OP-EDS

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May 9, 2006

Immigration reform must let in more, but let’s not open the floodgates

There’s never a shortage of amusement to be found at a rally the size and scope of the pro-immigration festivities that took place across America last week. Personally, I enjoyed the irony of the rallying call that had pervaded at similar gatherings out west: “Stop Treating Us Like Criminals!” The answer, of course, is “Then Stop Breaking the Law!”

Putting aside the philosophical implications of a group of people demonstrating, much like their French counterparts, not to challenge the status quo but to preserve their place in it, I am struck by how rapidly ad hominem nonsense has become the substance of debate on illegal immigration. The operative phrase, of course, is illegal immigration. I, like most sane people, recognize the importance and validity of legal immigration. The flow of new ideas and innovators into the United States is among the leading reasons we as a country are continually on the leading edge of science, technology, and culture. Yet this seemingly obvious recognition only points out the need for stricter curtailing of illegal immigration. Lax immigration law and reform devalue the contributions of legal immigrants and the process they went through to get here. They also encourage illegal immigration, which has startling implications for our national security. That we can pretend to value homeland security without securing our borders against unknown intruders reflects a sad state of affairs indeed. However, enforcement and border security are only part of the answer.

To begin, we need to reform the process of legal immigration to bring it back in line with the goals of our country and the economic realities we face. The United States places a limit of 65,000 on the H-1B visas for skilled workers. I fail to see why we would want to limit the number of new doctors, engineers, and scientists who legally immigrate to the United States. For example, nursing shortages could easily be fixed with an influx of qualified, foreign workers. Furthermore, increasing the quota for unskilled workers would not only infuse the economy with new labor, but it would cause illegal immigration to plummet as the jobs illegals sought were snatched up by their legal counterparts.

However, such an increase in visas needs to be accompanied by a stricter mode of filtering who is and isn’t allowed into the United States. Increasing the chances of being allowed to immigrate legally will only solve part of the problem. If it remains easier to simply sneak in, then why would someone even bother to apply?

We must prevent immigrants from entering illegally and endeavor to know whom we are allowing in legally. As for those illegals already here, following through with strict penalties on employers of illegal immigrants is the only way to curtail the problem of illegal hiring. Further, detaining and possibly deporting illegal immigrants will send a powerful and neccessary message to would-be illegal immigrants. The endless string of amnesties that are proposed, while heartfelt and charitable in their intentions, will only make things worse. The simple outcome of such amnesties is to validate the illegal immigration process, devalue the time and effort many put into immigrating legally, and encourage a new wave of illegal immigration.

Ironically, it is actually in the best interest of many of the attendees at the recent rallies to endorse stricter immigration reform. Illegal immigration’s effects are extensive, from changing job markets and labor prices to adding strain on our Social Security and public education programs, and there are growing security concerns. Moreover, the common misconception that illegal immigrants are necessary because they perform jobs Americans “refuse to do” is simply untrue. True, illegal immigrants disproportionately occupy service and maintenance jobs. But Americans don’t occupy these jobs because of their given wage rate. If illegal immigrants weren’t present in such number, Americans would force employers to raise wage rates and find innovative cost-cutting measures. And, yes, the trash would still get picked up.

American citizenship, and even American residence, entitles its bearer to so many freedoms sorely lacking throughout the world. We should welcome all those who wish to contribute to and benefit from the continued prosperity of our country, so long as they are willing to immigrate in the manner we prescribe. It is our right, and we should exercise it.