Open Letter: On immigration, look to the states

Published on December 19th, 2013

An open letter to the authors of "On immigration, look to the states; The nation needs a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach to reform" from the Los Angeles Times:

Dear Mr. Bhagwati and Mr. Rivera-Batiz:

I’ve just read your article, “On immigration, look to the states”. Like so many articles and reports I have read there is always the fatal error of combining legal immigration with illegal immigration. While it might be a reality that the issue is always combined for political reasons the actuality is that the two issues are totally unrelated. It is comparable to telling me that I am rich because when you average my net worth (way less than a billion) with Bill Gates (60 billion or so) I’m worth 30 billion. What the legal immigrants offer this country vs what those who entered illegally offer is as different as night and day.

You start by creating a straw man that the millions of illegal aliens (no disrespect but the legal term) cannot be wished away. That of course is true but there are other alternatives that would certainly have a much more successful outcome. As you mention later in your article the “draconian laws” passed in Alabama were successful in “chasing many illegal aliens out of Alabama”. I’m not advocating that policy but it did what Alabama intended. The fact that you could go to another state is why those people did not leave the country. But we’ll come back to Alabama later.

These people should be treated humanely. As a Jew the last thing that I could endorse would be a round-up of people. Treating them humanely does befit American values. What does not befit American values is to reward people for breaking the law (unless you are a banker). Allowing them all to stay by “declaring” them legal is what most of them really want. Why the “dreamers” may want to become citizens history has shown us that more than a majority of those given amnesty in 1986 and those allowed legally into the country since have not become citizens.

You are correct that building longer and taller walls won’t end illegal immigration.  You article doesn’t say what you think will so should I assume that legalizing those here now is the solution to the problem? The solution is quite simple. Take away the attraction. No one tries to sneak into an amusement park after the rides are closed. Granting legalization and offering a “pathway to citizenship” is like throwing chum in the water and then wondering why the sharks have arrived.

I fully understand and sympathize with the majority who come for a better life for themselves and their children but there are literally billions more that would do the same if they could and millions who try to come legally and had it not been for these people “butting in line” would now be here. If you want to stop illegal immigration you have to cut off the jobs. These people are hired because they are cheap and exploitable labor. Raise the price to the people who hire them and the problem will be solved. Pour the resources into that enforcement and severely punish those who hire these people regardless of whether it’s a small businessman or a CEO of a major company. No fines but jail.

Again you mix legal and illegal immigration when you address deportations that “cause havoc in the lives of immigrant’s”. No, deportations cause havoc in the lives of illegal aliens. You then state that deportations have separated families, which is true. What you fail to mention is the havoc illegal aliens have caused for law abiding citizens and all of the families that illegal aliens have not just separated but destroyed.

My 25 year old son Drew who was a law student in San Francisco was just one of the 3500 plus people killed in 2010 by illegal aliens just by driving. There were approximately 2,500 more people killed and murdered by illegal aliens that year. Those numbers have been pretty consistent for at least the past 15 years. Excuse me if I have little sympathy for the “more than 2,000 people who have died from heat exposure” trying to “break into” this country. While I certainly don’t wish death upon anyone their demise was self-inflicted.  If you want to know havoc and destroyed families I think you should speak to the real victims of illegal immigration not the illegal aliens.

Back to Alabama. What they did was stupid. They essentially fired all the illegal workers and then were surprised that Americans wouldn’t do the same job for lousy pay and no benefits under the worst of conditions. Their problem was poor implementation, poor planning and an unwillingness to pay the wages necessary to hire workers to pick their crops. There is a price that would get people to do the work. For such a conservative state like Alabama which professes unbridled capitalism why should I have to subsidize their agriculture business? How much would the state’s economy have grown if they had to hire thousands of unemployed who were getting government benefits at decent wages? How much would the state save if they didn’t have to pay for schooling for thousands of kids whose parents paid very little to cover their education? How much would the state save in medical costs? You’re probably thinking how can I be so cruel but I fully support our government providing aid to many of the countries these people come from. What I don’t support is rewarding the few who have illegally entered the country while virtually ignoring all others. Remember that parable “Feed a man a fish”…… well that is exactly what we are doing and with your solution we will be doing it forever.

