Let us start by agreeing on some basic principles: a country must first and foremost look to its own self-interest and the interests of its citizens.
While the United States was a country built by immigrants, it has become an article of faith that it should remain a country with the most open and liberal immigration policy in the world. Not only does the country legally allow large numbers of new immigrants each year; it also provides them a path to permanent residency and naturalization, and grants their children automatic citizenship. Every few decades, the country passes laws granting amnesty to people who are here illegally. There is no other country in the world with such a liberal policy. Some would argue that it was such a liberal policy that made the United States the vibrant, prosperous place it is. While that may have been true in the past, when the country had vast natural resources with few people to exploit it, it does not apply to the present times With high unemployment, strained social services, depressed real wages (especially for lower wage earners) and the highest income inequality in its history, it is difficult to deny that the United States needs to regulate the supply of immigrant labor. A tighter immigration policy will ensure that the nation imports, for limited periods of time, only the skills and capabilities it truly needs. Over the long run, the nation should and can invest in building those skills domestically, leading to higher employment levels for local population.
By artificially depressing wages through an abundant immigrant population (legal and illegal), businesses have benefited at the cost of legal residents, and at the cost of innovation. The argument is often made that immigrants do jobs that the local population doesn’t want to do. This is a convenient foil held out by domestic business interests to keep wages low.
Successful immigration policy is a ladder that needs two legs—enforcement and opportunity. Enforcement means better border control, speedy identification and deportation of illegal immigrants, and denial of employment and other benefits to them—all of which raise the “cost” of entering the country illegally. In turn, we should invest in job creation in their home countries—through trade and other incentives.
Given the lack of action at the federal level, Arizona has passed a law that makes what is now only a federal crime a state crime, and gives local law enforcement the power to enforce it. While comprehensive immigration law is desirable, continued delay at the federal level has unfortunately forced the state to take action, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others soon follow suit.
P.R. Ganapathy writes from New York.
No, globalization rewards open-minded border policies.
Let’s agree on a couple of different premises: humans are the most important natural resource; and the movement of people is one of the legs of the dynamic four-legged stool called globalization, with the flow of trade, capital, and ideas being the other three legs.
The reality of our globalizing world was summarized by The National Academies Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century (2005) as follows:
“Today, Americans are feeling the gradual and subtle effects of globalization … A substantial portion of our workforce finds itself in direct competition for jobs with lower-wage workers around the globe, and leading-edge scientific and engineering work is being accomplished in many parts of the world. Thanks to globalization, driven by modern communications and other advances, workers in virtual every sector must now face competitors who live just a mouse-click away.”
Okay, that should settle the xenophobic argument about jobs disappearing due to immigration. Jobs are moving to those who provide the highest value at the lowest cost. That might mean an Indian software developer in Hyderabad, a Japanese-American gardener in Sunnyvale, or a faceless computer automating work in the cloud. The challenge is to open our borders and invite those who understand the high value/low cost equation.
In varying degree, immigrants bring the skills, energy, and youth required to leverage this equation. The American government, with its actuarial eyes aware of low U.S. birthrates and an aging population, has historically welcomed those immigrants who fill the jobs that natural-born citizens cannot, or choose not to, occupy. These same diasporic “outsiders” soon become settled insiders and maintain the entrepreneurial vitality so necessary for innovation and job creation. This vitality, in turn, pays local, state, and federal taxes, stimulates new housing and commercial construction, and keeps the cycle of free-market globalization turning.
Diaspora’s editor, Khachig Tololyan, has asserted that “diasporas are the exemplary communities of the transnational moment.” At one time, America was the exemplary nation of the diasporic phenomenon.
Unfortunately, some immigrants celebrate the diaspora and then want to close the door behind them with anti-immigration bills like the one that passed in Arizona. If Tololyan is too obscure a reference, perhaps Jay Leno will suffice: “It’s an unbelievable law …. Today, a group of Native Americans pulled over a bunch of white guys and said, ‘Let’s see your papers.’”
Anti-immigrationistas would have us believe that “Good fences make good neighbors” is actually a form of effective economic and foreign policy. The truth is that good fences just reflect good fence builders. And good fence builders restrict the flow of trade, capital, ideas, and, yes, people.
Dr. Rajesh C. Oza is a change management consultant.