Jewish World Review Jan. 12, 2004 / 18 Teves, 5764
Bush on the wrong track with immigration idea
President Bush has begun the national dialogue on one of the most important issues facing this country. However, his proposal to change our immigration laws is, to say the least, disappointing. I believe that any reform of our national immigration policies must meet four criteria. Such reform must be rational, human and effective, and it must benefit, not burden, the nation.
The president wants to match willing employees with willing workers, and he would establish a "guest worker" program that would allow immigrants to stay and work in the United States legally for at least three years, and give immigrants the opportunity to participate in Social Security. Illegal immigrants would also be allowed to participate under the president's proposal.
The president's proposal fails the rationality test. The reason why as many as 12 million illegal aliens are already here is that they have found employers willing to break our immigration laws. Among the groups to quickly announce their support of the president's plan are the National Restaurant Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"The president is going to find, as other governments have found, that his ideas about employers cooperating with authorities are very naive," says University of Delaware professor Mark J. Miller, an expert on global migration.
Miller also warns that the discussion of legalization creates a magnet effect, and that we may now experience an even greater influx of aliens wanting to take advantage of the proposed program. That hardly sounds like an effective plan.
Some experts worry that the president's proposed changes to immigration policy will be a further burden on the nation. Economist George Borjas of Harvard University estimates that U.S. workers already lose about $190 billion to $200 billion in wages annually due to the high immigration levels of recent decades.
The excessive immigration of low-skilled workers, in particular, is a drag on our economy. Under our current immigration policies, most immigrants to the United States utilize expensive social services while providing little more economically than unskilled labor in return. Providing services to immigrants during the mid-1990s, for instance, cost native Californians $1,200 a year per household.
Borjas contends that instead of simply matching up unskilled labor with willing employers, we should be seeking immigrants who can contribute to our economy in a more meaningful way.
"In New Zealand, Australia and Canada, it's a point system where whether you get in or not depends on how skilled you are, what occupation you have and whether you know English or not," Borjas says.
All successful economies must battle illegal immigration. But while the United States seems poised to acknowledge defeat, other nations are experiencing some success combating the problem. Penalties to employers hiring illegal alien workers in France, Germany and Belgium include imprisonment, confiscation of equipment and possible closure of the company. Some nations also carry stiff penalties to the illegal workers themselves. Illegal immigrants found working in Japan are not simply removed to the border, but are often fined and imprisoned.
Miller stresses that strict regulations mean nothing if they are not enforced rigorously. Sanctions in many countries are beginning to have the desired effect.
"The French, the Germans and the Dutch work on improving inter-agency coordination," Miller says. "They attach a lot of importance to the education of employers about the adverse effects (of illegal immigration), and their courts are taking employer sanction judgments more seriously than in the past."
The president and I agree on one thing: It is time to reform our broken immigration system. But instead of legalizing illegal behavior, we need to first secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws. We must penalize every employer who hires an illegal alien, ensure fair wages for both native and immigrant workers, and strive to attract immigrants with the skills and talents needed in this economy. And we must protect the American dream for both our citizens and those legal immigrants who come here to share that dream.
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