Saturday, February 10, 2007

Documenting the Undocumented

The way that the debate on immigration is going, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to solve this monumental social crisis. Our problem is that people debating the issue are far more interested in attacking their opponents than in solving the issue. For example, Reach Upwards tried writing a post about illegal immigration. He immediately gets a reply that tries to frame the post as anti-immigrant. Being against illegal immigration does not make a person anti-immigrant. Personally, I am opposed to illegal immigration because it creates an exploitable underclass. Having an exploitable underclass in our society allows negative elements in our society to undermine our society.

With this in mind, I will write Kevin's very simple and clear method to handling the undocumented worker crisis:

There are two pools of people we need to think about in an immigration debate. The first is the large line of people wanting to migrate into the country legally. There is a second pool of people who are in the US without permission. Immigration policies should be geared toward balancing the needs of these two groups. There should be a preference to people who are going through the legal process.

The first step in solving the problem is to measure it. The people who are trying to immigrate legally are super easy to measure. They willingly fill out forms, stand in lines and give accurate contact information.

Our immigration system should give preference to people in legal channels. For example, we might give people in the legal channel twice the chance of getting approval to a person who crossed the border illegally.

The challenge is documenting the undocumented. To handle this challenge we should start by creating a documentation process. This process would not be handled by the INS. It could be handled by the Census bureau, drivers license divisions or other such agency. The documentation is at a level below a work permit or amnesty. The primary goal of the documentation is to identify people and for the people to state their intent. The documentation should take biometrics, such as a finger print, or snippet of hair for DNA analysis.

The documentation process should include both negative and positive incentives.

The first goal is to document the undocumented. I think this is what Bush is trying to do with the worker program. I would actually make it simpler. We should have documentation program. We should require everyone who is in the country to get documentation. The documentation would include biometrics (like finger prints). It would ask for the person to express their intent. Do they wish to migrate to the US or are they here temporarily. The documentation program would have to have both positive and negative incentives. The data from the documentation program should not be available to law enforcement. You might give people a one month visa for getting the documentation.

To help give incentive to getting the documentation, we should increase the penalties for people who fail to get documentation.

Once we have measured the problem we should then set liberal immigration and work permit quotas.

We would then use a lottery mechanism based on documentation to let people into the country. We should also establish an repatriation program for the people who lost the lottery so that they can find a new home in an orderly manner.

The process of documentation followed by a lottery and repatriation service is not amnesty. The program is not anti-immigrant as it must be built on a liberal immigration quota. By weighing the needs of the people in legal channels over those who crossed the border illegally, the mechanism rewards law abiding behaviour.

Since this process includes greater penalties for not getting documentation, it punishes illegal behavior.

The whole goal of the documenting the undocumented process is to get all of the people in this immigration mess onto a path that will set them up for a better future either in the United States or outside the United States.

There are two other important issues that we must address. We need to greatly curtail the influence that national and local politicians have in granting visas and immigration permits. The second thing is that we should get rid of the policy where having a baby in the US immediately qualifies the mother and child for immigration status. Our world is overpopulated, we need to get rid of artificial incentives for people to have children.


Charles D said...

This is a good attempt, but still doesn't address the key economics underlying the issue: There is a unrelenting demand for work even at what we consider low pay because of the economic conditions in Mexico and Central America. There is a supply of jobs in the United States where employers are willing if not eager to hire undocumented workers.

We should give preference to people in 'legal channels', but obviously the United States is not willing to open up legal immigration in numbers high enough to meet the demand.

As for documentation, if you were an undocumented worker in the US and able to make enough to feed your family back home, would you trust the US government enough to walk into any agency and submit to biometric documentation? Hardly.

The problem with your approach is that it clearly will lead to some undocumented workers being sent back whence they came and therefore you cannot get the cooperation needed to carry out the process in the first place.

Why not deal with the actual causes? I would suggest first of all intense efforts to create healthy economies in Central America, with truly democratic governments, reduced corruption, development of local agriculture and industry, and increased government services for the poor. Then we could talk about real enforcement on employers with serious penalties for hiring undocumented workers.

y-intercept said...

I think Americans are willing to increase the number of legal immigration slots. They just don't want an amnest. Neither do they want to increase legal slots without doing something to stop the influx of illegals. The real bind that we have is that increasing the number of slots simply makes the numbers worse.

