Regularizing Immigration

Via Mark Kleiman and Perverse Access Memory comes this statement from Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has called for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States to be given some sort of legal status short of citizenship, a proposal suggesting that the Bush administration might revive an ambitious legalization plan that was sidetracked after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In comments on Tuesday at a town hall meeting in Miami, Mr. Ridge said, “The bottom line is, as a country, we have to come to grips with the presence of 8 to 12 million illegals, afford them some kind of legal status some way.”

[… He] said the government might consider legalizing the status of illegal immigrants already in the country on a one-time basis.

[…] Mr. Ridge’s spokesman, said, “The secretary acknowledges that we have several million people here illegally, and he understands that for homeland security reasons, at some point in time, there needs to be a better way to identify those who may be a threat to our country.”

[… Mr. Ridge] insisted, however, that the protections would not included citizenship.

I am glad someone has finally noticed our big illegal immigration problem. We have to realize that our immigration system needs a lot of fixing. It is clear that having 8-12 million illegal immigrants is a problem. They form about 3-4% of the US population. We have to do something about it for humanitarian, economic and national security reasons.

I don’t think there is the political will to actually find and deport all those illegal immigrants. Therefore, we have to think of alternate arrangements. Giving them some sort of legal status qualifies as a good idea. I am however conflicted on this since it does sort of reward illegal behavior and it would be bad if we got into this cycle where there was some sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants every few years. But a one time measure along with other measures to discourage illegal immigration (border control, punishing businesses who hire illegals, etc.) would work. As Mark Kleiman points out, employer sanctions might be the best route for enforcement.

Mark Kleiman also points to a news item which says that the Bush administration is thinking of an agricultural workers legalization programme, a la Reagan in 1986.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

14 thoughts on “Regularizing Immigration”

  1. I think that a guest worker program is a far better approach than providing a “one time legalization,” which, as you point out, rewards illegal behavior and sets an expectation for future repeat performances. The guest worker program also has the advantage of providing freer movement back and forth across borders. One unintended consequence of stepped up border patrols is that illegals, which formerly moved back and forth according to the seasons, are now staying in the US because it is just to difficult to get back in!

  2. There are all kinds of people who fall under the “illegal immigrant” classification so I don’t think a single measure will suffice. The “illegal immigration problem” is a meaningless term to me. Without first understanding how these people’s and our lives are adversely affected or threatened by their extra-legal presence within our borders, I don’t see how we can begin to approach this “problem.”

    There may be practical reasons to regulate it but migration in search of a better life is not just an American characteristic but a human one. If this is one of the things that our immigration policy is based on then it certainly doesn’t seem evident, for instance when we talk about migrant labor.

    As for security, worrying about the intentions of everyone whom our immigration laws make illegal is akin to worrying about the intentions of all Arabic-speaking people in our midst.

  3. Jim: As I said when I started this blog, I use “we”, “us”, etc for both the United States (where I have lived for the past 6 years) and Pakistan (where I grew up). It will usually be clear from the context who I am referring to.

    ESS: A guest worker program could work as well. An interesting observation about the side effects of border enforcement on migrant workers.

    aslam: A single measure won’t suffice. In fact, we can implement all sorts of measures and will still not be rid of illegal immigrants. The ida is to make it somewhat difficult for illegal immigration.

    migration in search of a better life is not just an American characteristic but a human one.

    True, but unless we implement an open borders policy (which in IMO is not practical), we have to regulate immigration.

    As for security, worrying about the intentions of everyone whom our immigration laws make illegal is akin to worrying about the intentions of all Arabic-speaking people in our midst.

    No, it’s not. I am not suggesting that any illegal immigrant are terrorists, but when people come here legally, they are screened in some manner. Quite a few illegal immigrants never are. That is definitely a big gaping hole that someone could exploit. Overall, I think the security issue is not the only factor. Economic and humanitarian issues related to illegal immigrants are important as well.

