November 21, 2022


Don't Blame the Immigrants. It's Our Laws That Are Criminal.Our immigration problem is that we're not politically capable of fixing the broken system. (MONA CHAREN, SEPTEMBER 21, 2022, The Bulwark)

Around the time that Venezuela was a prosperous country, the Republican party was guided by leaders who sympathized with the plight of those fleeing oppression, and took pride in the fact that so many aspired to come here. But today's GOP is in the grip of populists who portray desperate asylum seekers as hostile invaders. The Democrats, in this telling, are part of a conspiracy to flood the nation with immigrants who will "replace" the current dominant groups and reliably vote Democrat forever. (It's ironic that Republicans are actually increasing their share of the Hispanic vote.)

Many on the right portray illegal immigrants as criminals who are "breaking into our house" and deserve to be treated as such. So a word about the law. Under U.S. statutes, if a migrant comes into this country, turns himself in to a border guard or other authority, and asks for political asylum, he is entitled to a hearing. Asylum seekers are not "illegal" immigrants. They are simply following the law we enacted. There are some kinds of attempted entry that are illegal. These include using a fake passport, attempting to cross the border anywhere other than a border inspection point, or attempting to enter on false pretenses. The Venezuelans that DeSantis treated so shabbily were guilty of none of those things. They were simply desperate people hoping for a better life. DeSantis didn't see suffering human beings. He saw props. He saw Fox News coverage. (Fox, unlike the governor of Massachusetts, was tipped off in advance). And he saw the chance to show the GOP base what a jerk he could be.

The DeSantis justifiers object that border states are being flooded with illegals and that it's unjust that red states are bearing all of the burden. But the border states are not handling it alone. The federal government has spent roughly $333 billion on border security and immigration enforcement in the past 19 years, with much of it targeted on the southern border. As for the burden of immigration, it's debatable that immigrants represent a burden at all. Many studies show that they pay more in taxes than they cost in social services and they are more likely to work, start business, and seek patents than the native born (and less likely to commit crimes).

In any case, southern states have no monopoly on immigrants. In Texas, 17 percent of the population is foreign born. That's about the same as Massachusetts (16.9 percent), and only somewhat higher than the District of Columbia (14 percent), another city that has been the recipient of special delivery immigrants courtesy of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. While protesting the cost of handling immigrants, Abbott has spent $12 million in taxpayer funds busing immigrants to Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. New York, as it happens, has a higher percentage of foreign born residents (23 percent) than Texas. While the typical image of an illegal immigrant is a person desperately scaling a fence or fording a river from Mexico, a large proportion--in some years, an outright majority--of illegal immigrants are those who overstay their visas.

Those who believe the propaganda that immigration is destroying America should ponder our neighbor to the north. Is Canada a hellscape? The proportion of foreign born there is 21 percent, compared to the American average of 13.7 percent.

In truth, the vast majority of would-be immigrants have done absolutely nothing wrong. It is our own laws that are the problem. Because our political system is so steeped in bile and demagoguery, we can't adapt to changing circumstances. We desperately need workers, yet the wait for legal immigration options is years long. People ask, "Why can't illegal immigrants wait in line?" But there is no line. We resolutely decline to accept guest workers in large numbers, who could fill jobs and return home (without affecting voting patterns, by the way). And so the only way to gain entry is to put feet on American soil and ask for asylum.

We have two aesthetic "problems" that undermine confidence in the capacity of government to function well: immigration and deficit spending.  Even, or especially, a narrowly divided government ought to deal with these, as we did under Reagan and Clinton respectively. As to immigration, return to an Ellis Island system where we admit those who wish to come to America but process them in an orderly fashion as we do so.   

Posted by at November 21, 2022 12:00 AM