The method provides a framework that allows us to address an increase in the number of immigration slots. For that matter, this lottery framework would not work unless there is a dramatic increase in the number of legal slots. Nobody would buy the lottery ticket if there was not something to win.

The process makes more sense if you look at it in reverse. Basically what I am saying is that we need to dramatically increase the number of available legal slots. This lottery should have a preference for legal emigrants. To encourage undocumented workers to enter the lottery, we should create an immigration status neutral system for documenting people. The end goal of this process is to get everyone on a clear path either toward citizenship or toward repatriation.

Now, I agree with the statement that the only real long term solution to the immigration mess is economic and political reform of Latin American countries. Unfortunately, the majority of attempts that the US has made to impose democracy and economic reform in Latin America has come back to bite us.

Charles D said...

What exactly is the substantive difference in increasing the number of legal slots and declaring an amnesty? In both cases, the result would be more legal immigrants - the only difference is the method by which the goal is achieved. Perhaps it makes some people feel better that we are not "rewarding" people from risking life and limb to feed their families.

As for your last paragraph, there has not been an attempt by the US to impose democracy in Latin America - several attempts (many successful) to overthrow democracy, but none to impose it. The only economic reform imposed on Latin America by the US has been 'reform' intended to help the US, all of which has been disastrous for the people of Latin America. I know that's not what you would like to believe, but it's true nonetheless.

y-intercept said...

If you hold that a dictatorship of the proletariat is the highest form of Democracy, then what you said is true. If you hold to the classical liberal tradition, then you know that Democracies are subject to the reflexive paradox (especially at their inception). People who have actually read a history book know that fail rate of democracies is in the upper ninety percent (it is possible that Bush has never read a history book).

The only way you can start a democracy is if the initial players in the democracy have a consensus that the democracy and freedom are good things. When a country elects a leader who rejects this consensus, the democracy dies at birth. I believe that we should let many of these democracies die at birth. Unfortunately, in the cold war, there was a very good chance that the United States would have been completely annihilated if the USSR were able to turn South America into a wall to wall Marxist state ... which they were very close to achieving.

y-intercept said...

Amnesty is a situation where you forgive an entire class of people of a crime that they committed. Expanding the lottery for legal immigration slots while increasing law enforcement efforts is not amnesty.

BTW, I've read Chomsky and know the game that you are playing. Yes, if you define amnesty to mean that if so much as a single person who has been in the United States illegally gets citizenship, then that is amnesty. That idea is just pure crap.

As the system gives preference to people in legal channels, this is a net punishment for those people who are in the undocumented alien class. It is not an amnesty but an attempt to mete out the punishment in an orderly fashion.

Charles D said...

Who said anything about a dictatorship of the proletariat? Perhaps you read too much John Birch propaganda as a youth. I haven't read anything by Chomsky on immigration either. Perhaps you are projecting or simply don't have any viable arguments.

Every nation who has intervened militarily or otherwise in the internal affairs of another has put forward a rationale to defend their actions. The Cold War propaganda is not a valid defense of US action anymore than it is a valid defense of Soviet action in the same period. Either you believe in democracy and freedom or you don't. The US government obviously has not believed in either for some time. I'm sorry if that statement offends your sensibilities. If you have a factual refutation of it, please post it.

y-intercept said...

You know, I've never read anything by John Birch. I had a teacher who was a member of the Black Panthers, and people in the group described by David Horowitz in Radical Son.

Anyway, the Chomskian games that I was referring to was trying to win the debate by pulling linguistic tricks to portray your enemies as absolutists.

Reagan gave amnesty to an entire class of people with the expectation that we would start enforcing immigration laws after that. Since that technique failed, people don't want to repeat it. Claiming that all solutions to the immigration problem where so much as a single person in the US illegally is "amnesty" and therefore equivalent to the mistake Reagan made is nothing more than a linguistics trick.

Saying that we do not want to repeat the mistake Reagan made of giving amnesty to an entire class of people is not equivalent to saying that we should deport everyone who is in the country illegally. What people want is a way to handle the current challenge that does not favor people who cross borders illegally over those who are in legal channels.

Charles D said...

I return to my supply and demand argument. Solve those problems or your solution is doomed to failure - amnesty or no amnesty.