The Immigration Deal

I, unlike most people, really don’t care that much about immigration as a political issue. Inasmuch as it interests me, I’m in favor of providing amnesty to illegal immigrants currently here, making legal immigration much easier in the future, and moving towards open borders in general. So my assessment of the new immigration compromise is more-or-less the same as Brad Plumer’s: amnesty good but badly implemented, guest workers awful. On Burkean grounds, it seems like maintaining the status quo is better than unleashing the sociological nightmare that a guest worker program would create. Thankfully, Obama seems to agree.

14 thoughts on “The Immigration Deal

  1. From the point of view of basic sympathy for poor people, I think that it’s a big mistake to criticize the guest worker program. We already have the “sociological nightmare” that you have in mind, in the form of a failed war on illegal immigration. It has already created two classes of residents, legal and illegal. On top of that, it corrupts the rule of law. The bottom line is: we won’t enforce immigration law because we would hate the consequences; but your illegal status is still useful because we can treat you badly. Guest worker status is far from perfect, to be sure, but it is much better than the cat-and-mouse system that we have now. In the context of widespread reactionary feelings about immigration, I support it as a tangible compromise.
    The catch is that, among current American citizens, the poor and the unionized would be the losers of a guest worker program, while businessmen would benefit. Of course, if not for that kicker, Bush would never have endorsed it. Even so, this is a much more humane Bush than the reactionary idiot who invaded Iraq. I do care about poor American citizens, but I can never forget that life is much worse in the developing world.

  2. The fact remains that a system in which people are allowed in for several years and then just told to go back is very, very bad. It’s bad for family unification, it’s bad for social stratification, it’s a legal mess, and it hasn’t worked anywhere it’s been tried, not in Germany, not in the Gulf States, nowhere. I see no reason not to hold out for something better.
    What do you make of the work of David Card? He’s been making the conventional economic wisdom on the wage effects of both minimum wage laws and immigration look pretty shaky.

  3. The fact remains that a system in which people are allowed in for several years and then just told to go back is very, very bad.
    I agree, but the question is (a) is it worse than a system in which they have to come in illegally from the get-go, and (b) will it really last as intended. It may not have worked as “intended”, say in Germany, but is it so bad if immigrants take what they can get?
    I see no reason not to hold out for something better.
    Sometimes when you think that you’re holding out for something better, you’re actually holding out for something worse.
    What do you make of the work of David Card?
    David Card could be right, but there is at least a nearly universal perception among locals that too much immigration is against their interests. Certainly there is a big component of sheer prejudice, but it is such a consistent pattern that I think that it merits an economic explanation, at the very least perceived economics.

  4. Sometimes when you think that you’re holding out for something better, you’re actually holding out for something worse.
    Read this. Big business is not supporting the immigration bill. So the only major group backing a guest worker program now isn’t supporting the bill. Why on earth shouldn’t that provision be stricken then?

  5. My view is that even though guest worker programs are ethically and practibly ill-founded, such a program may well be better than the cat-and-mouse status quo. Suppose it were the other way around. Suppose that we already had a guest worker program and that we saw that a lot of workers were skirting the limits (which is what will probably happen). Would you then support abolishing it, to make these workers illegal as a class?
    The lion’s share of resistance to this bill is that the selfish faction sees it as too generous to illegals. Don’t expect it to pass with even more generous provisions. On the other hand, you should remember that the selfish faction is a mixture of right-leaning chauvinists and left-leaning unionists. Some voters are both, of course; in any case the voice from the left in this debate has some bad mixed in with the good. The unionists approach immigration the same way as international trade. They will say that the worst sin is exploitation of foreign workers; they will then opt for shutout.
    I do not know that Yglesias or Plumer are really unionist. However, they do seem to be taking a “big tent” position.

  6. Suppose it were the other way around. Suppose that we already had a guest worker program and that we saw that a lot of workers were skirting the limits (which is what will probably happen). Would you then support abolishing it, to make these workers illegal as a class?
    Of course not; but this is a straw man. The immigration bill isn’t set in stone, and in all likelihood it will change. The choice isn’t “guest worker or bust,” it’s “guest worker or no guest worker,” especially now that Sens. Dorgan and Boxer are offering up an amendment to strike the guest worker provision. I think we can both agree that such an amendment would be an improvement upon the present bill.
    I do not know that Yglesias or Plumer are really unionist. However, they do seem to be taking a “big tent” position.
    This is a rather severe misunderstanding of Yglesias and Plumer. Yglesias is a very reliable free-trader, whereas Plumer has caveats on trade along the lines of a moderate like Stiglitz, but neither or them snipes about immigration causing wage depression. Both would like nothing more than for the bill to pass sans the guest worker program.

  7. The choice isn’t “guest worker or bust,” it’s “guest worker or no guest worker,” especially now that Sens. Dorgan and Boxer are offering up an amendment to strike the guest worker provision.
    So what will this new version do about the stream of foreign workers who will inevitably continue to come over the border? Will they be illegal outright, because it would be unfair to make them guest workers?

  8. So what will this new version do about the stream of foreign workers who will inevitably continue to come over the border? Will they be illegal outright, because it would be unfair to make them guest workers?
    You seem to think that these streams of foreign workers would be made guest workers under the proposal as it currently stands, which is wrong; the guest worker visas are limited in number and will be filled by workers currently in the states.

  9. You seem to think that these streams of foreign workers would be made guest workers under the proposal as it currently stands, which is wrong; the guest worker visas are limited in number and will be filled by workers currently in the states.
    Still, would those workers simply stay illegal, or would something better than that happen? To be more precise, the proposal that a lot of people don’t want is these new H2C visas. If Dorgan and Boxer are just striking this visa class, are they doing anything better by it than cutting off an option for non-citizens?

  10. If Dorgan and Boxer are just striking this visa class, are they doing anything better by it than cutting off an option for non-citizens?
    They’re simply striking the guest worker provision, which is an improvement.

  11. They’re simply striking the guest worker provision, which is an improvement.
    But think about what you’re saying. The guest worker provision is, alpha to omega, an option for foreign workers. How is it a good thing to cut off their options?

  12. Because it’s a really bad option.
    So you’re saying that these illegal workers need to be protected from their own desire to be legal, because legality would only be temporary? Surely the illegal aliens know their own interests better than that. If the H2C visa were outright malicious, then the worst that would happen is that no illegal alien would ever apply for one.
    It really sounds like the real complaint is from American-born workers who don’t want to compete with the H2C visa-holders.

  13. If the H2C visa were outright malicious, then the worst that would happen is that no illegal alien would ever apply for one.
    Because no one understands the intricacies of American immigration law quite like non-English-speaking, uneducated migrant workers.
    It really sounds like the real complaint is from American-born workers who don’t want to compete with the H2C visa-holders.
    No, the real complaint is from those of us who don’t support indentured servitude and want immigrants to assimilate.

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