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On Immigration, Look to the States

Authors: Jagdish N. Bhagwati, Senior Fellow for International Economics, and Francisco Rivera-Batiz
December 16, 2013
Los Angeles Times

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Let's say the improbable happens and Congress passes immigration reform. However it's packaged — one bill or many — you can be sure it will focus on "sticks," not "carrots." That's what is required to secure the cooperation of the "anti-amnesty" contingent in the House and the Senate: They demand a highly militarized border and "enhanced" internal enforcement as the price for a years-long, expensive, hurdle-filled "pathway" to citizenship.

There is an alternative to such an expensive, punitive approach. It builds on the compelling fact that the millions who are here illegally cannot be wished away, no matter what. It is bottom-up rather than top-down, and has the advantage of treating immigrants humanely, as befits American values. It also puts into play market forces, as communities and states realize the benefits immigrants provide.

To understand what's wrong with the shape of Congress' top-down reform, consider the "Gang of Eight" immigration bill the Senate passed in June. It would assign $40 billion in resources to border enforcement over the next 10 years, including funds to extend the border fence and to expand internal policing. But we know that pouring billions more into enforcement won't end illegal immigration, nor will it remedy the situation of unauthorized immigrants who are already here.

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