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From the newspaper (2)

Another piece from the "Comment" page of today's Financial Times.  American flisters, this one's all about us.

Author:  Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate.com
Published in the Financial Times, April 6, 2006

"Immigration ideas bordering on perverse"

The immigration fight in Congress is shaping up as an epic battle of bad ideas.  On one side is the House Alamo caucus, which in December passed a bill that is impractical and gratuitously cruel.  It would turn being in the US without a valid visa into an "aggravated" felony, make it a crime for Good Samaritans and even family members to help illegal immigrants and erect a 700-mile-long fence that would turn the southern border into a demilitarised zone. 

This nationalist, punitive approach cuts against America's immigrant tradition, its humane values and its economic needs.  Slamming the gates shut would further damage our image in the world and especially relations with our Mexican neighbours, who for some reason think it rude of us to want to decorate our shared property line with a concrete wall topped with razor wire and guard towers.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the bill sponsored by senators Edward Kennedy and John McCain, which last week passed the Senate judiciary committee.  It would let the estimated 12m illegal residents of the US achieve full citizenship, grant an additional 400,000 green cards per year, create a programme for agricultural "guest workers" and tighten border security.  With the exception of the extra green cards, these are lousy ideas too.  The amnesty offer would reward those who jumped the queue (as the last amnesty did), while penalising those who have waited patiently for legal visas.  As for the "guest worker" provision, a pet idea of President George W. Bush, it feels exploitative and un-American to allow migrants in without giving them a shot at becoming citizens.  And stepped-up border enforcement has a terrible record as well.  As Douglas Massey, the Princeton sociologist, argues, an enormous increase in border spending in the past two decades has been counterproductive, perversely resulting in more illegal migrants getting into the US from Mexico, more of them dying on the journey, and fewer of them ever going back.

What is more, these two approaches are incompatible.  You cannot crack down on illegal immigration and liberalise it at the same time.  The kind of split-the-difference compromise that is likely to result from a House-Senate-White House negotiation would surely be futile and wasteful.  You can already see the outlines of another domestic policy disaster emerging:  Mr. Bush will sign a law that threatens toughness but declines to apply it, a law that costs billions to administer but fails to reduce illegal immigration, while creating massive new bureaucratic and legal headaches.  This would be in keeping with past efforts, such as the big 1986 immigration reform bill, which promised serious sanctions against employers of illegals, but has never been enforced and has produced results the opposite of those intended.

As a bold alternative, why not pass no immigration bill?  The status quo of American immigration is certainly flawed.  Current policy turns a blind eye to widespread lawbreaking and, as Martin Wolf noted on this page yesterday, drives down low-end wages and exacerbates inequality.  On the other hand, the system works in its own way.  The most tenacious and enterprising immigrants, who are therefore the most economically desirable, find a way around the barriers.  Once here, they help the economy sustain a high rate of growth and subsidise America's social security system.  In return, those who choose to stay have a chance to create better lives for their children.

America has always tolerated such flawed but functional arrangements when it comes to immigration.  The country was built by people who did not wait for engraved invitations.  New arrivals draw inevitable hostility from native-born workers with whom they compete for jobs, even though the native-born can often recall an immigrant family saga themselves.  As a result, the national attitude toward immigration remains marked by ambivalence.  We need their muscle.  We admire their pluck and sacrifice.  At the same time, we object to having to compete with them, we resent their differences and we doubt their commitment to our values.  America's immigration policies will never be fully rational because feelings about a process so central to the American experience will always contain an element of contradiction.

That is not to say that the US cannot improve its immigration policy.  Recognising that globalisation means traffic in labour as well as in capital and goods, we should provide many more legal work visas and green cards, especially for high-tech workers, who drive the most innovative sector of the American economy.  Employers who knowingly hire illegal workers should suffer the consequences under existing, but ignored, laws.  This is the one step that would make it more difficult for illegal migrants to find work in the US and address the queue-jumping issue much more effectively than tighter border security.

What we do not need is a big reform bill.  Even in all-Republican Washington, there remains a strong tendency to measure success on the basis of how much massive federal legislation can be shovelled out the door.  With the ineffetual No Child Left Behind education bill and the massively confusing and wasteful Medicare prescription drug bill, the Bush-era tally stands at two big social policy fiascos.  In the coming months, the president and Congress have an opportunity to avoid adding a third. 


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2006 10:23 pm (UTC)
This is so sad. I really don't think we will get a good resolution at all.
Apr. 6th, 2006 10:25 pm (UTC)
You Americans are not big on commissions, are you? Canada loves commissions - the joke goes that if there's a problem, don't try to change it, set up a commission to investigate and report back. As bureaucratic and cumbersome as this sounds, it really does produce if not full-blown results, then at least a very detailed and deep insight into a problem. Yes, we still try to debate things back and forth in the media, we still criticise our commissions for being ineffective and a big waste of money, but it also seems that simple debate in the House (which we also do have, btw) is just that - debate. Not dialogue, and no one comes to conclusions any different than those they had to begin with. There is no comprehensive analysis of a situation, something a committee could take care of while the lawmakers are busy doing their jobs and passing effective legislation. Yes, we also joke that commissions seem to be a big waste of money, but it doesn't sound like the above situation is a money-saver, either.

Recognising that globalisation means traffic in labour as well as in capital and goods, we should provide many more legal work visas and green cards, especially for high-tech workers, who drive the most innovative sector of the American economy.

