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Immigration and U.S. Foreign Policy [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Speaker: Tamar Jacoby, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute, and Editor of Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and what it Means to be American
Moderator: Gideon Rose, Editor, Foreign Affairs
October 17, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations

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OPERATOR: Excuse me, everyone. We now have our speakers in conference. Please be aware that each of your lines is in a listen-only mode. At the conclusion of the presentation, we will open the floor for questions. At that time, instructions will be given if you would like to ask a question.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Gideon Rose.

GIDEON ROSE: Hi, everybody. Gideon Rose here, managing editor of Foreign Affairs. And I’m very—I’m delighted to be chairing this call with Tamar Jacoby from the Manhattan Institute, who is the author of the article “Immigration Nation,” which heads off our November/December issue.

Tamar is an accomplished scholar and think tanker with a number of books on various interesting topics behind her, and she’s grappling now, these days, with immigration issues. And she comes as it, I think, from a very interesting and sober perspective and sort of the intelligence center, if there is such a thing on these questions.

I presume that many of you have read the piece, but why don’t we start off by having Tamar summarize just briefly the main thesis.

And Tamar, let me get you going by saying, describe what you think the causes of the immigration influx are, and the tripartite solution that you see as the obvious answer to the situation.

TAMAR JACOBY: An easy question, Gideon. (Laughs.)

ROSE: (Laughs.)

JACOBY: Thank you so much. (Laughs.)

I think immigration—the immigrant influx that we’re seeing today, this really historically significant, sizable wave of immigrants changing the country and changing our future—people sometimes say it’s an experiment. They imagine that in 1965, Senator Kennedy and a few other senators turned on a faucet, and we’re living with the costs of that experiment.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The immigrant influx that we’re seeing today is a product of global demographic and globalization shifts that mean that the American work force is getting older; it’s getting more skilled; it’s getting more educated. We no longer produce the workers to do much of the unskilled work that we still need in our economy.

I sometimes say if there’s one set of numbers you need to know to understand immigration, it’s that in 1960 half of all American men dropped out of high school and went into the unskilled labor force. Today less than 10 percent do. But we still need people to do that work. We still have agriculture here; we still have restaurants; we still have hotels; we still have construction; we still have nursing homes. We need people to do that work, and we’re lucky that there are immigrants in a nearby country—workers in a nearby country who are willing to come to America as immigrants and do it.

The world’s also getting smaller, which is one of the reasons that these—the global labor markets are getting more and more integrated. Communications, transportation—information spreads faster than it ever spread before. And so what we’re seeing now is a largely economically driven influx that I believe benefits the country significantly—in fact, that’s one of the theses of the argument, that it benefits the country more than many people have recognized up to this point. We wouldn’t be growing as an economy without this immigrant influx.

And the challenge for policy is to find a way to have that “immigrance” and legality, too, and to have immigration and the prosperity that comes with it, but also the rule of law and border security. Some people would have you think those two are mutually exclusive. I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive at all.

The problem is to recognize—the answer, really, is to recognize that we have about a million and a half people who come every year to work. That work is good for the economy. The problem at the moment is not those workers. The problem is that our quotas are about a third to low. So it’s as if we were making some cars in this country and we had to import the steel, but our steel quotas only allowed in two-thirds of the steel we needed. The remaining one-third of the steel would have to be bootlegged. How silly would that be, for the economy and for the rule of law?

The solution for immigration is to bring the legal quotas more into line with the reality of our labor needs—that’s by means of temporary guest worker visas or some other means, but bring the quotas more into line with that 1.5 million number that is the flow. That’s pillar number one of the solution.

Pillar number two, make sure that you have the enforcement to make those new quotas work. Right now we have a nudge-nudge, wink-wink system, where we know the law is unrealistic and we don’t enforce it very effectively—bad for the country, bad for the workers, bad for American workers. The only people who benefit are the smugglers. Let’s have realistic law and bring—make enforcement work so that those laws really do stick, instead of a nudge-nudge, wink-wink situation.

