Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Three items on immigration

Progressive Economist Thomas Palley offers a "workers' rights" solution to the immigration issue.

a comprehensive “worker rights” approach can tackle the painful problem of illegal immigration. It includes giving undocumented workers the full protection of labor law, creating pathways to legal status for such workers, legal and policy measures deterring firms from hiring undocumented workers, and robust border enforcement. The minimum wage should also be raised to compensate for the depressing wage effect of illegal immigration.

This comprehensive approach is currently missing. The House bill makes progress on penalizing employers who hire undocumented workers, but its categorization of these workers as felons is cruel and will increase exploitation by driving them further underground. The Senate bill makes progress with its pathways to citizenship proposal, but this comes at the cost of a guest worker program. This placates business by promising a continued guaranteed supply of cheap labor, but it will continue placing downward pressure on wages. Neither addresses the issue of worker rights of undocumented workers.

What is needed is to keep the employer penalties, expand the pathways to citizenship program, improve border security, address worker rights, and raise the minimum wage, while jettisoning the felon provisions and guest worker program.

Liberal pollster Ruy Teixeira on What Does the Public Want on Immigration?

5. But there is little enthusiasm for an enforcement approach that focuses exclusively on illegal immigrants themselves and removing them from the country, especially when posed against alternatives. In the Pew poll, only 27 percent said illegal immigrants already here should be required to return home, compared to 32 percent who said they should be allowed to stay permanently and 32 percent who said they should be granted temporary worker status. And, in the same poll, 49 percent said the best way to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico was to penalize employers, compared to 33 percent who chose increasing border patrols and 9 percent who favored building more fences.

6. The public is open to a guest worker program for illegal immigrants and to making it easier for them to obtain citizenship, but only if certain strict conditions are met. For example, if you just ask, with no further specifications, whether we should make it easier for illegal immigrants to become legal workers, as Quinnipiac University recently did, you get a negative response, 54 percent against/41 percent for. And you get an even more negative response on whether we should make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens, 62 percent against/32 percent for.

But that initial reaction turns around, if it sounds like helping illegal immigrants to get legal worker status or to become citizens isn’t a free lunch for those who broke the law. In the Time magazine poll, they described making it easier for illegal immigrants to become legal workers as “Allowing illegal immigrants already working in the United States to register as guest workers for a fixed period of time, so the government could keep track of them”. That gets a 79-18 positive response.

Similarly, the Time poll framed making it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens as “Allowing illegal immigrants now in this country to earn U.S. citizenship if they learn to speak English, have a job and pay taxes". That’s supported by the public by a very wide 78-21 margin

Much of the discussion of Mexican immigrant issues is not fact-based. The Mexican Migrant Project at Princeton University is an exception. Unfortunately, the results of their research are not on the web site that I could find. But one of their academic studies, Crossing the Border published by Russel Sage Foundation is described on the RS website and has some interesting observations.

Crossing the Border dispels two primary myths about Mexican migration: First, that those who come to the United States are predominantly impoverished and intend to settle here permanently, and second, that the only way to keep them out is with stricter border enforcement. Nadia Flores, Rubén Hernández-León, and Douglas Massey show that Mexican migrants are generally not destitute but in fact cross the border because the higher comparative wages in the United States help them to finance homes back in Mexico, where limited credit opportunities makes it difficult for them to purchase housing. William Kandel’s chapter on immigrant agricultural workers debunks the myth that these laborers are part of a shadowy, underground population that sponges off of social services. In contrast, he finds that most Mexican agricultural workers in the United States are paid by check and not under the table. These workers pay their fair share in U.S. taxes and—despite high rates of eligibility—they rarely utilize welfare programs. Research from the project also indicates that heightened border surveillance is an ineffective strategy to reduce the immigrant population. Pia Orrenius demonstrates that strict barriers at popular border crossings have not kept migrants from entering the United States, but rather have prompted them to seek out other crossing points. Belinda Reyes uses statistical models and qualitative interviews to show that the militarization of the Mexican border has actually kept immigrants who want to return to Mexico from doing so by making them fear that if they leave they will not be able to get back into the United States.

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