The immigration issue has always been an important topic for the U.S., which historically has been essentially a country of immigrants. From early on in the history of this country, it has also been an ambivalent issue, ranging from idealism to realism associated with human behavior and shortcomings. For example, on the one hand, when the Statue of Liberty was erected in 1886, it contained the famous inscription ”give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” On the other hand, in 1882, four years before the erection of the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. Congress enacted the first immigration restrictions, specifically excluding “paupers, ex-convicts, mental defectives and Chinese.” Because the immigration issue has significant impacts on so many aspects of life in the U.S., ranging from the economy to taxes to national security, I would like to discuss some of my thoughts on this issue.
Before discussing some of the specific issues on immigration, first I want to state three general principles that I use to guide the discussion of these issues. These principles are:
- Immigration can be beneficial to both the immigrants and the host country
- A country has the right to impose immigration restrictions
- Immigration restrictions should be fair, and not favor selected racial/ethnic groups or biased against selected racial/ethnic groups
The U.S. is a country of immigrants. Aside from the Native Americans, all Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. If it weren’t for the continuous inflow of immigrants, the U.S. would not have become such a rich and powerful country. By allowing many foreign students to be able to continue to work in this country and convert their foreign student visas into permanent residency, the U.S. is taking the cream of the crop from foreign countries while not needing to invest the large amount of resources needed to raise these high-potential students from the time they were born to the time they graduated from high schools or colleges. Similarly, by giving higher immigration priorities to technical and business professionals who have already established their credentials as bona fide contributors to society, the U.S. is again taking the cream of the crop and taking advantage of the resources already spent by the foreign countries to groom these contributors to society.
Taking the cream of the crop from foreign countries is especially important, as world competition and the U.S.’s ever-increasing standard-of-living continue to rise. The U.S. must then move up the economic food chain by focusing more on work activities that require more specialized skills and more creativity and originality. The more manual-intensive or routine manufacturing work activities will be taken up more by those countries with a lower cost-of-living and therefore cheaper labor. It is therefore not a coincident that the richest and most powerful country in the world is the country that has accepted more legal immigrants as permanent residents than the rest of the world combined. However, as the competitive playing fields between industrial and emerging market countries have been leveled (as described in Thomas L. Friedman’s book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century), the desire to come to the U.S. to study and to work has, relatively speaking, decreased. For example, as Taiwan’s standard-of-living continues to rise and more high-end technical and business jobs become available in Taiwan, the number of college graduates from Taiwan coming to the U.S. to attend graduate school and then to continue to work permanently in the U.S. has decreased significantly during the last 10-15 years.
At the opposite end of the work spectrum, there is also another advantage to the U.S. to allow people to come to this country to work, as permanent residents, or as temporary workers, or even as illegal aliens. There are a lot of manual-intensive and low-paying jobs, e.g., jobs of seasonal farm workers in California, which may not be attractive enough to get enough Americans to fill those jobs. Explicitly or implicitly allowing foreigners (including illegal aliens) to work on these low-paying jobs helps to keep the American economy moving and also helps to control inflation. When the American economy is booming, the issue of temporary workers and illegal aliens may not be a significant issue. However, when the American economy is experiencing stagnation or recession, the issue of temporary workers and illegal aliens can become very significant. As a matter of fact, most of the controversy with respect to the immigration issue revolves around the illegal aliens, including the social services provided to family members of illegal aliens.
From the above, we can conclude that in general, immigration can be good for both the immigrants and the host country, i.e., it can be a win-win situation. On the other hand, the host country should also have the right to restrict immigration, especially when the circumstances are no longer a win-win situation. For example, depending on the economy, the host country should be able to reduce the number of immigrants allowed into the country. The host country should be able to forbid certain people to migrate to this country if there is creditable evidence that these people may pose security threats to the host country. More importantly, the taxpayers of the host country should not be obligated to provide free education and medical benefits to illegal aliens or their children, especially if they have not been paying their share of the taxes.
According to the Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_the_United_States), the U.S. currently has approximately 7.5M illegal aliens (or 12M when including their households), and another 700K-850K more predicted for each coming year. As this continues, if free education and medical benefits are provided to illegal aliens and their children, the burden on the U.S. taxpayers could be significant, especially with an increasingly aging population with more retired senior citizens with fixed income and less working young adults. This is of course a difficult and complex issue, because there is also a humanitarian aspect to the issue: Why should the children of illegal aliens be penalized for the actions of their parents while these children are living in the U.S.?
It also seems to be common sense that there should be good communications among the various federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies with respect to crimes and potential violations of immigration laws. When a crime has been committed, and a local or state law enforcement agency has a suspect in custody who is or might be an illegal alien, you would expect that local or state law enforcement agency would contact the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to look into that. Not only that this is not routinely done, many local and state enforcement agencies have instructed their agents not to contact ICE. As a matter of fact, according to Wikipedia, many cities, including Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Jersey City, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Portland, Maine, have adopted “sanctuary” ordinances banning police from asking people about their immigration status. This, perhaps, may be partially due to a concern for racial profiling.
Although a host country should have the right to impose immigration restrictions for the benefits of its citizens, these immigration restrictions should be fair. They should not favor selected racial/ethnic groups or biased against selected racial/ethnic groups. Unfortunately, that has not been the case historically with immigration restrictions passed in the U.S. Earlier, we have already mentioned that the first immigration restriction law passed by U.S. Congress in 1882 explicitly excluded “paupers, ex-convicts, mental defectives and Chinese.” We may be abhorred at such blatant racial discrimination, but such blatant racial discriminations had occurred repeatedly, so that American immigration policy had for many years strongly favored immigration from Western Europe over immigration from Asia. It was not until Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 (the Hart-Cellar Act) that the U.S. abolished the national-origin quotas. From then on, immigration preferences were given to relatives of legal residents of the U.S., instead of giving preference to immigration applicants from certain countries.
Having the right immigration policy is important for the progress of a country. It could be a win-win situation for both the immigrants and the host country. The U.S. has benefited greatly from a large number of immigrants, often picking the cream of the crop without needing to spend the resources to nurture these high potential people in their early years. Nevertheless, the U.S. should also have the right to impose restrictions on immigration, especially when circumstances do not result in a win-win situation. The amount and kinds of restrictions could vary with time and circumstances. However, to be consistent with the lofty objectives of the great country that is the U.S., these immigration restrictions should be fair, and should not discriminate against selected racial/ethnic groups.
The immigration issue is a complex and difficult issue. I certainly do not claim that I have a solution to the issue. In my opinion, a comprehensive solution should have the following characteristics:
- In general, it should benefit both the immigrants and the host country (the host country as a whole, and not just a small number of interest groups)
- It should allow the host country the right to restrict immigrations, and the restrictions could vary with circumstances, but must be fair and not discriminatory against certain racial or ethnic groups
- It should provide effective security at the border and adequate enforcement of immigration laws within the border. It should require adequate and effective communications among various federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies
- It should contain a well-defined guest workers program, including specifying the taxes they need to pay and the social benefits that they are entitled to (and also their family members if they are legally allowed to live in the host country)
- It should not require the host country’s taxpayers to pay for the education and medical benefits of illegal aliens and their household members
- It should not provide blanket amnesty to illegal aliens, or reward illegal aliens over applicants of legal residency
- To some extent, it should also take into consideration humanitarianism.