And the third pillar is, we do have to do something about the 12 million illegal immigrants already here. Nobody thinks we should just wave a wand and say they didn’t do something wrong, but they’re not going home. They are here to stay, most of them. They are good for the economy. For our sake as well as theirs, we need to find a way for them to earn their way onto the right side of the law. I think working, paying taxes, learning English, paying a fine is a big start of what they should be asked to do. Some people also think we should also ask them to go home for a brief period and come back in the legal way. Reasonable people can argue about whether that’s a good idea or not. But the point is, we—for our sake, for our security, for our rule of law—we’ve got to figure out some answer for them.

So those are the—that’s the problem. Those are the three pillars of the solution.

ROSE: Excellent. Unless you’re—(inaudible)—so long after that brilliant summary! (Laughs.) I’m kidding.

There are a lot of things we can discuss about this, but let me first ask you: You seem to treat the flow of immigration as the supply to an economic demand, and take the demand as essentially an exogenous factor thrown up by the U.S. economy. Now the implication to that is that policy—U.S. immigration policy doesn’t really have much to do with the situation, and should in—except possibly to create problems in practice when it’s out of whack with what the natural demand is, or the natural supply. So what your—one of the core parts of your solution is that policy should figure out how to accommodate the actual numbers that supply and demand, as you put it, would bring in.

Is that really true? Is policy really irrelevant to the number? And by implication essentially, if we adjust the numbers of immigrants allowed, would that really have no effect on increasing still further? Is there no moral hazard to your position?

JACOBY: Yes. Good question. Fair enough.

You know, if I thought—let me start with a little bit of an oblique answer. Obviously, if immigrants aren’t going to become Americans—if they’re going to stay in this country for most of the rest of their lives as opposed to travel back and forth just to work—and stay here and not become Americans, not integrate or assimilate, if you will, then I certainly think that we would want to fight the realities of supply and demand. I sometimes say, you know, if I thought that in my nieces’ and nephews’ adulthood we were going to have a country where Spanish was the primary language and our politics looked more like Mexico’s than the United States’, I, too, would say that the economic growth that we’re experiencing is not worth it, and policy should be used, as it were, to fight the forces of supply and demand.

I happen to think that immigrants are assimilating, are adding to the vitality and the energy and the—(a law ?) of this country, if you will, as well as to the economic bottom line. So there’s no reason for policy to be fighting the supply and demand. You know, in a situation with drugs, policy tries to fight supply and demand. In other situations where the supply and demand is basically good for the country, I think policy should defer to it.

You know, the Russians tried to make the rivers flow instead of from north to south, south to north, or whatever. Sure, policy could try to fight reality in that way, but in this case I don’t think we need to, because I think the immigrant influx is good for America in many ways.

ROSE: Would your policy suggestions have a moral hazard component, though, that they would increase the—you know, is immigration lower than it would be because of the obstacles that have been placed in its way? And would removing those obstacles increase it even more?

JACOBY: I think—yeah, we don’t know for sure, but my argument is—I mean, a lot of this we don’t know. My argument is that the market is more or less at equilibrium, that you know, people—sure, you do have to be willing to pick up and cross the desert at risk of your life, which one can say is a significant cost—but you go to many of these Mexican villages that send people, and virtually every young man, and increasingly many of the young women, do it.

So, you know, I would argue that despite the obstacles to getting here at the moment, I believe the market’s in equilibrium. Sure, if it was somewhat easier to cross people might cross a little more often. But if they can’t get jobs here, I believe they will go back. People are here to work. They’re here to make money. They don’t get welfare, so they’re not here to live off the state. If you’re going to be unemployed, it’s a lot better to be unemployed at home in Mexico where it’s warmer and cheaper and you have family.

So I believe people are here to work. I don’t believe—I don’t see too many jobs where we’re going to have an increasing supply of unskilled Mexicans that are going to create new immigrant jobs. I believe the jobs where Americans are skilled and can do—have the skills and have the will, as it were, to do the jobs, they have an advantage, and they’re doing the jobs. It’s the jobs that are open that migrants are coming to fill.

