December 4, 2004


Beyond the Barbed Wire: Bush won a mandate for immigration reform (Daniel Griswold, 12/03/04, Reason)

At the end of the recent APEC summit in Santiago, Chile, President Bush made it clear he plans to spend a chunk of the "political capital" he accumulated on Election Day to persuade Congress to enact real immigration reform. This was a shrewd calculation, for Bush made immigration reform a priority in both his campaign and his first administration. His re-election provides a mandate to push ahead with changes that will help the many people who want to work in the United States and, if history is any guide, alleviate the very real problem of illegal immigration. [...]

In this case, what is good politics for Bush and the Republicans is also good policy. Our immigration laws desperately need reform. Today an estimated 9 million people are living in the United States illegally, with the number growing by an estimated net 350,000 a year.

Simply throwing more money and manpower at the problem hasn't worked. Since the early 1990s, we've quintupled spending and tripled personnel at the Mexican border. We've built three-tiered walls for 60 miles into the desert. We've imposed sanctions on employers for the first time in U.S. history. We've raided discount stores and chicken processing plants in a futile attempt to repeal the laws of supply and demand.

One unintended consequence has been a deadly diversion of migration from a few urban entry points to more sparsely populated regions such as the Arizona border. Since 1998, more than 2,000 people have died of dehydration and suffocation while trying to cross the border. That's too high a price to pay for seeking a better job.

The reason for the failure is simple. Our existing immigration system is out of step with the realities of American life. Our economy continues to produce opportunities for low-skilled workers in important sectors of our economy such as retail, services, construction, and tourism. Meanwhile, the pool of Americans willing and happy to fill those jobs continues to shrink as the average American worker grows older and becomes better educated. Yet our immigration system has no legal channel for workers from Mexico and other countries to come to the United States even temporarily to fill those jobs. The result is widespread illegal immigration.

Opponents of immigration demand more of the same failed policies: more walls and barbed wire, entire divisions of troops at the border, the massive deportation of undocumented workers at great economic and human cost. President Bush's approach, in contrast, would replace an unsafe, disorderly, and illegal flow of immigrants with one that is safe, orderly, and legal.

No one who opposes immigration is going to pick your lettuce, slaughter your dinner, cut your lawn, or clean your office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 4, 2004 7:47 PM

My dad always had me to mow our lawn - and I suspect the situation is the same for most Americans, so big deal.

Second, why not buy our vegetables and beef from the Third World directly so they can earn their money at home and be with their family.

Third, as for other low paying jobs, why not pay people more? If they need to get done, they will get done somehow.

This immigration reform has one objective: to produce a labor surplus to drive down wages for American workers.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at December 4, 2004 8:21 PM

The immigration wouldn't be so much of a problem if it was safe and orderly. It's the criminal nature of so much coyote immigration that causes tons of problems.

Posted by: Brandon at December 4, 2004 9:32 PM

I'm something of a softie on immigration -- although I certainly want the laws enforced and the illegal stuff nipped in the bud -- but doesn't the whole "they take jobs we don't need" argument seem like bad economics? Tom Sowell once pointed out that, without a steady stream of immigrants undercutting wages in certain industries, the wages would rise until they would reach the point where Americans would be willing to do them again. Makes sense to me.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at December 4, 2004 11:08 PM


Slaughterhouses pay decent wages.

Posted by: oj at December 4, 2004 11:58 PM

I love immigrants. My wife is an immigrant. Some of my dearest friends are immigrants. OJ is quite correct when he states that the native population won't do the menial and labor intensive jobs regardless of the wages involved, and might I add, neither will the children of the immigrants who do them today.

Posted by: MB at December 5, 2004 1:31 AM

Slaughterhouses pay decent wages.

Relative to what? If immigrants are taking such jobs because American's are failing to, it only means Americans can find a better combination of working conditions and pay.

Increasing pay would change the equation. It would also mean higher prices.

It seems Americans prefer lower prices. And, perhaps unintentionally, better lives for the immigrants than they would have otherwise.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 5, 2004 6:02 AM

I just wonder how many of these armchair economists, who talk about raising the pay in certain jobs until we find people willing to do them here, would pay $5 for a head of lettuce.

The problem with merely importing our food is that the nations south of the border do not adhere to anything close to American hygiene standards. Does the word 'nightsoil' have any resonance?

The self-evident answer is integrating the continental economy, letting the Mexican and other workers come here on an organized basis, rather than the ad hoc way they get here now. The work gets done at a rate that makes consumers happy and the workers are content with their wages. Isn't that known as 'equilibrium?'

Posted by: Bart at December 5, 2004 6:26 AM


No, they can find jobs with greater social cache.

Posted by: oj at December 5, 2004 8:22 AM

Bart, I'll give you this: You are unpredictable.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 5, 2004 8:23 AM


If you understand the principles under which I operate, my ideas are quite consistent and predictable.

Posted by: Bart at December 5, 2004 8:54 AM

A better reason to support immigration is this

Must mention in passing though Miss Slovenia

Posted by: h-man at December 5, 2004 9:10 AM


I'll file social cache under working conditions, the answer remains the same.

Immigration, provided we don't forget assimilation, benefits everyone.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 5, 2004 5:13 PM