The following essay was first published in Granddad’s Dictionary: Reflections on Life in America in April 2014. Since then the immigration rhetoric has become more extreme and the debate more empty. As the essay predicted, progress has been at the margin, not enough in the core issues.
We seem unable to learn and apply three lessons. First, from the Europeans we should learn that immigration without the requirement that immigrants live by our laws and adopt our value for personal responsibility is dangerous and can be fatal. Immigration without such conditions will cause those laws and values to be abandoned and imperil us all. Second, in spite of all his bluster and disruption, we don’t credit President Trump enough as the first president in modern history to seriously attack the problem. President Reagan put a Band-Aid on the human effects. Every president since has declared illegal immigration to be an intolerable problem. Yet all have blithely tolerated it. Too many presumed to be leaders are in still in denial that border security is a necessary but not sufficient component of any healthy immigration policy.
Let us not blame President Trump for this impasse. Lets rather hold accountable all those who deny or evade the imperatives and the possibilities. These have changed little since the following reflection was penned nearly five years ago.
Granddad’s Dictionary: Reflections on Life in America
The ancestral home of nearly everyone in America is somewhere else. We all came here looking for a better opportunity and we found it. More than that we each brought our ingenuity and our labor and made America an even better place.
Most of us were not pretty when we arrived. America and Liberty said, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” And we came. How many of us took a new name or a new spelling of our name because the clerk at Ellis Island could not speak our language and we could not speak his?
According to the International Organization for Migration, there are currently 241 million international migrants in the world of which 25 to 30 million are unauthorized. Of these, nearly half are illegal or undocumented aliens in the United States. In each of the past several years we have deported fewer than 300,000. This information tells us a great deal, both about the desirability of migrating to the United States and about our incompetence in enforcement of immigration law.
It feels very safe to write about immigration even in the midst of immigration reform debate. We are not seriously examining how to use twenty-first century technology to enforce existing laws. We are not discussing the core issue of welcoming immigrants and holding them accountable to our traditional expectations. The result of the current debate will be changes at the margins, not fundamental reform.
Lets begin with a startling but time proven premise. New human beings, be they babies or immigrants, are new long-term assets. They are worthy of investment and will enrich us all. This has been our history and should be our future. We need to welcome immigrants, and help them to become productive. We need to recognize that many immigrant contributors to our economy are already here illegally. They are here because we need their labor and they need our opportunity. They are illegal because we make it too difficult to be legal and too easy to be illegal. We need to re-enforce the traditions that immigrants come here supported by sponsors and by their communities with a clear imperative to dive into our diverse and productive culture. We need to invite them to use the opportunities and liberties that we offer and become productive citizens. Ironically, this will take less government micromanagement and cost less than our current feckless approach.
Such a welcoming attitude cannot exist without a disciplined process, but it need not be complicated. A visitor comes into this country either with a planned departure date, or as an immigrant with the intent to stay. Some estimate that over half of illegal immigrants come into this country legally as visitors and over-stay their permission. If a visitor enters as a visitor, and we follow through to verify departure as expected, we immediately stem half of our illegal immigration problem. That gets little attention and has less to do with border security.
For the other half, mostly our neighbors who come here primarily to work, have we thought about opening our borders? In the European Union, cross border labor is not seen as different from other cross border (free) trade. Labor is permitted to flow with the market, to the benefit of all. We could learn from Europe, both the value of a more free labor market and the necessity for a legal labor market structure.
The birth rate in America is falling rapidly, causing concerns about our long-term debt and prosperity. Limiting births has doomed Japan and China to a path toward economic stagnation. Limiting immigration can do the same to America. If we increased the number of immigrants we welcome by 300,000 per year, or about thirty percent, we would still be increasing our population at a lower rate than in any year prior to 1994. We would immediately gain more workers and more consumers and reduce the aging of our population. If we also cease favoring uncles, aunts, cousins and people from “underrepresented” geographies; we can instead favor those who come here from our neighbors and come for education or with skills. We would substantially reduce shortages of skills and surplus of dependency in our immigrant population.
We could also welcome those already here who accept their responsibility without changing any requirements for citizenship. We could drop the specious linkage between tenure as a guest worker and entitlement to citizenship. We could then abandon the notion that a “Berlin Wall” along our southern border is a sufficient or even an American solution.
If a visitor, already here or not, desires to be an immigrant worker or a resident, why would he or she not need to pass a security examination and provide an affidavit from two or more citizens providing a positive reference and pledging their sponsorship? In turn, why would the immigrant not pledge to keep an immigrant picture ID in possession at all times, to renew it annually, to keep a current address on file with the Immigration Service and his sponsors, to file an annual tax return regardless of income and to diligently seek to become productive. Is it cruel or discriminatory to ask these pledges of our guests when they are requirements for every citizen who has any income and drives an automobile? It would be an incredibly simple first step to make the USICS number on the green card become the taxpayer ID.
If we opened our shores to immigrants faithful to this contract, could any immigrant who does not comply or who falsifies papers complain about immediate deportation forthwith, no excuses, no exceptions, no reentry, no citizenship for children born while illegal? Why wouldn’t any employer that does not have a current copy of all employee identifications on file face stiff fines? Why would States not be required to identify immigration status on any drivers’ licenses issued? With these few simple and enforceable rules, drivers’ licenses, Social Security numbers, U.S. bank and credit accounts would not be available to aliens without immigration credentials. Safety net benefits such as welfare, unemployment, food stamps, free medical care etc. could have strict pre-defined limitations commensurate with the immigrant’s commitment to become a productive citizen. The ultimate safety net for those who want it could be a ticket back to their home country.
This approach might have been difficult in the twentieth century, but we are now in the age of Big Data. It may seem harsh, but it is undeniably fair. If we make it easy for those who relish opportunity, we then make it far easier to identify and penalize those who do not play by the rules, or those who come to harm us. Immigration status and citizenship are not entitlements. The quid pro quo for citizenship is citizenship.
Michael Moffitt Column
Granddad’s Dictionary: Reflections on Life in America
by Michael Moffitt
ISBN: 978-1-4908-2916-6 (sc)
Published April 7, 2014