ROSE: Is there a difference—you don’t deal all that much in the piece with legal versus illegal immigration, nor with the cultural or societal component of this, as opposed to the economic component. And yet it seems like those kind of issues—particularly both the—it seems like the real thing that people are upset about are illegal immigration of what they consider to be a socially non-homogenous group that has sort of other, non-economic consequences.

JACOBY: Yeah. Let me unpack the question a little bit, because I think there are two issues there.

I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks that illegal—or I—you know, reasonable people in the debate—who think that illegal immigration is a good idea. That erodes the rule of law here. It’s bad for our security. I mean, we’ve got 12 million people here whose names we don’t know who’ve never undergone a security check, and that’s a disaster waiting to happen.

But the point is, and the gist of the reform plan that I’m advocating for here is, that those are really the same kind of people as the people who are coming legally. The problem is that our quotas are too small. So let’s allow those people who are coming here to work who are otherwise responsible people who are only trying to feed themselves and make a better life for their families and do work that we need done—let’s give them the opportunity to be legal rather than illegal, because the only people who benefit when they’re illegal are the smugglers.

It’s—you know, again, the rule of law, border security, and not to mention, American workers. When people are illegal and can’t stand up for their rights, that’s bad for them, but it’s also bad for the American workers they’re working alongside.

So what I’d like to do is shift the current illegal flow into the legal column. That’s the essence of the reform that I and others in Washington are talking about.

On the cultural side, the people—illegal immigrants, again, are not that different from legal immigrants. These are poor people from peasant societies in Mexico and other Central American countries and some—I mean, there are also high-skilled immigrants, but the ones we’re mostly talking about who are coming to do work—sure, it’s a big question for the country. What do we do to help the—are they going to stay? And if they are, are they going to become Americans, and are we doing enough to help them? Could we be doing more?

I believe the answers are that they—many of them are staying, that that’s good for us in the long run, that they are—they do largely want to become Americans, but that yes, we could be doing quite a bit more to help them.

The piece, it’s true, doesn’t go into that aspect of the problem, but you can only do so much, even in the capacious space that the Foreign Affairs allows.

ROSE: (Laughs.) Okay.

We have a lot of people on the line, and I don’t want to preempt their questions. So at this point, why don’t we turn it over to some questions from our impressive audience, and we can get into the remaining issues people have in your answers.

JACOBY: Thanks.

OPERATOR: At this time we will open the floor for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press the * key, followed by the 1 key on your touch tone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received.

Okay, again, that’s *1 for questions.

Our first question today comes from J.R. Labbe from The Fort Worth Star.

QUESTIONER: Hi. It’s the Star-Telegram, actually, and my name’s J.R. Labbe.

I’m just curious, Ms. Jacoby, what kind of resonance do you think you’ll get in Washington after this midterm election is over? It’s such a hot-button. We’re seeing it here, of course, in Texas, as an issue. It seems from where I’m sitting to be a very practical, common sense answer to a very complicated issue. But who on the Hill are you getting support from with these ideas and with these proposals?

JACOBY: Yeah, thanks. That’s a good question.

You know, there’s—for the past two years there’s been a driving movement, I would say, toward the solution that I outline here. I don’t pretend that I came up with the answer. This is a statement of what’s become a consensual answer that others and I have contributed to over the past two years. And one of the points I make in the piece—I talk about the politics.

It looks like a question where maybe the country’s—you know, if you were a Martian and you landed today, you would say, “Well, gee, it looks like the country’s divided maybe up the middle on this, and I can’t tell who’s stronger, the pro-reform people or the anti-reform people.”

The truth is that about—between two-thirds and three-quarters of the public gets and supports the solution that we’re talking about. They understand that the combination has to be—excuse me, that the answer has to be a combination of tougher enforcement, make the laws work, make the border work, but also do something about the 12 million illegal immigrants already here. There’s a large—and poll after poll shows that, not just, you know, polls organized by my institute or others favorable to me. Gallup Poll, NBC Poll, Washington Journal Poll—just about every poll done in the past three or four months shows between two-thirds and three-quarters of the public supporting that kind of solution. Sure, they’re a little anxious about immigrants, but they’re pragmatic when it comes to a solution.