I wonder how many professors at Columbia would show up for work at the start of next semester if your pay was cut to $7.25 an hour, your benefits were cut off and you only got paid for the classes you taught not the research you did.

Finally, using California as a model for immigration reform is comparable to using Chicago as a model for a gun safe city. I’ve lived here for 25 years. I’ve seen first-hand the devastation illegal immigration has done to the once “Golden State”.  What a great model and example for law abiding citizens when you pass a bill that tells local law enforcement not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The law applies to everyone except those who have broken the law by entering the country illegally. I can’t tell you how many of those “minor” crimes by illegal aliens are then followed by fatal crimes. But I can tell you how many people I’ve spoken to whose child, spouse, parent, relative or friend was killed by someone who had committed a “minor” crime before they killed.

After my son was killed I testified in Sacramento against a bill that would stop impounding cars of unlicensed drivers. At that time, July 2011, I supported allowing all to apply for driving licenses. However, as I continued my advocacy work to get all of these people, regardless of immigration status, off the roads I learned how as a group these people are horrible drivers. I learned where this was tried in New Mexico the results were disastrous. I testified against this bill because the author could not present any evidence that this bill would make the roads safer. Brown then exclaimed, “we’re the state of opportunity”. No we are the state of massive debt. We’re the state of crumbling infrastructure. We’re the state of high unemployment. We’re the state that ends up on the wrong end of every list.

Yes he balanced the budget by cutting benefits to the poor and slashing school spending. He then tricked everyone into voting for a tax increase with Proposition 30 to restore funding to the schools. However, his new formula didn’t give all the schools back the funds they had lost. Those schools with a certain percentage of low income families and those schools with a high percentage of non-English speaking students got significantly more money than other schools.

Our prisons are so overcrowded that we are literally releasing violent criminals back onto the street way before they’ve served their time. California is possibly the only state where crime is on the rise. I don’t blame that all on illegal aliens but considering approximately 19% of inmates are illegal (none are in jail for just being here illegally) if they weren’t here we wouldn’t be releasing other prisoners. What does that costs us?

In the 10 years between 2001 and 2011 the population of California increased by 10 million people. The number of tax returns increased by 100,000. The middle class and many rich have been leaving the state in droves for years. Yes, immigrants like Sergey Brin have been wonderful for the state but no matter how nice they are, no matter how hard they work the 2.5 – 3 million (probably more) illegal immigrants have not had a positive impact on the state.

Los Angeles clearly has more illegal aliens than any other city in the country. The school system is a disaster. Less than half the kids graduate and to get to that number they count a “D” as a passing acceptable grade. It is estimated that almost 75% of LAUSD students are either illegal or the citizen children of illegals and more than half cannot speak English. Illegal aliens represent 14% of the drivers in LA but hit and run 51% of the time. Almost half of all collisions in the city are hit and run. When the city stopped impounding cars fatalities and serious injuries increased 7%. Just today the city forecast a budget deficit of $250 million for next year. The city has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Again you make the fatal mistake of combining legal and illegal immigration when you state that “States and communities that are hostile to immigrants will not thrive, those that welcome them will.” That may or may not apply to legal immigration but I challenge you to show me a community thriving because of illegal immigration.

If you want to learn more about my case or read my testimony about issuing licenses to illegal aliens go to www.unlicensedtokill.org.

Oh and by the way, I am a lifelong extremely liberal Democrat and have been my whole life. I still am but I’ve dropped my allegiance to the Democratic Party.


Don Rosenberg
CAPS Senior Writing Fellow

Original Article:

On immigration, look to the states
The nation needs a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach to reform.