  4. Alas, yes, regulating migration is a necessary evil. Having said that, I also feel that being an illegal immigrant is kinda like having gay sex in a place that has anti-sodomy laws.

    Seriously, though, if people are not being adequately screened before entering the country then, yes, every attempt should be made to close that hole. My point however was that, for instance, if someone who enters the country through proper channels (including screening) overstays his visa then that doesn’t make him any more dangerous than the rest of us. There may be other reasons to track him down but security isn’t necessarily one of them.

  5. My point however was that, for instance, if someone who enters the country through proper channels (including screening) overstays his visa then that doesn’t make him any more dangerous than the rest of us. There may be other reasons to track him down but security isn’t necessarily one of them.

    Overstaying a visa might not automatically make someone more dangerous, but keeping track of all non-citizens in the U.S. seems like it could be useful for many security purposes.

  6. …keeping track of all non-citizens in the U.S. seems like it could be useful for many security purposes.

    So would keeping track of all citizens.

  7. aslam: My point however was that, for instance, if someone who enters the country through proper channels (including screening) overstays his visa then that doesn’t make him any more dangerous than the rest of us. There may be other reasons to track him down but security isn’t necessarily one of them.

    anon: keeping track of all non-citizens in the U.S. seems like it could be useful for many security purposes.

    aslam: So would keeping track of all citizens.

    So exactly which point do you wish to make: that keeping track of people who have overstayed visas has no security purpose, or that keeping track of non-citizens does have security purposes, but is unfair/unreasonable/unjust?

  8. aslam: You bring up an important point. I do think however that either we should enforce a law properly or just get rid of it. Selective enforcement creates more problems. So as long as we have to regulate immigration (BTW, I agree that a perfect world would have unfettered movement), we have to have some enforcement against immigration violations.

    Anon said: “keeping track of all non-citizens in the U.S. seems like it could be useful for many security purposes.”

    Aslam replied: “So would keeping track of all citizens.”

    Aslam, you are certainly correct there. A DNA database of all citizens would help crime prosecution and make the US so much safer. Even a national ID could have positive effects. Obviously, there is the reduction in freedom and privacy to consider as well.

    Let’s forget the distinction between citizen and non-citizen for now. How exactly can a database of photographs and fingerprints of all US visitors (which is what the US-VISIT program is) be justified from a libertarian perspective? Terrorist screening seems within bounds to me, but keeping a database of millions around the world could be used for lots of things. What uses should be off-limits? I am afraid no one is having this discussion.

    I want to point out that I don’t have much libertarian leaning, though I do like my freedom and privacy. For example, I don’t find any problem with a national ID.

  9. So exactly which point do you wish to make: that keeping track of people who have overstayed visas has no security purpose, or that keeping track of non-citizens does have security purposes, but is unfair/unreasonable/unjust?

    The point I wish to make is that the distinction between citizen and non-citizen provides little that would be useful for security purposes. Rather than casting the net wider than it already is, it’d be more effective to meticulously gather intelligence that would lead us to the potential miscreants. For this we’d want to enroll individuals from the very populations that we alienate by getting them entangled in our net because they share some broad classifications with our “enemy.”

    Zack, you’re correct about the lack of discussion about the constraints on the use of any measures that compromise our privacy and freedom. In the absence of a thorough system of oversight and accountability with the aim of protecting our Constitutional rights, I wouldn’t even consider anything as far-reaching as a nationwide database of individuals’ DNA.

  10. aslam: For this we’d want to enroll individuals from the very populations that we alienate by getting them entangled in our net because they share some broad classifications with our “enemy.”

    I think this is an important point that a lot of people neglect.

  11. I highly suggest that you find a dictionary and find the word regularizing, I think you might have a hard time because it does not exist. If you are willing to post your comments on the net then make sure that you are not looking foolish. I think the word you may have been trying to use is regulating, look it up. Just some advice for next time.

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