Immigration’s common ground
Vail CO, Colorado
Somehow lost between the hysteric cries of bleeding heart undocumented worker advocates, and the shrilly xenophobic rants of illegal alien antagonists must exist a reasoned and reasonable solution to the immigration issue. The immigration system is broken. You see, stripped of the emotionally charged guilt-ridden pleadings for family unity or the fear-mongering screeches proclaiming U.S. bankruptcy (due to foreigners who constitute less than 5 percent of the total population and assuming all of them immediately go on welfare), the immigration issue is fundamentally a labor problem.
Either our economy needs labor or it does not. If you do not believe we need the labor provided by foreigners, then we should throw them all out. Papers by Goldman Sachs and Citicorp, plus our own experience in Eagle Valley would disagree with you.
In economic terms, in order for labor to be efficient, there must be a free flow, allowing the market to dictate the need. At a time in our economic history when U.S. producers are the most efficient and productive, unemployment is at historical lows, our immigration policy implementation is the most inefficient and least effective.
And so we have a labor shortage ” and the resulting illegal entries and illegal employment.
The choking of the free flow of labor through extremely restrictive (65,000 nonskilled, 66,000 skilled workers per year) immigration regulations has compounded the illegal alien issue. If an employer is lucky enough to get an allocation of visas reserved, it takes six months to get approvals only to have consulates delay visa interviews for weeks, if not months, and then arbitrarily deny the visa because of a presumption at the State Department that anyone applying for a visa intends to stay.
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The decades of failure of our Congress to address the labor needs of our economy through an efficient immigration policy have created the legal crisis we now face. To attempt to solve this crisis now by the arbitrary application of rule-of-law principles or claims of national security first will do nothing to resolve the root cause of the problem. We have jobs that need to be filled, and not enough workers to fill those jobs.
Since the early 1900s, immigration has always met the need in the lower paying, labor intensive jobs. The United States has the most educated labor force in our short history, which further increases the demand for lower cost labor. My son went to college to be a teacher, not a bus boy.
Some argue that immigrant labor will depress wages. While the legal answer is no, employers must meet prevailing wage standards of the U.S. Department of Labor, the more basic economics driven answer is, “So what?” In the free market, labor is fungible, and the principles of supply and demand will control. Just look at our $10-per-hour rates here. There is no constitutional right to a high wage or a four-car-family standard of living. You have to earn it.
Having an efficient legal foreign workforce however, will free up the U.S. workers to create more jobs, be entrepreneurial, and further drive the economy. I do not have the space in this opinion to address the huge contribution and continuing need for foreign graduate students and educated foreigners who have invested and been a major component in the technology advances achieved in the U.S.
Contrary to popular belief, the United States is not the greatest country in the world in the minds of foreign workers. It is a huge market with large earning potential. Most do not want, necessarily, to become citizens of the United States. What they want is to work, pay their taxes (since our tax rates are typically lower than most countries), live and enjoy the United States for a while, save their money, and return to their home countries in style.
An effective, efficient immigration system would allow the free flow of this labor, greatly reduce if not eliminate the illegal economic migrant, and allow us to focus our enforcement resources on those seeking to harm this country.
So what do we do about the illegals here now? Have they been convicted of any felonies? Throw them out. If not, are they gainfully employed with a willing employer sponsor? Give them a work permit. Their illegal entry or overstay is an administrative law violation ” fine them appropriately perhaps scaled to the length of the unauthorized stay. Make them pay any unpaid taxes, and be done.
There are many facets of the issue I have not addressed, but to solve this problem we need to stop the wailing and gnashing of teeth, forget the posturing, chest beating “my way or the highway” emotional intransigence, and just do it.
Heather Lemon of Eagle-Vail writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.