Thinking about immigration (updated)

Is the following a start of the solution to the illegal alien problem? Is it a way for Republicans to be proactive on the issue and win based on priciple and also win over new immigrants?

What we need are market-based incentives and disincentives. We can encourage the vast majority of border crossers to do it legally if we simply allow them to do so and issue them visas. Immigration quotas are drawn up arbitrarily based on our perceived needs. Clearly those perceptions are wrong because millions have come here illegally and found jobs while our unemployment rates are at historic lows. So simply change the quotas to allow low-skilled workers in from Latin America. This will eliminate the need to sneak across the border and allow a much more humane living to those who come here to work.

Next, employers need a disincentive from hiring illegal aliens. This can be done through the Social Security office which already has 9 million mismatched social security numbers in its database. They should notify employers that they have an employee with an inaccurate account number and force the employer to either correct a mistake, or if it is found that the number is fake, terminate the employee or face stiff fines. As an employer I know that most of us do not want to hire illegal aliens. We just want to hire people who will work hard. Those few who are looking to hire illegals to save money will face fines and eventual imprisonment.

The big question is how to deal with the 12-20 million illegals that are here now. Again, incentives and disincentives. We can’t deport them. It’s simply not feasible. But I’ve known a lot of illegal aliens from working in restaurants and owning one now. The vast majority of them go back to their home countries every year or two to visit with friends and family. If it’s easier for them to go home and then come back to the U.S. legally, they will. And if it’s harder for them to find employment as an illegal they are further incentivized to do it legally.

Then there’s the other big question, citizenship. No illegal alien should be granted citizenship, period. In order to become a citizen an immigrant must come here legally, learn to speak and write English fluently, pass a test on American civics and history, and show a pattern of gainful employment. The caveat to this is that those who are here illegally now will be forgiven their illegal crossing once they leave and come back legally. This further incentivizes them to leave and return through the proper channels.

So there you have it. Immigrants are happy. Employers are happy. And the public at large is happy that they aren’t being overrun with illegal aliens.

Jason Slagle
Columbus, Ohio

James Lewis adds:

In support of Jason Slagle's brilliant Letter to the Editor, may I offer a summary of his case?  We have created an artificial scarcity by limiting legal immigration. Illegals are therefore acting the way people do in the face of any artificial scarcity --- they are getting around it by hook or by crook. Slagle would raise the legal immigration quotas, thereby allowing supply and demand to reach equilibrium. And by legalizing immigrants, they also become identifiable and trackable.

So much for the theory, which is very attractive. To see how it would actually work, we need to do an econometric model with real data. For example, what if the wage differentials between the US and Mexico are so great that the quota would rise to 100 million immigrants per year if we allowed it to rise to any arbitrary height?  Or would the incentive to violate the law decrease significantly if we doubled the legal quotas AND built a good security fence?

Those are real questions. I really like the simplicity and force of Slagle's arguments, on the basic principles.
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