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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Jagdish Bhagwati: Treat Illegal Immigrants Decently

Jagdish Bhagwati on illegal immigration:

Treat illegal immigrants decently, by Jagdish Bhagwati, Commentary, Financial Times: ...US immigration reform ... collapsed in the Senate on June 28 and the nation was left more polarised than ever. What went wrong? ...

The main problem ... was that the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act had tried similar reforms ... but had failed. Many who opposed the proposed reforms knew this and would not go along..., convinced that history would repeat itself. As John Kenneth Galbraith once said about his foe Milton Friedman: “Milton’s problem is that his policies have been tried.”

The IRCA had a two-pronged strategy. The amnesty would take care of the stock of illegals, estimated at 6m. Only half took advantage of it, leaving an equal number in illegal status... The flows of illegals were to be taken care of through enforcement at three levels: enhanced border enforcement, employer sanctions and raids against illegals who were already in the US.

None of these worked. Borders could not be controlled unless you were willing to be rough. But you could not be, because illegal immigrants are human beings... [T]hose caught were not incarcerated but simply sent across the border and came back again and again till they got through. ...

As for employer sanctions, hardly any legal actions against employers were undertaken. But even if there had been, few judges would have used draconian punishment against those giving employment to the “huddled masses” seeking work. Equally, few Americans could contemplate with equanimity a manifold increase in disruptive raids against illegals that many considered inhumane.

So, the IRCA predictably did not eliminate the problem. By the time the new reforms were being proposed, the stock of illegals had in fact doubled to an estimated 12m ..., with a yearly absorption of 300,000 illegal workers in the labour force.

The only significant change proposed from the failed IRCA approach was that Mr Bush had asked for a temporary guest-worker programme. The idea was that it would siphon off most of the illegals into a legal channel. But by the time it had been moulded and mauled through successive compromises, it could not be expected to do much...

But all is not lost. Once passions aroused by the proposed reforms have cooled, Americans should be ready to see that a way must be found to treat illegals with the decency and respect that humanity requires, while respecting equally the innate American sense that laws matter. ... Perhaps a different and more realistic approach might get us what we could not achieve with uncompromising proposals.

In particular, why not build on the unappreciated fact that the illegals are not today the underclass with few rights that they were for many years? ... With vastly increased ethnic minority populations, especially Hispanic, the illegals enjoy a higher comfort level than at the time of the IRCA. ... There are numerous non-governmental organisations, such as the National Council of La Raza and civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, that give the illegals a substantial sense of protection.

If asking for full citizenship through the amnesty is currently impossible, we can work instead to raise this comfort level to something much closer to what citizenship brings, without asking for full citizenship. Cities such as New Haven have begun to do this. It never makes sense for the best to be the enemy of the good.

Here's more on the reference to New Haven:

New Haven opts to validate its illegal residents, csmonitor.com: At a time when a rising number of states and cities are cracking down on illegal immigrants, New Haven, Conn., is reaching out to them with a unique perk: an ID card.

Besides serving as identification for bank services and if police ask for ID, the card can be used at municipal locations such as libraries, beaches, and parks – and as a debit card for city parking meters and at 15 downtown shops.

Cities – and critics – ... are watching closely as New Haven prepares to hand out its first batch of cards July 24. The idea: integrate illegal immigrants into the community, protect them from crime that can happen because of a lack of documentation, and encourage them to be more willing to report crimes to police. Reaction to the first-of-a-kind program has been swift and sharp, illustrating the wide divide in US public opinion over the issue. ...

In New Haven, the main motivation for the ID cards was public safety, says Kica Matos, the city's community services administrator and a main initiator of the program. One reason the illegal immigrant community doesn't trust the police and doesn't come forward to report crimes is that police invariably ask to see ID. ...

The card isn't just for illegal immigrants, either, Matos says. It was designed to be useful for all residents, she adds, so it wouldn't be regarded as a "scarlet U" for "undocumented."

The city has fielded calls from governments and immigrant-rights groups in New York, San Francisco, and Washington State, she says. "There's a lot of buzz around the card, but they're waiting for us to get our program rolling."

    Posted by on Tuesday, July 24, 2007 at 12:51 PM in Economics, Immigration, Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (56)


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