Thursday, May 04, 2006

What to do about Illegal Immigration? Support Mexico!

Steven Hauer asks in the Wall Street Journal [Note: subscription required] what we should do about illegal immigrants from Mexico and gives a novel reason for doing nothing. In his view, “our immigration policy is more consequential for what happens to Mexico's political and social stability than it is for America's economy or cultural integrity.”

Why? He thinks that while poor uneducated immigrants do depress the wages of low skill, low education Americans, the children of immigrants do gain educational ground over time, thus balancing out their impact on the United States. Since this is true, he thinks, we should then be free to consider his major concern—the stability of Mexico.

Actually, the fact that children of immigrants may progress educationally and economically is little comfort to the workers whose wages will continue to be pressured downward by an estimated 500,000 plus illegal immigrant population arriving every year.

Economic and education advancement while certainly desirable, are primarily instrumental. They allow immigrants purchase what this country has to offer. But they neglect the core of what is central to the immigration debate—attachment. Primary attachment to this country and not to immigrants’ “home” countries is the linchpin of the agreement that has made immigration historically successful. American has traditionally bet that it could leverage immigrant ambition and self-interest over time into genuine, not instrumental attachment.

The emotional integration of immigrants into the American national community never was a “given,” it worked because many institutions—schools, government at all levels, civic groups—worked hard to bring it about. Yet, there is a segment of the immigrant community and an even larger segment among American political, religious, educational and civic leaders that now view that arrangement with suspicion and sometime outright hostility. Encouraging immigrants to keep their home allegiances is said to be “welcoming.” Encouraging Americans to get past their parochial national identities is a major project for some in our major political and cultural institutions.

Mr. Hauer is correct to worry that if illegal immigration were drastically reduced “Unemployment and underemployment, already major problems, would increase dramatically. Remissions from immigrants, which total some $18 billion per year and are the lifeblood of many rural communities, would dry up.” True enough, but more foreign aid could help make up the financial gap while we secured our borders. That would at least have the advantage of being able to attach some economic reform strings to it.

Other countries too have severe economic problems that would be alleviated by allowing an open door to their illegal immigrants too. Does that sound like a sensible policy for their economic development and our country’s national cultural and political integrity?

As to immigrant remittances to Mexico, they are certainly understandable and I sympathize with the reasons for sending them, but it would represent a step ahead in immigrants’ attachment to this country if they could earmark that money to support their fellow countrymen here. Even better would be a future time when Mexicans would routinely contribute to organizations like the Red Cross or American Cancer society that benefit all Americans.