A not-too-modest proposal for reforming the American immigration system

It’s been a painful, shameful, embarrassing spectacle, even from the distance afforded by living in Mexico, to watch what passes for a debate on immigration among the Republican presidential candidates, led by Donald Trump.

The more extreme and ridiculous his positions have become—starting with his opening campaign blast promising that he would build a two-thousand-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and somehow “make Mexico pay for it”—the higher his approval levels among Republican voters have risen.

Worse, rather than refute his racist, spiteful rhetoric as nonsense, the other contenders have seemed to nuzzle up to Trump, with their own wall-building or immigrant-bashing schemes, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker musings about building a wall along the Canadian border too. Way to go, Scott.

Hey, would you vote for someone with that hair?

“Anchor babies,” for a while the Trumperism du jour, for weeks became the vortex of the debate over immigration, even though it’s an overblown and distorted issue.

Depriving the so-called “anchor babies” of U.S. citizenship, and presumably their parents’ path to eventual legalization, would require a constitutional amendment.

Far more important, the debate over anchor babies is nonsense: Mexican women, the presumed abusers of the U.S. immigration system, cannot just sneak over the border, drop a baby and shortly afterward claim legal residence.

According to current immigration law, someone born in the U.S. cannot sponsor or facilitate the legalization of their parents or siblings until he or she has reached legal adulthood, at the age of twenty-one.

That means that even the most conniving Mexican immigrant mother or father who had a baby on American soil today could not hope to gain their green immigration card until, hmm, sometime in the year two-thousand thirty-six.

And during that wait the illegal immigrants would be subject to deportation—the citizenship of a minor child notwithstanding.

I cannot speak for all undocumented Central American or Mexican immigrants—an overwhelmingly desperate bunch just looking for any kind of work—but I doubt they plan that far ahead or know that much about all the nooks of U.S. immigration law.
Instead, I would like to challenge the presidential candidates, particularly in the Republican field, to explicitly admit an obvious fact: Immigrants, from high-tech whizzes from India and Europe to farm workers from Mexico and Central America, are an essential component of the U.S. economy.

Their presence is a benefit—not a threat—to the country.

Low-skilled Mexicans fill jobs in agriculture, construction, meat-packing, hotels, restaurants and other low-paying sectors that are shunned by the natives.

Yeah, growers in Georgia could offer fifteen dollars an hour to American onion pickers, and the meat packers twenty-five dollars an hour to genuine Iowans or Nebraskans to work on the slaughterhouse floor, and perhaps dispense with illegal immigrant labor.

But then Vidalia onions would become a luxury item on par with truffles, and Argentine beef —great stuff, by the way—become just as or more attractive to American consumers as steaks from Iowa or Nebraska.

The corollary to admitting that America needs even low-skilled immigrants is, of course, to legalize the presence of those already in the U.S. illegally.

That would involve bringing both illegal immigrants and their employers out from the shadow labor market in which they operate. Also it would lessen the chance for abuses and exploitation of both immigrants and American workers.
Under this new regime interesting things could happen. I’d bet hundreds of thousands of illegal Mexican and Central American immigrants in the U.S. who are too afraid to leave, even for a family emergency back home, would rather retire to a small family ranch back home rather than spend another winter in Duluth, Minn. Immigration from Mexico would become a two-way highway.

A couple of years ago Stew and I visited a town, in the nearby state of Queretaro, that featured crude replicas of American houses, including mini-plantations with columned porticos, built by Mexican immigrants who had returned home. Indeed, a moving statue on the town’s  central boulevard shows an immigrant family, suitcases in hand, coming home to Mexico.
admit there’s a myriad details unaddressed in my plan, including the ease—even after toughening of U.S. border patrols and the sharp increase in deportations in recent years—with which Mexican immigrants filter into the U.S.

A “coyote,” or immigrant smuggler operating in Sosnavar, a misery-stricken village a mile from our ranch, periodically gets requests from employers in the Dallas area, for men to do construction labor.

Unemployed guys, including two brothers of our gardener Félix, simply sign up, pay twenty-five hundred dollars (financing plans available) and take off. You leave on a Sunday and should expect to be in Dallas by Wednesday or Thursday, and on the job the following week. It’s that straightforward.

That’s a major hole that needs to be plugged. Perhaps if American employers had access to immigrant labor on an open market, that would put coyotes out of business and lessen the exploitation of both immigrants and American workers.
But we’re getting too far ahead.

To reform the immigration system the first, and giant, step would be to publicly recognize immigrants as a beneficial, even essential, to the U.S. economy. To recognize them as human beings deserving respect, rather than abuse from demagogues tripping over each other to see who can kick immigrants the hardest.

That first step, I admit, would be a tough sell in the U.S., with its mixed history of both generous immigration policies and periodic fits of xenophobia and immigrant-bashing, the latter often exploited by cheap politicians like Trump.

But, hey, I didn’t promise you a modest, or easy, proposal.


5 thoughts on “A not-too-modest proposal for reforming the American immigration system

  1. It IS a complex issue, but could be streamlined. I signed and verified for the woman from Honduras who worked for me two days a week. She had worked for me and many others for about 6 years. It helped she and her husband to move forward, bit by bit, through the process to citizenship. I was happy to do it and other US citizens can do so as well. No one ever talks about that……..Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions.


  2. Low-skilled Mexicans fill jobs in agriculture, construction, meat-packing, hotels, restaurants and other low-paying sectors that are shunned by the natives.This is an old saw that cuts but little wood, the real reason the above want to hire people without papers is that they can't talk back. Having done union work most of my adult life, I found the biggest advantage to my union membership was being able to talk back. Citizenship or papers enable an employee the right to complain about unreasonable pay, working conditions and treatment by the boss-Republican Chamber of Commerce types hate people talking back. So they will tell you they can't find labor and they have to hire people who don't have papers but the real fact is, natives talk back and they hate that fact. There is no real immigration problem , there is a labor problem; we need to treat labor the same as capital and goods, let it flood in or flood out as it will but give it the same rights and legal protections that goods and capital enjoy under our legal system. I'm an American who feels that all Americans should have the right to work and live where they want. The border should be a sign post along the route to where you're going, not a wall to keep the cattle in or out. You can have your soapbox back now…


  3. Thanks Norm. That is precisely the problem with illegal immigration: Both the native workers and the illegals gets screwed by unscrupulous bosses. I think one step toward solving the problem is to “legalize” the illegals so they are no so vulnerable to exploitation.


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