MIGRATION HEADACHE: President Bush's Immigration Plan

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

It is estimated that currently there are between 7 and 10 million illegal immigrants in this country. Meanwhile the Border Patrol has grown from a staff of 2,000 and a $100 million budget 30 years ago to 11,000 men and women and a $9 billion budget today. Clearly, our attempts to control illegal immigration have not been working. But what should we do instead? President Bush has proposed a new immigration plan that would turn illegal immigrants already here into legal temporary workers. Is his plan an acknowledgment that our economy needs cheap immigrant labor and that we simply can't control our borders any longer? Or is his plan the entirely wrong way to address the immigration problem?

Recorded on Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge: illegal immigration--is it time to let bygones be bygones?

Announcer: Funding for this program is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation.


Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today, bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos or what to do about illegal immigration? There are now some seven to ten million illegal immigrants residing in the United States. No one knows the exact number, of course, precisely because they are here illegally. And this despite the fact that in the last thirty years, the border patrol has gone from two thousand personnel and a budget of about 100 million to eleven thousand personnel and a budget of some nine billion. Clearly what we've been doing has not been working. Now President Bush has proposed a new program under which many illegal aliens would become legal, temporary workers. Is the President's plan any good and if not, what should we try instead?

Joining us today, two guests. Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and a frequent contributor to National Review magazine. Tamar Jacoby is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the editor of Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What it Means to be American.

Title: Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

Peter Robinson: Journalist Tony Blankley in the Washington Times, "I might agree with the President's proposals for a temporary worker program if they followed a failed national effort to secure our borders. If it was apparent that we simply could not control our borders, then as a practical man, I would try to make the best of a bad situation. But such an effort has not yet been made." The United States has not yet made a serious effort to control its borders. True or false? Mark?

Mark Krikorian: True.

Peter Robinson: True? Tamar?

Tamar Jacoby: We've been trying for fifteen years and it hasn't worked.

Peter Robinson: All right. That's what we like at the top of a TV show, a nice sharp disagreement. Let me run down a couple of the principal points in the President's proposal. Foreign nationals would be permitted to work in this country for three years at a time. The work permits would be renewable. Before hiring foreign workers, employers--American employers--would have to make a good faith effort to hire Americans first, in effect, demonstrating that no Americans wanted the jobs. The program would provide incentives for workers to return home when their work permits expired, such as tax deferred savings accounts that they could only cash out when they returned to their home country. President Bush called his proposal an expression of, I quote him, "common sense and fairness." Is that so Tamar?

Tamar Jacoby: I believe it is.

Peter Robinson: Is it just right?

Tamar Jacoby: No but the President's--it's a critical first step in recognizing the reality of the people who come to do jobs in this country that we need done. Rather than pretending they don't come or making them come underground and live in a black market situation that's bad for them and bad for us as a country, the President's saying let's recognize this reality and bring it above board.

Peter Robinson: Okay. So we have seven to ten million--nobody knows the exact number--illegal aliens already here and they're not going back.

Tamar Jacoby: Exactly. And people are coming every year. And people are coming to fill jobs the--the--we need to get done and we're pretending they don't come. We're pretending they're invisible.

Peter Robinson: So the President is coping with reality. Mark?

Mark Krikorian: He's, in fact, basing his proposal and a lot of people are basing similar proposals, on a bunch of false assumptions that people are going to come no matter what, that these are jobs that Americans won't do and that we have the administrative capacity, the bureaucratic capacity to actually manage something like this even if it were a good idea. And none of those things is true.

Peter Robinson: Okay. Let's take--this is a critical if indeed it is a premise in the President's proposal--it's certainly a widespread feeling, namely that we just can't control the borders. Tamar, let me quote you to yourself and then ask you to expand. "Clearly the immigration system is broken and enforcement alone, whether on the border or in the heartland isn't going to fix it."

Tamar Jacoby: We can get control of our borders. I'm not saying there can be no control. But these--global labor markets are a reality. We need an enforcement regime, a control regime that's closer to the reality of the situation. What we have now is like Prohibition or a 25 mile an hour speed limit. That's very hard to enforce. A realistic regime, we could enforce and could get control.