By Jagdish Bhagwati and Francisco Rivera-Batiz
December 15, 2013

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 altern  ative 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.

Focusing on enforcement was tried during the Clinton administration: Border funding increased from $1.7 billion in 1993 to close to $5 billion in 2002. The Border Patrol grew from 8,552 agents to nearly 18,043. And still the numbers of immigrants illegally crossing the Rio Grande increased: from 324,000 in the first half of the 1990s to 654,800 in the second half of the decade, according to Pew Research Center estimates.

Under President Obama, the enforcement effort has also emphasized deportations. There were fewer than 120,000 annually during the George W. Bush administration; in the last several years, there have been close to 400,000 a year. And yet, according to Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer for Pew's Hispanic Trends Project, the population of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, which dipped in 2008 and 2009 (the worst years of the recession), is rising again: "Current enforcement practices have not led to any measurable reduction beyond the 2009 period," he told the New York Times.

At the same time, those practices have caused havoc in the lives of immigrants. Deportations have separated families and, as a 2011 Human Rights Watch report documented, in some cases lead to Kafkaesque incarceration.

At the border, as security has tightened, migrants have tried ever-more dangerous crossings. In the last 10 years, more than 2,000 people have died of heat exposure on dangerous desert routes. In May, the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, noted that about five migrants died every four days in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

States, too, pursue inhumane (and counterproductive) immigration policies. In 2010 and 2011, according to one reckoning, only six states failed to pass some sort of anti-immigrant law, including five that adopted "copycat" legislation based on Arizona's infamous SB 1070 law. Such policies were supposed to restore law and order and push immigrants to self-deport. It hasn't worked that way.

Many of the provisions in the copycat legislation, for example, have been blocked or overturned by the courts as unconstitutional. And although there are solid data and anecdotal reports that show immigrants leaving states that institute anti-immigrant policies, or at least retreating further into the shadows, there is no evidence that they left the country. Besides, driving immigrants out or further underground hasn't proved to be a good thing.

In Alabama, for instance, where one of the most draconian anti-immigrant laws went into effect in 2011, the results were disastrous: Tomatoes were left unpicked in the fields, schoolchildren went truant, immigrants working in the state legally were harassed and some businesses had to recruit refugees and Puerto Ricans to fill jobs local residents wouldn't take. Commercial groups pressed for repeal and civil rights groups joined legal challenges to the laws. Many of those challenges succeeded this year. One Alabama economist estimated that the law would reduce the state's economy by more than $2 billion a year.

Even before the cautionary tale of Alabama played itself out, anti-immigrant fever appeared to have been breaking. In 2012, the number of states addressing or passing any sort of immigration legislation fell, according to National Conference of State Legislatures. This year, it rose again, but this time many states were passing bills and resolutions that were pro, not anti, immigrant.

California was among them. Gov. Jerry Brown signed nine immigrant-related bills in October, including one that limits cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, and another that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain special driver's licenses. "We're the state of opportunity," Brown said when he signed the driver's license bill, "and we are sending a message to Washington."

Americans can be of two minds when it comes to illegal immigration. The right brain sympathizes, but the left brain fixates on illegality. At the national level, negotiating a compromise between those poles has created "reform" that emphasizes punishment over integration and pours money into enforcement efforts.

But the pendulum is swinging. States and communities that are hostile to immigrants will not thrive; those that welcome them will, and that will shift the political equilibrium toward support for policies that integrate, attract and retain immigrants no matter their legal status.

The United States needs federal immigration reform — the states can only do so much. But it doesn't need national reform at any price. Rather than settle for the punitive, enforcement-first proposals on offer in Washington, let the grassroots grow. They can push Congress in a better direction.

Jagdish Bhagwati is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor of economics and law at Columbia University. Francisco Rivera-Batiz is an emeritus professor of economics and education at Teachers College of Columbia University.


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