By | January 7, 2007

Immigration has been a hot topic recently. To be honest, I’m not completely sure what all the issues and arguments are on each side. As I recall, last year there was some political pressure to crack down on immigration and illegal aliens. Though legislation would apply to any non-citizen, concern seems to be mostly about Hispanics and people entering the U.S. from Mexico. In response, large marches were held in many cities across the nation.

My question is, what are we (citizens of the U.S.) afraid of? One complaint I’ve heard deals with economics and jobs. Is this a reasonable concern? Economics is a two way street. An immigrant may come here and take a job, which might be seen as one less job in the employment market. However, if they are living here, they will be spending money on food, housing, clothing, and likely more. Therefore, by their spending, they will increase the economy, which will add jobs, thus offsetting the loss of the job they took. It is true that some immigrants come here in order to save up some money and either sent it back to family in their home countries, or take it back with them if they return themselves. Unfortunately, I don’t know if the amount of money moving in this way is at a level to be of concern or not.

A realistic concern might be that immigrants drive down wages. In our free market economy, the amount paid for a certain job has a lot to do with the amount of people interested and qualified to work that job. If more people are willing to work, then wage offered will be less. As it stands now, these immigrants are actually probably helping us out. They are working many of the lowest level, lowest paying jobs. In other words, they are working the jobs we don’t want to work. But even if they are affecting wage levels, who says we have a right to keep the jobs to ourselves, or at certain wage? Sure, we all want to be paid more. But that’s not always how things work and it’s not necessarily possible. (If we all were paid more, then the value of the money would be less, thus nullifying the numerical increase. I can’t go further into a discussion on economics here, though I believe that it’s an interesting and important topic. I have started write a lengthier piece on the subject… with some luck I may actually finish it at some point in the future.) At the very least, if we want to keep immigrants out of the country for this reason, let’s just be honest and say it’s because we want to keep the jobs, money and prosperity to ourselves.

Another complaint this I’ve heard is that many of these people don’t speak English. Again, why is it that we think everyone else ought to be the ones to put forth the effort to learn our language, and that we shouldn’t be inconvenienced with the fact that we may have to interact with people who don’t speak our language. Would it be so bad for us to learn another language, or for us to start teaching another language (as a requirement) in our schools? Yes, there is a certain amount of practical concerns here. I don’t have a problem saying that anyone (not just immigrants) should be able to read English well enough to pass a driving test in order to get a driver’s license for example. I’m not saying that we as a country should go out of our way in order to accommodate people who don’t speak English, (though I don’t have a problem if and when accommodations are made). I am saying that I don’t believe that this is a great reason to say that they shouldn’t come here in the first place. Again, if this is our reason, let’s be honest and say that we don’t want to be inconvenienced.

There are another couple of related issues that are also complaints about immigrants, however they only pertain to some. The first is simply that they are here illegally. Of course, as I mentioned, this only pertains to some immigrants. While there certainly are many here illegally, there are certainly others that are here quite legally as well. Here I agree, this is a problem. I don’t want people to be here illegally. The question is, what do we do about them? Do we (attempt to) round them all up and ship them back? I say no, because it would be quite expensive not to mention ineffective. Additionally we might suddenly find many of our restaurants unstaffed, as just one example. (If this were to happen, food may well increase in price as restaurants are forced to pay higher wages in order to adequately staff their businesses.) If sending illegal immigrants back isn’t a viable option, the only other way you have of dealing with them is to provide some way of them becoming legal. We don’t have to allow them to become citizens necessarily, but we ought to have some way of allowing them to be here legally and to be aware of their presence here.

This leads to one of the other arguments I’ve heard. That has to do with welfare. I haven’t heard enough to understand this complaint, but it has to do with the belief that immigrants are receiving value from a system which they are paying nothing into. Again, I believe that this would pertain only to illegal immigrants, because legal immigrants would be paying taxes to the best of my knowledge. That being the case, I believe that it is one more reason to find a way for them to become legal. (It also happens to be a good reason to support replacing the current national tax system with a national sales tax; it would be harder to get by even if a person was living here illegally.) If we came up with a reasonable way for them to work here legally, I believe that most would pursue it. Of course there will probably be a few who would try to sneak under the system even then. In such a case I don’t have a problem with the option of sending them back to their own country.

One other thought I’ll mention but won’t go into. That is, it seems to me at times that this immigration debate borders on racism. I hope that isn’t the case, though I don’t believe that we’re over racism in this country. Nonetheless I will save that topic for another article.

At issue is in part, not whether or not anyone can immigrate here, but how many. Apparently some people feel that we have too many immigrants here already. I would fall on the other side. While I feel that could be a level that would be just too much, I don’t feel that we are near that point yet. But as I mentioned up front, I admit I’m not familiar enough with the debate to claim to have it figured out. However a thought to consider, many of these people have put a lot of effort in to coming here. They may have braved deserts or paid a significant sum to be smuggled here. Though it’s probably easier now days, it still must be a challenge to go into a country where you may not know anyone, not have a place to live, and have limited amount of cash to get started on. When we debate this issue, it seems important to consider that these immigrants feel it’s worth the significant risks and challenges of coming here. Do we have as important of reasons to keep them out as they do to come here?

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