Peter Robinson: Border Patrol, you know the figures. Last thirty years, they go from 2000 personnel to 11,000 budget of 100 billion to 9 billion and still the immigrants--illegal immigrants come.

Mark Krikorian: If you ask Border Patrol agents, even they will tell you that their role is only part of any effort to control immigration. You can't control immigration just through border patrol. And that, in fact, is essentially what we've tried to do. And we've given up, for all intents and purposes, stopped enforcement of the immigration law inside the country. And the reason is, it's politically more touchy, problematic. Whereas the Border Patrol is something that most people in Congress can support without getting a lot of complaints from reporters.

Tamar Jacoby: But it's politically difficult for a reason. It's because businesses know that they need those workers. And communities know--communities know…

Peter Robinson: Give me a couple of examples. Just roll out two or three examples of laws already on the books that are going unenforced.

Mark Krikorian: The chief one is the prohibition on hiring illegal immigrants. Before 1986, it was explicitly permitted to hire illegal aliens. 1986, Congress changed that and the thinking was to turn off the magnet that attracts illegal immigrants. And part of the deal also was to get amnesty to the people who were already here, to sort of tie up loose ends.

Peter Robinson: So what was it about three million illegal immigrants--almost three million suddenly became legal…

Mark Krikorian: Right.

Peter Robinson: So you deal with the people who are already here and then the other piece was…

Mark Krikorian: And then turn off the magnet of jobs by prohibiting their employment. It works. The problem is that you have to enforce the ban on hiring illegals and we have even right after it was passed, the enforcement was spotty and episodic and it has essentially stopped in the past five or six years because of political complaints.

Tamar Jacoby: That's true but because it's a bad law. That would be like having a quota for steel that didn't--that wasn't enough for the steel we needed.

Peter Robinson: Tamar has said several times now that America needs immigrant labor. Is this true?

Title: The Price Is Right

Peter Robinson: I'm going to quote you to yourself again. I hope you find that flattering. "If we don't create a pipeline big enough to supply the workers we need to fill essential agricultural and service jobs, illegal immigrants will continue to pour into the country to do that work." But isn't it true that if we cut off the supply of illegal immigrants, essential jobs will still continue to be performed by Americans but at higher wages?

Tamar Jacoby: But why would that be good? It's good for economy when we can have the wages stay at a level and return to capital and prices go down and that businesses can grow and the whole economy can grow. It's like trade. It's like free trade. It works. It works better for everyone when you let supply and demand find its equilibrium.

Peter Robinson: What I'm trying to understand about your position is this. You've just argued that it's good for our economy to have this large supply of inexpensive labor and you want to make it legal. The question is are you arguing that it's good for the economy or that it's inevitable that if we wish economic growth, we must have the supply of inexpensive labor? Is that the argument you're making?

Tamar Jacoby: I think it's very hard to control it. People will come. You know, borders are porous now. But yes, the key point is that it's good for the economy. We could have in the nineteenth century said no more settlers.

Peter Robinson: Let me quote Krikorian to himself here.

Mark Krikorian: I am flattered.

Peter Robinson: Okay. "There is simply no economic reason to import foreign workers." Explain yourself.

Mark Krikorian: And I would actually even go farther than that that it's actually harmful to import low skilled foreign workers. It has a number of effects. One of the main reasons it's different from trade is that immigrants are people too. And immigrants create externality by which is what the economists use that term. And in this instance, what it means is that immigrants come with all of the vices and virtues and plans and objectives that people have. They're not refrigerators that we can throw away when they're done. And so…

Peter Robinson: Immigration is not a special instance of free trade, is what you're saying?

Mark Krikorian: No it's different in kind from free trade and even looking simply at dollars and cents, the immigration of low-skilled workers creates more costs in forms of government services, which are not going to be eliminated in the modern society; welfare, education, etc. They create more in cost to the government than they provide in a very small economic benefit…

Tamar Jacoby: It's just not true. It's just not true.

Mark Krikorian: …by forcing prices down. Yes it is…

Tamar Jacoby: They pay more in to the government than they take out.

Mark Krikorian: The National Research Council has said that the economic benefit of immigration which comes from beggaring the poor, by forcing the wages down, amounts to between one and ten billion dollars a year. That's the net figure.

Peter Robinson: Are you familiar with this study?

Tamar Jacoby: Yes, of course. It's the most important study, but it doesn't say what he's saying.

Mark Krikorian: The fiscal drag from immigration is between eleven and twenty billion dollars a year. So whatever minor economic benefit there is, is swamped by the extra government expenses.

Tamar Jacoby: This is not what the study says. The study says that immigrants pay more in in taxes than they take out in services. And they grow the pie of the economy. It's not a zero sum game. They help us grow the pie. They help businesses grow. They help the economy prosper for everyone.

Mark Krikorian: The only--well, the National Research Council--you have to read the footnote. And the footnote is that immigrants do in fact, on net, pay slightly more in taxes but not the immigrants. It's the immigrants and their descendants projected out three hundred years into the age of Star Trek. And the report itself says that it--that this was an academic exercise that had nothing--it actually said it would be absurd to base policy on this projection.

Peter Robinson: Now onto the problem of assimilation or lack thereof, in recent immigrant groups.

Title: Hold the Cinco de Mayo

Peter Robinson: Samuel Huntington, esteemed professor of political science at Harvard, has a new piece in Foreign Policy magazine, "Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves from Los Angeles to Miami. The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages." Does this concern you?

Tamar Jacoby: I think it's alarmist nonsense. I don't think that's happening.

Peter Robinson: You don't think it's happening?

Tamar Jacoby: I don't think it's happening. Sure when people first come, they live in enclaves. But Mexican-Americans, Hispanics, like every other group in the past, learn English. The kids all know English by the third generation. Two-thirds of them speak only English. They make their way up through the socioeconomic ladder. They're not--they're--they're--they're not as fast as Taiwanese but they make their way. They go from being the guy who mows your lawn to being the contractor who hires other people to mow your lawn. And eventually, by the second, third, fourth generation, they're assimilated.

Mark Krikorian: That's a charming and beautiful image that just doesn't exist anymore. This isn't 1910. Our country has changed and the immigration flow has changed. Our country has changed because the proliferation of multi-culturalism, to use a shorthand term, and the loss of self confidence on the part of our own elite in insisting that people immigrate, fundamentally changes the term…

Peter Robinson: Insisting that people assimilate…

Mark Krikorian: …assimilate. Fundamentally changes the relationship between the immigrant and the home country. And the flow of immigration is different in time because people from Spanish-speaking Latin America make up the majority of post-1970 immigrants. And that kind of lack of diversity, of concentration in one ethno-cultural group has never happened before. Immigration to New York, a hundred years ago was made up of Italians and Jews and Poles and Germans. They all hated each other. They all spoke different languages. They all different religions. So they had to find common ground in American culture. That's just not the case today.

Tamar Jacoby: In every generation, people say this generation is different and they're not going to fit in. Benjamin Franklin said that Germans don't have an Anglo-Saxon complexion.

Peter Robinson: Huntington goes through in this very important--I think it's important anyway--this very important article and draws distinct--I mean, objective distinctions between immigration from Latin America over which--most of which is Mexico, that's really what we're talking about here, and all former immigrant groups. Now so let's take you through a couple of these. No other First World country has such an extensive land frontier with a Third World country as the United States has with Mexico. Historian David Kennedy, quoted by Huntington, two points, we've got this long border, "The income gap between the United States and Mexico is the largest between any two contiguous countries in the world." That is to say that whereas immigration from other countries, in all our previous experience as a nation, was sporadic. It would happen for a period of a decade, a decade and a half, then stop. Then begin again, then stop. In Mexico, you've got circumstances which suggest this is just going to keep going for the foreseeable future.

Tamar Jacoby: People don't come to be unemployed in America. It's much better to be unemployed in Mexico. It's cheaper, it's warmer, you have family there. They come if there's a job here that they can productively do. They won't come if there aren't jobs…

Peter Robinson: But Kennedy is saying the income gap is the largest between any two contiguous countries…

Tamar Jacoby: That doesn't mean we can employ untold numbers of unskilled people.

Mark Krikorian: But the fact is that immigration from Mexico is different in kind, not only from any immigration that we experienced in the past but immigration from most of the rest of the world. We have the 2000 mile border. We have historical baggage that no immigrant group has ever brought to the United States.

Peter Robinson: Political scientist, Peter Skerry, "Mexican-Americans enjoy a sense of being on their own turf that is not shared by other immigrants." That is to say, much of the southwestern United States used to be part of Mexico so they arrive with a political notion of a reconquista...

Tamar Jacoby: There's been no serious Mexican-American revanchist movement in a hundred years. A few people on campuses talk about it. It's just not real. I mean, go out in the street. Mexican-Americans are becoming Americans.

Mark Krikorian: Yeah the point of this is not that there's--that--that--that, you know, Texas is going to be taken over and secede or something. The point of this is that Mexican immigrants come with an oppositional attitude toward the United States.

Tamar Jacoby: They don't.

Mark Krikorian: Yes, they do…

Tamar Jacoby: It's just--you don't…

Mark Krikorian: …which simply--which doesn't exist for--with--when Germans came to Milwaukee or Jews came to New York. It's not the same.

Tamar Jacoby: It's just not true. Look at the numbers of people dying in Iraq. Mexican-Americans are dying in exact proportion to their share in the population. They serve in the--they're enormously patriotic. They serve in the military. Their values are our values.

Peter Robinson: Let's discuss one more feature that Samuel Huntington argues makes Latin American immigration unlike any other.

Title: The Spanish Prisoner

Peter Robinson: Again he draws the distinction between all previous immigration flows which tended to disperse relatively quickly. So the Irish land in Boston and New York and within a couple of decades, they disperse throughout the country. Germans move quickly into the inland. By contrast, says Huntington, you've got large concentrations of Mexicans, legal and illegal, living in the southwest. It draws the--also the Cubans in Miami--Miami he says, 75% quotes figure--75% of homes speak Spanish as the first language in Miami. And this--so what you've got is heavy enough concentrations that the incentives to assimilate disappear. You can watch Spanish television. You can read Spanish newspaper. You speak Spanish in the home. You get taught in Spanish in the schools.

Tamar Jacoby: The kids still learn English. But every kid who grows up here is proficient in English. If they don't learn it in schools, the schools don't do a good enough job, they learn it from TV. By the third generation, two-thirds speak only English.

Peter Robinson: That comes from what? That's southern California?

Tamar Jacoby: That's everybody who studies…

Peter Robinson: Everybody shows that?

Tamar Jacoby: Everybody. This is a universal that they're learning…

Mark Krikorian: Well, but the fact is--I mean, let's look at a couple of things. Number one, the third generation are the grandchildren of people who immigrated fifty or seventy-five years ago, number one. Number two, one-third of…

Peter Robinson: And who came here legally probably.

Tamar Jacoby: No, no, no. Not necessarily.

Mark Krikorian: It's mixed. Both. Mexicans mainly have come illegally traditionally, number one. Number two, one-third of them still speak Spanish. That is actually alarming quite honestly.

Tamar Jacoby: They speak some Spanish.

Mark Krikorian: Number one. Number--that was number two rather.

Tamar Jacoby: They speak English well. They speak English proficiently, even in homes where the parents speak mostly Spanish, 85% of the kids speak English well or very well.

Peter Robinson: Let me push you around a little bit, Mark. Tamar now being purple with bruises. That's not true at all. Tamar can handle herself. 1976, these are round numbers--1976 to 1996, two decades. The five counties that make up the Los Angeles or that touch on and make up the Los Angeles Basin undergo, roughly speaking, a 50% increase in population from about 10 million to about 15 million. You've got an increase of something like a half a million African Americans, about a million Asians and all the rest Latin Americans, most of them we know from Mexico. And that's just what shows up in the legal records. And there's got to be a large number--and what the estimate is about 2 million illegal immigrants? So in other words, now we know of course that anywhere in Europe, any kind of population inflow of that proportion would cause a war. Right? But look at southern California and there are certainly stresses and strains but the economy has weathered a recession. It continues to grow. The political structure remains intact. In other words, show me the harm.

Mark Krikorian: Southern California has developed along--almost Third World lines. It's becoming more like Brazil than what southern California was half a century ago.

Peter Robinson: In what regards?

Mark Krikorian: The Public Policy Institute of California just released a report on the growth of poverty. And the fact is that the gap between rich and poor has increased in California because of immigration. The California standing with regard to other states--in other words, the where its bottom fifth and second bottom fifth of the population stand with regard to the rest of the country has also fallen because of immigration.

Peter Robinson: Can I ask you…

Mark Krikorian: We are essentially in supporting a kind of South Africa or Rhodesia situation where whites are on top and Hispanics are on the bottom.

Peter Robinson: On those two statistics you quoted--in the old days, every time a boat pulled up to Ellis Island, the average--or the income inequality in New York got worse. Right? So the mere arrival--what you're doing so far with those statistics is just saying poor immigrants have arrived. Right? The question would be how are they changing the permanent culture? Are they becoming a permanent underclass, are they failing to assimilate? Do you have measures of that?

Mark Krikorian: Tamar says that immigrants are doing better the longer they're here. There's no question about that.

Peter Robinson: And you agree with that? That's just a long-term trajectory.

Mark Krikorian: But that's not all you have to look at. We actually have looked at how long-term immigrants have done in each of the past four censuses. In other words, those who had been here for between ten and twenty years.

Peter Robinson: Four decades, you're going back?

Mark Krikorian: When the Census was taken. And the fact is that proportionately they are doing less and less well compared to the rest of the society. They are doing better but they are not in--their situation is not improving as quickly as in the past. And so the gap is growing. And that has political consequences.

Peter Robinson: Answer that question because I just…

Tamar Jacoby: The point is that we--in 1960, 50% of Americans didn't graduate from high school. Now only 10% don't graduate from high school. We need people to do those kinds of jobs that those people used to do. And yes, they come from another country. We have the demand. They have the supply. And it's good--the places in the '90s that had the highest immigration were the ones that thrived the most economically. Biggest growth, lowest unemployment.

Peter Robinson: Last topic, advice for the President.

Title: Migration Headache

Peter Robinson: You're President for a day, Tamar. You can just adopt Bush's proposal. What would you do? Name the correct immigration policy.

Tamar Jacoby: Recognize the reality of the global labor market instead of having policies that ignore it, that try to stop it. Recognize the reality as Bush is doing. The one thing that's wrong with his proposal is it doesn't make enough provision for the people who come here to work to eventually get on a track toward being permanent members of the American society, toward citizenship.

Peter Robinson: You attack Bush from the left. You're saying his proposal is flawed because it's too hard. You want it to be softer still?

Tamar Jacoby: Conservatives also want people to assimilate and they don't want a caste society. Just a worker program would inevitably bring us to a caste society. That's not what we want. We want people to get on the ladder toward citizenship if they eventually.

Mark Krikorian: So in other words, the President's policy is taking us towards Saudi Arabia's immigration policy and I agree. That is the fact…

Peter Robinson: What is Saudi Arabia's? You've just got me there.

Mark Krikorian: Essentially importing people but not permitting them to become members of the society ever.

Peter Robinson: And you agree?

Mark Krikorian: Yes, because our immigration model has always been that however many people we take, it's been very large numbers at some points and it's been very low numbers at other points, but they--we're only taking them in order to make them into Americans. That should be the exclusive purpose for people being admitted into the United States.

Tamar Jacoby: No, I think it's--some people want to go home. That should be permitted. But they divide themselves.

Peter Robinson: …Italians went home.

Tamar Jacoby: Yeah, exactly. People go home.

Tamar Jacoby: And some Mexicans will go home.

Peter Robinson: Those who stay get to vote.

Tamar Jacoby: And they get to be Americans. And that will get fixed. I mean, Bush is not doing this on his own. This is going to have to go through congress. Democrats are going to have an input. Republicans can't pass an immigration policy alone. This part will get fixed, I believe.

Peter Robinson: You're President for a day. What do you do?