And in Congress, a very good bill passed the Senate in May with strong bipartisan support, including a number of what I would call conservative conservatives. All this got held up in the House over the summer. But I believe even in the House what we’re seeing is really what I call the tail wagging the dog of the debate, that in a divided electorate—maybe it’s not looking too divided at the moment, but, you know, close to 50-50 nation—the 20 to 25 percent of the public that is against this solution carries a lot of weight with Republican legislators. They don’t want to alienate that 20 to 25 percent.

So the 20 to 25 percent of the public that are naysayers has become the tail wagging the dog, and that’s what really held us up in the run-up to this election. Republicans in the House were just afraid to go for this solution, even those—and I think there are many—who knew that it was really the right solution, because they were afraid of getting punished for it at the polls by that minority. So again, you know, that tail wagging the dog.

After the election, you know, who knows what’s going to happen. If I knew I’d—you know, that’s a higher pay grade than mine. But if the Republicans hold on to the House—you know, who knows what chance of that there is—I think you’ll see perhaps even a lame duck movement toward this solution. If the Democrats take over the House, I think you’ll see it come back in the 110 th Congress. I don’t think anybody thinks this is like Social Security. I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks we can walk away from this and just leave it festering and not solve it.

I think if the Democrats take over the House, we may see quite a debate going forward in the 110 th Congress. And they—you know, I think it’s going to be hard either way. But I don’t think it’s going away, and I think—the bottom line answer to your question, I don’t think it’s going away, and I think there’s a lot more support than would appear for the kind of solution I articulate in this piece. And it’s really been a minority that’s been holding it up, because of these midterms that are going to happen three weeks from now.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Okay. Our next question comes from Celine Cureil (ph) from the BBC Africa.

QUESTIONER: Yes. Hello.

I wanted to know if you could give more details about how you would transform illegal immigration into legal immigration, because it seems to me—maybe I’m wrong—that the legal system right now is pretty much oriented towards skilled people much more than workers.

JACOBY: Yeah. The system right now is mostly oriented towards families. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the flow are relatives of people already here.

But the key thing to think about is again that there’s about a million and a half, maybe if you count really everyone—everyone, everyone—1.7 million, coming every year. But our quotas only accommodate about two-thirds of that number. So again, its—the best way to think about it, I think, is the steel quota issue. We need that 1.5 million to make the products that we’re making here with steel, but the quotas only let in two-thirds of that. So the simple way to turn the illegal into the legal is to issue visas for the full size of the flow that we need. So instead of having a half a million coming illegally every year, you’d give them guest worker visas.

We need them. They’re good for the economy. They’re good for the country. Let’s give them visas so that they can come legally. But then we have to enforce the law. You can’t have any more of this nudge-nudge, wink-wink, where we have these quotas but we don’t take them seriously. Let’s bring the quotas into line with reality and then let’s enforce them.

Let me just throw out one more metaphor, and that’s prohibition. An unrealistic law is extremely hard to enforce. I mean, imagine the speed limit on the highway. Imagine trying to make everybody on the interstate go 25 miles an hour. You’d need a cop every few feet, and even that would probably not succeed. Bring the speed limit up to 65, and you can enforce it with reasonable, limited, moderate means. Same with prohibition and liquor licenses: Make it possible for people to drink in a controlled way, and it’s not that hard to control it.

If you—if we bring our quotas more into line with the labor needs, and enforce it primarily in the workplace, with biometric cards that employers can use to make sure that whoever’s—the would-be employee standing in front of them is really authorized to work—will be much easier to get a grip on this under a realistic limit.

QUESTIONER: So it would be to issue more visas, basically?

JACOBY: Yeah. Temporary—worker visas is the answer—to bring the quota of worker visas into line with the labor needs.

QUESTIONER: And how would you select among the people who apply for visa? What would be the criteria?

JACOBY: I think it should be people who can—under the way this has been suggested by the president and in the Senate, these are literally worker visas for people who can prove they have a job.

