Do you have an opinion on immigration?—Stephen Barnard, Oxnard, California
We do and, since you asked us this question at a conference, we happen to know you do too, rooted in your livelihood as the owner of several avocado farms.
“People are making this issue insanely complicated and political,” you told us. “It is economic. All immigrants are here for is work. If we don’t find a simple and fair way to keep them in this country, it will kill thousands of businesses.”
We are with you. Government estimates say there are between 10 million and 15 million illegal immigrants in the US. Even if only six million—or close to half the estimated number—of these individuals hold jobs, losing them would erode the viability of the countless industries that rely on them to fill the least attractive occupations.
Just as onerous, current immigration policy also kicks out too many foreigners with green cards after they finish their education in the US. Over the past several years, we have met many of these students, and the irony is that most of them hunger to put their science and technology backgrounds to work in the US.
Some want to start companies here or work at one of the country’s hi-tech companies—from 20-person start-ups in Silicon Valley to Microsoft Corp., outside of Seattle. In other words, our economy desperately needs these entrepreneurs, just as it needs day labourers, to stay competitive.
But we would go further.
Immigration is not just an economic issue. It is a managerial one, and any plan that suggests that the US deport illegal workers violates one of management’s cardinal rules: You have to face reality. Forget the notion that illegal immigrants will suddenly heed “the law of the land” and pack their bags.
With the better life the US provides, that ain’t happening. Which leaves deportation and—come on—there is no possible way the US can send millions of people back where they came from. We can’t even figure out a way to renew drivers’ licences at the local DMV without making people feel homicidal. Maybe that’s hyperbole, but our point is that the government has a hard time managing logistics now. Add a surge in activity—a massive, resistant surge—and the system will blow out.
People have to face reality too when it comes to laying blame and taking responsibility for the immigration problem.
Yes, many immigrants broke the law entering the country. But our borders were obviously not secure enough. So let us just say the accountability for the problem can be shared and move on to solutions. Everyone agrees we need to stop the inflow of immigrants with better border control, from walls to high technology. There is no argument that we also try to expel all convicted felons. Both should be top priority items.
Next, the government needs to design a process that moves law-abiding illegal immigrants out of the shadows. Now, we don’t know the precise details of such a process. Should illegal immigrants pay a $5,000 fine (around Rs2 lakh) or a $25,000 one? Should they wait three years before they become citizens, or seven? The answers almost don’t matter in the long run, as long as, in the immediate term and thereafter, immigrants are registered in some form or another and are paying taxes.
Imagine the freedom of movement such a change will unleash in the millions of people who have been living in fear, and how much easier it will make the widespread teaching of English, the shared language that makes the fullest expression of American citizenship possible.
Now, we don’t intend to oversimplify the immigration controversy. This is not a quick-fix problem, nor is it a new one.
Not long ago, we attended a lecture by Sol Gittleman, a Tufts University professor and one of the world’s leading experts on US immigration history. In 90 minutes, he told a narrative that would make most Americans cringe with shame. He detailed how every immigrant group that has come to this country since 1620 has tried ardently, and sometimes even violently, to stop the next wave. Indeed, according to Gittleman, bitter, class-based opposition to immigration, even when fully legal, is as much a part of American culture as its pride in being the world’s “melting pot”. No wonder immigration is stirring up such a political maelstrom right now.
And yet, like you, we believe the storm can be quelled.
Not with lofty rhetoric about principle but with pragmatic managerial action. Millions of immigrants, at both ends of the economic spectrum, keep our country running and sending them away makes no sense. It’s time to face reality, and fix it.
©2008/by NYT syndicate
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