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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Glaeser: A First Step on Immigration

Edward Glaeser applauds "the true blue liberals and bedrock conservatives ... who came together to serve their country" on immigration reform:

With compromise, a first step on immigration, by Edward L. Glaeser, Commentary, Boston Globe: Last year, Americans for Democratic Action gave Senator Ted Kennedy a "liberal quotient" of 100 percent... The group gave Senator John Kyl of Arizona an equally perfect liberal quotient of 0... Kyl and Kennedy are as odd a couple as there is, yet together they proposed the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007.

America's immigration system manages to treat immigrants terribly and provide porous borders. Both the country and its immigrants will benefit if our vast illegal population is replaced with an even larger legal immigrant population... To achieve those benefits, the friends and foes of immigration must come to terms.

Kennedy and Kyl remind us that the hallmark of leadership is wise compromise, not extremist zeal. Those presidential candidates on both the left and right who have bashed the bill offer an ultra partisan recipe for legislature failure... The bill can be improved, but for it to pass -- and that is the important thing -- all of us who care about immigration must compromise.

For the fans of Fortress America, the bill offers hundreds of miles of fences and vehicle barriers, 10,000 more border guards, and a commitment to punishing the employers of illegal immigrants. I'm not crazy about spending billions on a concrete cordon meant to exclude people who only want to live in America, but if that is the price of compromise, so be it.

The real problem with the secure borders "triggers" is that the bill's pro-immigration policies only start when the often amorphous security provisions are in place. Fuzzy rules are a recipe for future conflict. The most important ... fix for the bill is to require only objectively measurable triggers for starting the flow of visas.

The most contentious aspect of the bill is the Z visa program that offers temporary legal residence to illegal residents for around $5,000. Some critics are outraged at any kindness to illegal immigrants...

[P]ro-immigrant advocates object to the fee. The right to live in the United States is worth a lot more than that. The Z visa program may be imperfect, but basic humanity and national security make it vital that we move people from gray illegality into the mainstream.

For the friends of immigration, the bill also offers 440,000 visas per year that will be allocated partially on the basis of education and work history, and up to 200,000 temporary guest worker visas each year. I would like to see the tie between visas and education get stronger and I hope that many of these temporary workers can stay permanently...

The best reason to support immigration is that there is no better way to fight global poverty than to welcome the poor into America. ... I cannot see enjoying that privilege but wanting to deny it to others. The second-best reason to support immigration is that immigrants enrich our country with their work and service...

The bill's provisions for more visas of all forms are grounded in humanitarianism. Pure national interest drives the need for more of the H-1B visas, which target skilled workers. Human capital is critical for national success. More educated immigrants bring ideas and innovation, and are less likely to set off nativist ire.

I applaud the bill's provisions that will increasingly allocate visas on the basis of education and work history. While letting family connections drive visa policy might seem humane, we should target visas to those immigrants who will make the benefits of immigration most obvious. While I would rather have the guest worker program than not, our goal should be skilled immigrants committed to America, not transient workers.

While the bill can be strengthened, the first step is to applaud the true blue liberals and bedrock conservatives, like Kennedy and Kyl, who came together to serve their country.

The last sentence makes it sound like the illegal immigration problem is bigger than it actually is, and therefore that it is crucial to compromise core principles in order to combat the large threat that it imposes. The policy should fit the crime, and overstating the harm leads to an overzealous policy response.

If it is "vital that we move people from gray illegality into the mainstream," I don't see why he supports the $5,000 fee that will be charged if illegal immigrants want to obtain temporary legal residence. I support legalizing workers that are already here. However, because they are already here, charging them $5,000 to stay would likely bring far fewer illegal immigrants out of hiding than a much, much lower fee (offer them $250 to become legal and more would step forward). Here's a few more details about the program:

The legalization provision would enable most illegal immigrants to stay in the country indefinitely with Z visas that would be renewable every four years. They also could have the option to seek permanent legal residency by obtaining green cards, but they'd have to wait more than eight years and would have to return to their home countries to apply.

A fee of $5,000 is a lot to pay to keep doing what you are already doing. If the main goal is to document illegal workers, a high fee is counterproductive.

I also wonder about his contention that "there is no better way to fight global poverty than to welcome the poor into America." Immigration certainly helps those who come here and we should do as much as we can to help, but we can't absorb enough of the world's poor to cure global poverty on our own. Globalization, which brings economic growth and development to poor countries, offers a much broader reach and a better way to fight global poverty. In the long-run, development within Mexico is the answer to the illegal immigration problem. The real question is why capital, the traditionally more mobile factor of production, is not moving to Mexico to take advantage of low cost labor and what can be done to change that.

For more on immigration, here's some NotSoSneaky humor with a point.

    Posted by on Tuesday, May 29, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Immigration, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (17)


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