QUESTIONER: Okay.

JACOBY: So you have an online system that connects employers with employees in foreign countries, and if you can show that you have a job, you get a temporary visa to come and do that job.

QUESTIONER: Which is difficult to do, because if you’re away, it’s hard to get a job in the United States.

JACOBY: It’s not, actually. It’s not. It’s not. I mean, you could set up a system where you could have the same people who are now working as smugglers are going to be the people who are going to go into the business of connecting the workers and the employers, plus with a computer.

You know, I was just—somebody was talking to me about apparently Monster.com. It’s 50 million people a year, jobs through a computer Internet-based system, 50 million people. We’re only talking about an extra half a million here. It’s not that hard a job in the current day and age.

QUESTIONER: Okay, thank you.

OPERATOR: Again, if you would like to ask a question, please press the star key, followed by the 1 key.

Our next question comes from Yan Tai from the World Journal.

QUESTIONER: Hi. This is Yan Tai from the World Journal. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the cultural conservatives in terms of the naysayers who oppose the immigration. Obviously what you said on the economic side, everything makes sense to have more immigrants. But still we have this grassroots opposition to the current immigration flow, and some people have said that what’s driven behind this opposition is the cultural conservatives.

Do you agree? Or if you don’t agree or if you agree, can you elaborate a little bit on this point?

JACOBY: Yeah. Immigration is a really funny issue that doesn’t line up with too many more issues. So, you know, the closest issue it lines up with is probably free trade. But, you know, whether you’re for abortion, whether you’re for gay marriage, whether you’re for stem cell research, that doesn’t correlate in any way to your views on immigration.

To use the word “cultural conservative” is a little misleading. It’s the 20 percent that every poll shows—20, 25 percent—are holding us up on this. You know, they’re male. They don’t tend to have college degrees. They’re both Democrats and Republicans. They’re not the same people who are voting against gay marriage. So to call them cultural conservatives is misleading.

That said, I spent a lot of time out there in the heartland, so to speak, doing talk radio, speaking to audiences, watching focus groups from behind a two-way mirror. So I do spend a lot of time thinking about what’s this opposition really based on.

And I think of it as an iceberg where the stuff that’s above the water, the part of the iceberg that’s sticking up above the sea level, is about economics. People are afraid they might steal my job. It’s about are they legal. People don’t like it that the people are here illegally. You know, that bothers them. People aren’t playing by the rules. And it’s, to a very small degree, about security. You know, could they be terrorists?

But the stuff that’s—the part of the iceberg that’s underneath the water, you know, the big part of the iceberg, is mostly about what you could call culture, but not culture in the sense of gay marriage or stem cell research; culture in the sense of what’s going to happen to American culture, so to speak, America as we know it; those questions that I was asking before.

Are my kids going to be speaking Spanish or English? Is our politics going to look like American politics or Mexican politics? Is the way the police handle themselves going to look like the way the American police handle themselves or the Mexican police?

And, you know, I don’t think you have to be a bigot to ask—you know, to be concerned about that. If I thought that our politics were going to look more like Mexican politics, I’d be worried too. I don’t believe that’s happening. I believe that immigrants, the ones who decide to stay—and many do work for a while and then go home, but the ones who decide to stay are people who get what’s wonderful about America and what’s special about America, and they’re here precisely because they want to live in America rather than Mexico.

So, you know, I’m not too worried, as a factual matter, as an empirical matter, about some of that stuff that’s really driving the concern. But that is what’s driving the concern. And, you know, I think we could address that with a more vigorous integration or assimilation policy, and also just some good public education about how well people are doing. I mean, everybody in the second generation learns English. You know, they know it’s the language of success. And if the public knew that, I think they might be a little more reassured.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much.

ROSE: How different is what you’re talking about from the bracero program?

JACOBY: Very different. The bracero program—which, for those of you—many of you probably know, but that was the guest worker program that we instituted first in World War II, and it lasted through the mid-60s. You know, we thought American men were going off to war, and who was going to pick the crops and tend the fields? It was initially agricultural mostly. And so we brought in Mexican guest workers to do it.

And then we grew the program significantly in the ‘50s, and then it was ended in 1964, I think it was, in response to a great Edward R. Murrow documentary showing the abuses, where workers were basically—Mexican workers had basically become indentured servants and were being, you know, paid virtually nothing and abused on the job and couldn’t get away from employers who were treating them badly.

The idea behind—and, of course, no one wants to go back to that. The good news about the bracero program—and I’ll say that first and then we’ll talk about how to deal with the abuses—the good news was that when we brought the bracero program up to scale, when we made it big enough so that we had legal visas that was commensurate with our demand—exactly what I’m suggesting we do now, make the number of legal visas commensurate with the demand—illegal immigration basically disappeared, dropped off the map.

So people would rather use a legal program. If you have a legal program, people will use it. They’re not going to be trying to go around it. They’d rather come legally. That’s the good news about the bracero program.

What you don’t want to create is a situation where workers are basically indentured servants to employers. And there are a couple of ways to do that, and you have to have a variety of workers’ rights built into your program. But the most important of those worker rights, the one that’s going to take care of most of the abuses, is that if you don’t like your employer, you can walk and get a different job.

And the way you do that is what we call a portable visa that’s not—you know, if I’m farmer “X” and I’m going to employ you, Gideon, as my farm worker, if you can’t change jobs, I’m going to do whatever I want to you. As long as you can take your visa and go over to the farmer next door, you’re going to be able to bargain and I’m not going to be able to abuse you.

So you need to build in a variety of protections, but the most important is that that visa be portable. And that is part of every possible iteration of the guest worker program on the table in Washington today.

OPERATOR: Okay, there are currently no more questions at this time.

ROSE: Let me ask you, what about the—talk a little bit about the Jordan Commission and why its recommendations didn’t, in fact—how is what you’re saying different from theirs in terms of amnesty and so forth? And if that worked or didn’t work, what are the implications for going forward?

JACOBY: Yeah, there are two important points. I mean, the Jordan Commission didn’t recognize the need for the labor.

ROSE: Oh, sorry. In case not everybody knows, can you just—

JACOBY: Yeah, the Jordan Commission was—we had a variety of blue-ribbon panels that have been panels that have considered how to overhaul immigration policy in the past. And the Jordan Commission bore fruit. I’m going to forget exactly the years, but I guess they worked in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and some of their recommendations were implemented in the mid-90s.

And they left out a couple of key things. One is that they didn’t recognize the need for the labor. So, you know, again, it’s sort of like saying, “Let’s try to make prohibition stick. Let’s not recognize that people are going to want a drink. Let’s just try to use enforcement to stop them from drinking.”

They said, you know, “We can wean some of the language used”—if not in public, behind the scenes was, “We can wean employers of the need for these workers.” You know, that’s what you were suggesting a little bit earlier, Gideon; let’s use policy to fight this reality of supply and demand.

It doesn’t usually work, you know. They tried it in communist countries to use policy to fight the laws of supply and demand. You can regulate the laws of supply and demand a little bit about the edges, but it’s not very smart to try to fight it.

And so the Jordan Commission said, “Let’s have tougher enforcement,” and they passed some enforcement measures. And then they said, “Yeah, let’s clean up the problem of the overflow that’s accumulated over the past 10 years,” i.e., the illegal workers here; you know, the people who have had to come illegally and are now here as an illegal pool. “We have to do something about that, so let’s give them amnesty and let’s have tougher enforcement.” But they left out the key provision that was about making them into law more realistic, and that was more worker visas.

ROSE: So it was a good backward solution but didn’t address the forward-looking problem.

JACOBY: (Inaudible)—going forward. And the enforcement wasn’t as effective as it should have been. And one of the reasons it’s very hard to enforce effectively, again, was because it wasn’t realistic law. The volume was just going to still be so much in excess of the quotas. But they also—they understood—and this is one maybe we haven’t talked about maybe as much as we should—that the key place to do enforcement is the workplace.

I mean, you can build up the border all you want. You know, we could have honestly an electric fence on the border and men with guns guarding it, and people would still figure out how to get around it, as long as the jobs are available.

So the key place to enforce—and I’ve never met a Border Patrol agent who didn’t understand that and tell you that right up front. The key place—we do have to have measures on the border, but the key place to do control is in the workplace. And basically you just have to give the employers a tool to use to know whether, when I show up and ask for a job, I’m authorized or not.

Right now they’re asked to look at a couple of documents of mine, but they can’t even ask any questions about those documents, let alone verify them electronically. So it’s sort of like if I was going into a store to buy a shirt with my MasterCard, and the merchant had to eyeball my MasterCard to say, “It looks good to me.” Well, how effective would that be, and how fair is it to him if he then has to eat the cost if he’s wrong?

So the key part of any new law is going to be much more effective enforcement in the workplace, giving employers the tools they need to tell whether I’m legit or not when I show up. And it’s basically like a credit card. It could be a swipe card connected to a computer base.

The Jordan Commission knew that that was needed, and they just couldn’t muster—they didn’t have the political whatever, guts, to recommend it. And then Congress didn’t have the will to do that. So what they created was the current system we have for employment verification. We knew that was the key to getting control, but they wouldn’t put the cards in the computer system. And so employers didn’t have the means.

So they fell short in two key areas—no worker visas and no effective enforcement in the workplace. And so those are really—in a way, you could argue those are the two key elements and all the rest is window dressing.

ROSE: Interesting. Interesting. While we’re waiting for another question, I’ve got one more for you. Why—it sounds like what you’re saying isn’t just limited to the U.S. In fact, the implication is that these kind of structural factors would exist wherever there was a sort of differential demand economically in terms of jobs in one place and workers appropriate for those jobs somewhere nearby.

JACOBY: Yeah, that’s a really good question. The difference in Europe is the welfare—there are a couple of differences. There’s the welfare state, which does make it appealing for many people from poor countries to come and live in Europe, even if they’re not working.

ROSE: So there’s a greater moral hazard question in Europe.

JACOBY: There’s a greater moral hazard. And it’s not very likely that—you know, the healthy welfare state is a very intricate part of European countries’ approach to governance, so they’re probably not going to repeal their welfare state just for the sake of a better immigration policy.

So, yes, you know, you have a situation in America where immigrants of all kinds, legal and illegal, have lower unemployment rates than the similar native-born. In Europe they have two and three times’ the unemployment rates of similar native-born. That has in part to do with the welfare state.

And you also have a problem in Europe of very regulated economies, so that the workers who come don’t actually do as much of—I mean, it’s part of this piece we haven’t talked about, how much immigrant workers do boost the economy and make not just the economy bigger, but also, I would argue, more productive and more profitable for native-born workers. It doesn’t do that quite as effectively in Europe because of the heavily regulated nature of European economies.

But, both of those things said, I do believe that European countries too should adopt a model where the quotas are more in line with—where immigration levels are set more by work needs than by family and other kinds of needs, where quotas are more in line with the labor need, where every effort is made to make sure that people are working, and, in fact, where acculturation or assimilation or integration efforts are also focused on the workplace.

OPERATOR: Okay, our next question comes from Linda Campbell from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

QUESTIONER: Hi. This is Linda Campbell from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. And my question builds on what you were talking about, giving the employers the tools that they need, because I wonder, how do you also build in the kinds of economic incentives that need to be there for employers to buy into a legal system, whereas now there seems to be a sentiment among some employers that it’s much more economically advantageous to them to go with an illegal system than to comply with legal requirements?

JACOBY: Yeah, I think that’s a misleading sense of what the employment picture is like. There are definitely bottom-feeder employers out there who, you know, run the sweat shop and they help the smugglers bring in the people and they really would rather have them be illegal, and they pay them $3 an hour and they work them in terrible conditions, and they’re happy that they can’t complain. There are employers like that.

