There's probably no greater debate in America right now than the debate over immigration. What's the solution? Is it a no-tolerance policy that probably doesn't stop the problem, would operate at a massive cost, and would only drive the underground economy further into the shadows? Is it amnesty and a guest worker program that does little to solve any problems related to immigration but ensures that continued cheap labor is available for America's most powerful business interests?
Or is it time for a solution that focuses on protecting the wages of working Americans and minimizing the cost of immigrants on social services?
Nathan Newman, our policy director, offers a solid argument for picking the third option
500 immigrants die each year trying to cross the border-- a degree of motivation that will overcome almost any increased enforcement efforts.
So if Michael wants a "high wage" labor market, why not just start there? Raise the minimum wage, reinforce freedom to form unions, and increase enforcement of labor laws. Give all workers, including undocumented immigrants, the ability to enforce those rights through triple damages for every dollar stolen from those workers-- and even more serious sanctions for any employer who fires a worker for exercising those rights.
His full post, which is well worth reading, has sparked quite the discussion in comments. One question in particular asks why we don't stop trying to enforce all laws that don't always work out -- like murder laws.
The difference between murder and immigration should be clear. Murder is a moral wrong. Immigration is a social issue that needs to be effectively dealt with. The question with immigration is what we need to do to minimize the adverse impacts of immigration.
Here, we think the answer is pretty clear. Providing protections for migrant workers while stepping up penalties for all violations of labor law eliminates the underground economy. Over the long term, the elimination of the underground economy and a renewed American commitment to growing third world economies remove the incentives for immigration to the United States.
Additionally, workers who have wage protections are less likely to send costs on to Americans by using emergency room health care they can't afford.
Obviously, though, this debate is far from over. Please, tell us what you think about immigration.