I'm sorry, I have to throw out a criticism of this - it doesn't work in Canada (not to imply that it couldn't have success elsewhere, but this is simply by way of a warning) not because the incoming immigrants are not highly skilled, but because the already existing citizens become protective. Canada welcomes highly-skilled immigrants, encourages them to come, actually, and they end up working as cleaning staff and taxi drivers because your diploma at the most prestigious institute in Ukraine or Pakistan just won't cut it with our standards. Is this actually the case, that our universities are across-the-board superior? Of course not. It is protectionism, pure and simple, and I'm not exactly sure what the true cause is - I believe it could be one of two things. Either alumni and provincial government groups and maybe even wealthy taxpayers are lobbying the federal government not to waste all this money poured into secondary education by simply hiring immigrants and leaving just-graduated Canadian citizens in the lurch, or the employers don't want a recognition of the full status of these highly-educated immigrants because then they could hire them less expeinsively? Neither of those seem to make sense, and yet the person who vacuums the floor at the office and carts around the businesspeople in the cabs is usually more highly trained than the people they are serving.
Apr. 6th, 2006 10:27 pm (UTC)
ETA: That's it? Two articles qualifies as a 'series'? Come on, I was just getting warmed up!

What's that? I've had too much caffeine and if I'm looking for something to write a political treatise on I should go post in my own LJ? Pshaw!

*goes to make another cafe-au-lait* *or off to bed might be a good idea*

(Deleted comment)
Apr. 7th, 2006 10:02 am (UTC)
:-O *is highly impressed for the transcription* *goes back to see if anyone else replied* *is in awe at transcription*

Yes, yes... I will do that presently...
Apr. 7th, 2006 09:42 am (UTC)
You only got two because I ran out of time before I had to go catch my bus. I was able to copy and paste the first one from ft.com, but the second article was online-subscriber-only (which I'm not yet, as it's an extra charge in addition to what I pay for the print edition of the paper) *deep breath* SO, I had to work my fingers to the bone typing the whole article into LJ. Since the third article from yesterday's paper that I was going to post was also going to have to be typed in, and it was even longer, I decided to carry it over until today (it's about Russia and the U.S.). *wonders why I'm explaining this in such detail* *decides to use pitiful kitten icon for its wonderful guilt-inducing properties*

And if you're in the mood to write, remember that there are some questions that need answering in Salon V.
Apr. 7th, 2006 10:09 am (UTC)
(Oh, and did I mention I'm dying to read the U.S./Russia one? Can you give me a date, I might have it in electronic form on the list I subscribe to... save you the nasty typing!!!)
Apr. 7th, 2006 10:40 am (UTC)
It's on the "Comment" page of yesterday's Financial Times (April 6, 2006). The title of the piece is "America cannot have it both ways with Russia". It was written by Nikolas Gvosdev and Dimitri Simes.

Let me know if you find it, but I'm still going to post it because I think a few other people (looneyluna, for one, and maybe tracy_rowan, might like to see it). (Tavi's included automatically.)
Apr. 7th, 2006 02:05 pm (UTC)
Ah, if it's only from yesterday, it might not show up until tomorrow. I just wanted to help save you the trouble of typing. Was it reprinted from somewhere else?
Apr. 7th, 2006 06:31 pm (UTC)
I've just finished typing it. And no, it wasn't reprinted from another source so far as I can tell.

Hey, the transcription is the least I can do to say thanks for Part 6 (which I promise not to read until tomorrow).
Apr. 6th, 2006 10:44 pm (UTC)
We have some politicians at the moment we don't know quite what to do with... Do you want one? What kind do you fancy? Tall,handsome (errrr... Not to me, but hey...) and so stupidly arrogant you could beat him to death? Or short, greasy and so stupidly mean you could beat him to death? I'm sure both could provide much necessary entertainment and help you solve, in their oh so special way, your domestic problems.

Apr. 7th, 2006 09:58 am (UTC)

Unfortunately the tall, handsome (yes, he is) arrogant one is probably still persona non grata here (at least while the Bush administration is in office), so I don't think you can send him to us, but I have a couple of other people on my flist who might jump at the offer, lol. No takers for Nicolas, I'm afraid. Btw, if he manages to be the one to find a way out of this jobs impasse, do you think that will make him unstoppable in next year's presidential elections? Not just against Villepin, but against anyone the left might put forward? *practices saying "President Sarkozy"*
Apr. 7th, 2006 11:19 am (UTC)
Handsome? Well. Let's agree to disagree, there. Erk.

But. Sarkozy isn't happy at the moment. He didn't find the way to solve the crisis, however hard he tried. The boat is sinking, and he's sinking with it, I think. He didn't really prove anything these days and kept a low profile.
We know for sure that VIllepin can't beat him anymore -but he can make sure Sarkozy will be beaten. If Villepin decides he'll be a candidate in next year's election, he can't win but he can steal a lot of votes from Sarkozy.
Plus the UMP (Chirac's and Sarkozy's party) have confirmed that they're unable to *feel* anything, *foresee* anything and lost any contact they could once have with people. Right now, they just displayed their inability to deal with any major crisis for everyone to see. And this is not good for Sarkozy. I really wish that de Villepin would manage to make himself useful, for once, and help defeat Sarkozy. Not that I like Villepin, but honestly, I like noe of them. I'll vote, of course, for the "moindre mal".
May it be Duncan McLeod. Ooooops. Sorry. ;)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )