In my previous post about illegal immigration, I asserted that,
What illegal immigration amounts to is taking your turn when you’re not supposed to. It’s the moral equivalent of fishing without a permit, or running a red light when there’s no other traffic.
That brought the following response from commenter “mahtso”:
“Arizona is the busiest entry point for illegal immigrants. State and federal investigators estimate that their fees generate between $1.7 billion and $2.5 billion for smuggling rings.” The Arizona Republic (azcentral.com) July 2, 2008.
To me, this is a far cry from running a red light.
The difference is that I was talking about the illegal immigrants themselves, whereas mahtso and the Arizona Republic are talking about the criminal enterprises that spring up to smuggle them into the United States. Since the illegal immigrants are a source of funds for the criminal enterprise, they are obviously somewhat responsible for it. But they’re not the only ones responsible, because illegal immigration follows a sad pattern that we’ve all seen before.
Consider that if I feel like buying some beer, my money goes to the fine folks at my local Foremost Liquors. Or my local Jewel grocery store. Or Walgreens or CVS or White Hen or 7-Eleven. But if this was 90 years ago, back when booze was illegal under Prohibition, my beer money would have gone to a bunch of Chicago mobsters.
That’s the problem with our current immigration policy. We’ve taken away the legal avenues of immigration from many potential immigrants, so they are turning to criminals for help. It’s bad for everybody except the criminals. But none of this would be a problem if we made legal immigration easier. Who needs to hire a coyote to sneak them across the border when Greyhound does it faster, cheaper, and safer?
This is not exactly a radical proposal. Keep in mind that for most of this country’s history, immigrants simply got off the boat, went through a brief interview and maybe a medical checkup for dangerous contagions, and that was it. Welcome to the new world.
To fix the problems with our current immigration system, we wouldn’t have to go quite that far, and we could certainly keep our current practices of screening for people who pose threats to public health or national security. All I’d like is for us to get rid of the arbitrary annual quotas that force otherwise acceptable immigrants to wait so long for their turn to enter.It’s these long waits — often five to seven years, but effectively forever for low-skilled workers without family members already in the U.S. — that encourage many potential immigrants to seek illegal methods of entry.
Eliminating the quotas would simplify and speed up the immigration process because immigrants would not have to prove — and immigration authorities would not have to verify — the various family and employment connections that are used to determine which waiting list the immigrants belong in. If we could get the immigration approval process down to 30-90 days, I’d think most immigrants would take the legal route into our country.
This might even improve national security. As mahtso pointed out, smuggling people into the United States is big business. This means that any terrorists who want to sneak across the border have a vast criminal enterprise to help them out. But if we make legal immigration easy, the border smuggling operations will dry up, and terrorists will find it that much harder to sneak in.
Changing the immigration process would lead to a surge in immigration as the next several years worth of immigrants enter all at once (although we could phase it in slowly if necessary), but keep in mind that illegal immigrants who are already here might be more interested in returning home if they knew they could come back whenever they wanted.