Congress is beginning work again on immigration law. Amid all the fanfare, the underlying problem with U.S. immigration policy will not be changed. Our current system promotes the migration of family members, particularly elderly relatives, and those new people rapidly qualify for financial aid from taxpayers. Meanwhile, young workers who would pay taxes are denied visas.
Much of the heated debate on this subject is rhetorical spin. Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist credited with the 1994 congressional victory of Newt Gingrich, writes this advice for conservatives in his book, Words That Work (2007): “Never say ‘undocumented workers.’ Instead say ‘illegal immigrants.’ This linguistic distinction may prove to be the political battle of the decade. The label used to describe those that enter America illegally determines the attitudes people have toward them.”
Describing the issue with that word, “illegal,” brings support to opponents of immigration they would not otherwise earn. To escape the mind-clouding effect of this rhetoric, look at the original law these immigrants have violated. Surely this is a victimless crime.
In 1924, inspired by the eugenics movement “to save the superior Nordic race” and under growing racial hatred fostered by the Ku Klux Klan and other nativist groups, the U.S. Congress adopted for the first time a national quota system for immigration. That quota system favored northern Europeans, and eastern/southern Europeans, Latinos (Catholics and Jews) as well as Asians and Africans were virtually locked out for 45 years. This quota system still exists today. This is what makes it “illegal” for many young workers to accept jobs from eager employers who want to hire them.
The quota system transforms the question about “who is valuable” and “who should come to America” into a collective, national issue. It is actually an issue that ought to be decided at the local, individual level by families and by employers.
In 1965, the quota system was modified to reduce its racist taint. The top priority became bringing parents, siblings, and children from the old country to live in the United States. This was expanded in 1980, 1986, and 1990. But the overall national quota system was not changed.
The result has been to tilt the age demographic of those receiving legal visas, and those on the waiting list for years to come, toward more and more elderly immigrants. More than two-thirds of all visas today are given to family members.
The bottom line is, why should the rest of us care? Why not eliminate the national quota system? Families want to bring their close relatives to America for a better life. Employers want young, willing workers. Perhaps the only reason we should care is that the rest of us are the ones who pay for generous, compassionate welfare programs: poverty medical care and aid to the elderly.
The quota system favors older people. America’s welfare system mostly gives money to older people. Immigration law contains a provision against new immigrants immediately going on welfare, but it is still a systemic problem. After a waiting period of only a few years, large numbers of these elderly family members qualify for public aid, Supplemental Security Income, free medical care, and other forms of assistance.
It is clear America’s immigration quota system is badly broken. The national quota system favors nonworkers. America needs and wants more young workers for its growing economy, but instead we are encouraging immigration by elderly people who will soon be living on the generosity of a compassionate government – and the taxpayers. Those who are “illegally” working are actually contributing taxes to support everyone else’s elderly relatives.
With the quota system filled up with old people, young workers from Mexico have no choice except to run across the Sonoran Desert. Who can blame them?
Moreover, most illegal immigrants do not even come across the Mexican border. It is easy to get a tourist or student visa to come into the United States. Most illegal immigrants simply do not return home when their visas expire. There is no system for tracking people with expired visas.
The national quota system not only shifts the proper focus on “who is valuable, who should come,” from individual Americans – employers and families – it also threatens the civil liberties of every other American.
There now is a federal requirement for employers to check whether job applicants are legal residents, but it is hard to enforce.
In Arizona, it is already mandated employers must verify with computerized data banks, maintained in Washington, to prevent anyone from getting a job if his or her papers are not in order.
Watch out for computer errors in the future that will frustrate many legal Americans from starting a new job.
Big brother will be watching.