Mark Krikorian: I reject the idea that there are only two choices in addressing this: amnesty for the illegal immigrants and essentially opening our borders or on the other hand, mass round-ups and deporting ten million people on Wednesday. What we need to do instead is to reassert control over our immigration system and through attrition squeeze the illegal population so that instead of increasing every year, it decreases from one year to the next and we reduce it to a nuisance.

Tamar Jacoby: Not realistic. It's not realistic.

Peter Robinson: You've said that the--after the '86 law is put into effect, it contains provisions for forcing employers to prove that they're not hiring illegal so and so. And we've never had the political will except for more than months at a time and here and there but uniformly and consistently, no to enforce that. Where do you find the political will?

Mark Krikorian: Good question. Practically speaking…

Peter Robinson: The question from your point of view, right?

Mark Krikorian: Practically speaking, security concerns are going to push us in that direction. But speaking as far as principle goes, sort of ideologically speaking, if we don't have the will for that, Tamar's policy leads us toward a very different kind of society that people don't want. And my job is to essentially proselytize that we are going toward Brazil and South Africa's model of society rather than what America has traditionally been.

Peter Robinson: You regard yourself at this stage of the game as a Jeremiah warning the society that we're headed in the wrong direction?

Mark Krikorian: Yes.

Tamar Jacoby: And I regard myself as a realist saying let's take account of the reality and let's learn how to manage it instead of pretending that the reality isn't happening.

Peter Robinson: What do you do about assimilation?

Tamar Jacoby: I think we do have to talk to people differently about assimilation. We have to help them learn English…

Peter Robinson: English-only education?

Tamar Jacoby: …help them learn English. Not English-only but English-first. And more resources devoted--have a norm, we want you to learn, we expect you to learn English but we're going to also provide some tools. We're going to give you more English classes, citizenship…

Mark Krikorian: Our relationist mechanism has disintegrated since the cultural revolution of the '60s and there is no prospect. Multiculturalism is deeply rooted in every church, every daycare center, every public school, every human resources department. The idea that we can continue to allow a million and a half immigrants to settle here a year, hopefully at some point, we'll be able to assimilate them is fantasy. We are in fact not doing a good job at assimilation and we need to fix our assimilation mechanism…

Peter Robinson: How?

Mark Krikorian: …before we--that's a good question.

Peter Robinson: English-only is a…

Mark Krikorian: Essentially what we need to do is develop a political consensus that people have to become Americans. Everything will follow from that…

Peter Robinson: As a political matter, may I just say as a layman observing the situation, things are drifting her way, not yours. What do you do about--am I wrong? Are you encouraged by what you see?

Tamar Jacoby: Why do Hispanics enlist in the military the way they do? If the failure is so terrible, where does that patriotism come from?

Mark Krikorian: Because people--people enlist because of educational benefits, because there are practical advantages to…

Tamar Jacoby: No one died for their country to get a…

Peter Robinson: Tamar and Mark, I have to wrap it up. Two predictions. Here's the first one. Will President Bush's temporary worker program ever become law?

Mark Krikorian: No.

Peter Robinson: Tamar?

Tamar Jacoby: Over--in the next couple of years, yes.

Peter Robinson: All right, second prediction. In most of Miami today, according to Samuel Huntington, the first language of business and commerce which is to say, the language that you will hear in Miami whether you walk into a McDonald's or a law firm is Spanish.

Tamar Jacoby: It's a special case. Miami is a special case.

Peter Robinson: In twenty years, what will be the first language in Los Angeles? Tamar?

Tamar Jacoby: It will still be English.

Peter Robinson: It will?

Tamar Jacoby: It will. Miami's a regional hub for Latin America. That's not going to happen to Los Angeles.

Peter Robinson: Miami is not the wave of anybody's future?

Tamar Jacoby: I don't think so.

Peter Robinson: Mark?

Mark Krikorian: Los Angeles will go a good way toward where Miami is now. They won't be where Miami is in twenty years but it will move a good deal in that direction, yes.

Peter Robinson: Tamar Jacoby, Mark Krikorian, thank you very much.

Mark Krikorian: Thank you.

Peter Robinson: I'm Peter Robinson for Uncommon Knowledge, thanks for joining us.