But I believe, and studies show, that they are somewhere between, like, in the 30, maybe up to 40 percent of employers, not the majority of employers. The majority of employers who have illegal workers working for them would rather be on the right side of the law. I mean, look, if you’re a big brand-name company in America, you do not want to be caught out on the wrong side of the law here.

If you’re a company that needs workers on a timely basis—for example, agriculture—you do not want to be caught on the wrong side of the law, where the Border Patrol gets a little stricter that day and suddenly your fruit is rotting, which we’re seeing in Texas. Suddenly your fruit is rotting in the fields.

So I believe the majority of employers would rather have people on the books. They have a business stake in them being on the books. And right now, under this nudge, nudge, wink, wink system we have, most employers are going through the motions of treating them like legal workers and, in fact, paying them well beyond that $3-an-hour bottom-feeder wage.

When you do surveys of employers, it shows that the average wage of illegal immigrants in America is probably in the $9-an-hour range. And, you know, construction is in the $20-and-up range. And, you know, with restaurants it’s in the $16-and-up range.

So I don’t think making the system—shifting these people from the illegal column to the legal column is actually going to raise the costs for a lot of employers. I think it’s going to give them a chance to be on the right side of the law. Some of those bottom feeders are going to find things tougher, and that’s to the good. Those are people who are breaking the law, and they should be put out of business.

QUESTIONER: Okay, thank you.

OPERATOR: Okay, there are currently no more questions at this time.

ROSE: I’ll just take one more and then, if there are no more, we can end it up; good discussion.

Tamar, go back to the illegal-legal question. You said that you would basically end that distinction. No one likes illegal immigration, and the answer is to increase the number of visas and so forth. Now, if you were to just increase the number of legal visas, but through the regular ways—in other words, increase the intake through the lottery, through the quotas for people abroad, and so forth—presumably there are easily another half-million or so people from places other than south of the U.S. border who would be desperate to come in; if you were to increase the lottery by half a million, let’s say.

JACOBY: Yeah, but you don’t really want to generate a new flow—you don’t want to generate new flows. I mean, you could do it through the legal system, through the system we have. You could not make these guest worker visas or temporary worker visas—you could just say, “Let’s have another half a million green cards a year.” That would be one way to do it.

ROSE: Right.

JACOBY: But I think it makes more sense—I think we’re overloaded on the family side already. I mean, it turns out people mostly come as family and end up as workers. So in a way it’s fungible.

But let’s be more honest about it and more rational and more direct. I believe let’s give people visas who are going to come here to work. I mean, sure, if your brother comes as your brother and then goes to work, it’s the same thing. But why be so indirect about it? Why not say these are for workers?

So, sure, you could add green cards for workers. That would be—you know, that would be another reasonable way to go at it; even harder politically than the solution that’s on the table would be adding—you know, raising the green card quota by 50 percent.

And a lot of these people do come to work for a while and then go home. And I think the system should—you know, my principle across the board is that the system should kind of try to accommodate and conform to the reality.

So if people are coming for a short time and then going home, let’s give them visas that allow them to work for a short time and then go home rather than, in effect, cheapening the currency of green cards by giving a lot of people who are only going to stay for two years a lifelong pass. You know, if they really only want a hotel room, why give them an apartment?

So, you know, keep it to provisional as long as they want to be provisional, but that then, to the degree they want to settle, allow them to shift to a path that allows them to stay here permanently. And again, final note, and that’s to speak to this question of other parts in the world, we don’t want to encourage a new flow from—I don’t know; looking at a globe here—you know, countries that don’t send people now who would suddenly find new niches, economic niches.

We basically want to accommodate the reality that has grown up pragmatically and make that legal. We don’t want to start new streams and new numbers that are—because those new streams do have a way of taking on permanence and taking on a reality of their own. You know, once you start, people follow, family members and—(inaudible)—members. We don’t want to start a lot of new flows.

ROSE: Got it. Okay, well, if there are no more questions, then we’ll leave it at that. Thank you, Tamar Jacoby. Thank you, all of you, for listening in. And we’ll call it a day.

JACOBY: Thank you so much, Gideon.

 

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