My Journey From Immigration Dove To Immigration Hawk

Peter Hitchens,  brother of the legendary Christopher Hitchens, once said that changing one’s political views is not a Road to Damascus-style experience; rather, it is a process that unfolds over a period of time. That perfectly describes my process of changing my views on the issue of illegal immigration.  I began my journey as an immigration dove (those interested in my previous writings on this subject can find them here). At the time, I firmly believed that it was our government that was creating the problem of illegal immigration -- by not providing sufficient legal pathways for individuals who wanted to come to the United States to work. Issuing additional work permits, allowing illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows and pay back taxes and fines, and granting Dreamers –- who were Americans in every way except for paperwork –- citizenship would address the problem once and for all. In other words, I was a Jeb "Act of Love" Bush on the subject. 

My attitude towards illegal immigration began to change three years ago when I read a story about a Dreamer who unfurled a Mexican flag at her graduation ceremony at the University of California – San Diego. The sheer stupidity and arrogance of the act stunned me. America was kind to let her stay, and had given her opportunities she would have never had if her family had stayed in Mexico -- and yet she chose to wave the flag of the country that gave her nothing. At the time, I was in contact with immigration reform activists who, to my dismay, cheered her self-defeating stunt. I warned them that such in-your-face tactics and a sense of entitlement was only going to backfire and turn Americans against the Dreamers. Their response was to hurl insults and hit the block button on Facebook.

Their reaction gave me cause to stop and think a bit more deeply about the issue. What are the primary drivers of illegal immigration?  Mainly, there are two. First, there is the failure of other countries to provide opportunities for their people –- there is no illegal immigration problem from Canada. Second, there is the insatiable desire for cheap labor on the part of American employers. Offering additional work permits doesn’t address either driver. Actually, providing additional legal avenues to come work in the United States and send money back home overseas provides a further disincentive for those countries to improve their economies. Only by shutting down their ability to export their poverty problem to the United States and be rewarded by remittances will we force the political class in other countries to address the needs of their people.

As far as the second driver of illegal immigration: on what rational basis can one assume that employers desirous of cheap labor will suddenly change their mind and incur the  additional costs – payroll taxes, insurance, etc. – associated with hiring individuals legally? Employers don’t have to break the law to fulfill their labor needs. They can simply raise wages. Instead they choose to turn to illegal immigration. I suppose that one could take the libertarian approach and issue work permits until the wages of legal workers match those of illegal immigrants, i.e., engage in a race to the bottom. Never mind forcing the third world to lift their standards to match the United States. The libertarian solution is to have the United States join the third world. I don’t find said approach appealing, and I am willing to bet that neither do the vast majority of Americans.  A more effective way to wean American employers from cheap labor is to implement mandatory e-verify and make it extremely costly – that is: large fines and jail time for repeat offenders – to be caught hiring illegal immigrants.

Even the argument used to oppose mass deportations doesn’t hold up upon further scrutiny. Immigration doves claim that the United States simply doesn’t have the resources and manpower to deport 11 million illegal immigrants. It is a daunting number -- until one learns that, according to the FBI, in 2016 over 10 million arrests were made. In other words, this country has the ability to detain and process millions in any given year. The problem is not a lack of manpower. The real culprit is a lack of political consensus and will when it comes to mass deportations. Ironically, the proposed alternative to mass deportations requires even more resources. Conducting backgrounds, assessing and collecting back taxes, and testing for English proficiency require a lot more manpower than simply detaining individuals, determining their legal status, and making arrangements to return them to their home countries.

Moreover, the alternative to mass deportations opens the door to massive document fraud and could cost the United States Treasury dearly. Dreamers are estimated to number between 2 to 4 million, and to qualify for legal status, under various proposals, they must prove they entered the country within a specific time-frame – a clear incentive to provide forged documents. The immigration doves love to talk about how many resources are required to deport 11 million people. Well, how many resources are required to verify the validity of documents submitted by 2 to 4 million individuals? As far as paying back taxes, since illegal immigrants are customarily paid in cash, how is the government going to assess them? Moreover, given that most illegal immigrants are at the lower end of the income scale, in all likelihood the Treasury would owe them monies once EITC and other credits, deductions are taken into consideration. Besides, the proposition that we are unwilling to deport individuals because they violated our law, but will do so in heartbeat if they don’t speak English is laughable. We don’t deport because we don’t want to separate families but, by golly, we will do so if you can’t speak English. The same goes as far as paying fines. How can you possibly deport people because they are too poor to pay the fines, back taxes, etc.? "That is not who we are.'' It turns out, upon further reflection, that ‘build the wall and deport them all’ is the only workable solution to the problem of illegal immigration.