May 15, 2011


Obama’s wise investment: Making life easier for 'illegals' (DOUG SAUNDERS, 5/14/11, Globe and Mail)

It has been more than 10 years since the U.S. Congress ended a decade of amnesties granting citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants. Since then, the mood has turned against these non-citizen residents: Several states have passed bills forbidding them or their children from attending school or university, from getting drivers’ licences, from getting health care.

By erasing this large and socially mobile slice of the population from the official economy and denying them a place in public life, the United States has provoked an intergenerational economic and security threat that could soon rival any fiscal or terrorism menace. George W. Bush once understood this, which was why he campaigned in 2000 on a promise to give eventual citizenship to the undocumented – a promise that was ultimately scuppered by his party’s extreme flank.

This is not a narrow slice of Americans. Undocumented immigrants make up between 3 and 4 per cent of the United States’ population, 5.4 per cent of its work force and 6.8 per cent of the students enrolled in its primary and secondary schools. They represent about a third of all foreign-born Americans. They are more likely than native-born Americans to form families, so their numbers are growing fast.

Undocumented immigrants are not, contrary to myth, people who show up to take advantage of social assistance. The risk and expense of migration are too great to make idleness an ambition. Since the downturn of 2008, there has been a net outflow of Central Americans from the United States and of North Africans and Middle Easterners from Europe. When the opportunities aren’t there, people don’t arrive. Conversely, when the economy needs people, it finds ways to supply them, legally or otherwise. And the United States will, by 2030, need 35 million more workers than its working-age population can provide: Immigrants, legal or otherwise, will be the answer.

What happens when they’re not legal? I’ve just finished a tour of the cities of the southwestern United States, and what I found at the core of every city were scores of thriving Central American neighbourhoods, many of them former African-American ghettoes. These are identical in appearance and purpose to the bottom-rung neighbourhoods where millions of Irish, German, Italian and European Jewish Americans made their start and built their fortunes during the 20th century (usually without legal citizenship papers themselves).

But these neighbourhoods are becoming stuck: Adults told me they’d saved money to buy their house, but they aren’t legally allowed to....

For all the politicians who fret about the fallout from amnesty, driving the price of their consituents' homes back up far outweighs any risk from the wahoo fringe.

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Posted by at May 15, 2011 8:36 AM

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