposing accepting immigrant children as refugees. Further, the majority of Hispanic illegals are coming from countries where drug cartels fueled by American dollars have overwhelmed the efforts of the state. America should take responsibility. Let’s reform a broken system while simultaneously reinvigorating our reputation as the one country in the world with opportunity for all who are willing to work.