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Monday, April 10, 2006
Missing Part of the Immigration Debate

The deabte over immigration reform has turned into those who say it's time to get real. One side favors building a wall along the Mexican border, and treating peole who sneak in as felons. The other side wants to give those already here a chance to acquire legal status, while making it easier to come under the blessing of the law.

Both sides argue that their approach is the key to stemming the the tide of illegal immigration. And both have a point. On the one hand, stricter monitoring is essential if we hope to gain control of our borders. On the other, since we are not about to deport 12 million undocumented foreginers, we had better find a way to bring them out of the shadows.

But neither approach will work unless we eliminate the main magnet for illegal immigration jobs. Mexicans and other foreigners don't make huge sacrifices to come here because they like the climate in Chicago or the theme parks in Florida. They come to find jobs paying far more than they can make back home.

Considering that so many people have a powerful reason to come, it's a delusion to think that Border Patrol agents or even a 2,000 mile wall can keep them out. Even if we could seal off the entire southern border from people willing to trek across deserts to sneak in, it wouldn't be enough.

About 40 percent of all those who are here illegally didn't come illegally. On a typical day, says Daniel Griswold of the Catto Institute in Washington, "660,000 foreign born people arrived in the United States legally, three quarters of them by land".

Nor will guest worker visas or "earned legalization" reduce the pul;l. These programs do offer foreign job seekers a way to stay without fear of being caught and deported, while gaining the protection of American labor regulations. But as long as many employers are willing to hire people regardless of their status, there will be a supply of illegal workers.

Why would anyone want to hire an illegal worker rather than a legal one? Because they're cheaper and more compliant. As long as unscrupulous employers can get away with it, they will use illegal immigrants to their advantage.

In the old days, it actually was not against the law to hire illegal immigrants. The 1966 immigration measure was the first to impose civil and criminal penalties for anyone who knowingly hire unauthorized workers. Employers were required to demand evidence from each new hire that he or she was entitled to be here. This was supposed to dry up the demands for illegal immigrants.

It was a good theory that was soon punctured by reality. The documents workers hat to provide that was soon punctured by reality. The documents workers had to provide such as birth certificates or naturalization papers, were easy to forge, and employers were not expected to prove their authenticity. So in the end, foreign workers had the same incentives to come here, and employers had the same incentive to hire them.

Nothing will change unless we replace the existing porous barrier with an airtight one. That mneans establishing a counterfeit-proof method for companies to check the status of the workers. The legislation being considered in Congress requires the Deaprtment of Homeland Security to create a mandatory system for verifying each employee's eligibility.

But is it worth it? The American Civil Liberties Union warns that thenew system would lead to a national ID card "linked to a massive government database containing sensitive, personality identifiable information about every resident in the United States" posing a serious threat to individual privacy.

In any case, says the Government Accountability Office, the new system will also cost nearly $12 billion a year. Given the record of DHS so far, it may be prone to errors, causing countless headaches for businesses and workers.

Some state-of-the-art identification program may be needed not just to keep out undocumented workers but foreign terrorists. In the poost Sept 11, 2001, world, we may have little choice but to establish a system by which the government can determine quickly and conclusively who is allowed to be here and who is not.

Whether the benefits of that system outweighs the disadvantages is open to deabte. But without it, any immigration measure will be only an elabotate formula for preserving the status quo.

(Source: CHICTRIB/by: Steve Chapman/ schapman@tribune.com)
posted by infraternam meam @ 9:41 PM  
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Name: infraternam meam
Home: Chicago, United States
About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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