Several weeks ago a former Florida governor, and potential 2016 presidential candidate, Jeb Bush whizzed throughout the media announcing his new book about immigration, “Immigration Wars. Forging an American Solution”, written together with Clint Bolick from the Goldwater Institute. At that time very few people had a chance to read the book, and a few days later, the book was forgotten. This is unfortunate, as it brings a fresh approach and as such deserves more attention. We all remember Mitt Romney telling illegal immigrants to return home and get back in line. I argued that there is no line to get into, but now it is official. In the book (page 24), a reputable politician and a respectful scholar confirmed, “there is no line in which most of those aspiring to become Americans can wait with any realistic hope of admission.” In their analysis they detail nonsenses of our “immigration regime that nearly everyone agrees is profoundly dysfunctional.” (Page 6)
Given such a sobering approach, a reader could be a little disappointed that after saying “a” authors refrained from spelling out many obvious conclusions.
Until the beginning of the 20th century immigration was mostly unfettered, but not all arriving intended to settle. The Immigration Commission report published in 1911 documents that for every three people coming to the U.S., one was returning home. Among those arriving, about 12% were in the U.S. prior. In other words, what we call the great immigration period, was in fact a huge migration of people in search of new opportunities. Those who liked it here and became prosperous were more likely to stay than those who did not. It was a natural selection, beneficial to both migrants and the U.S. national interests. Despite discussing broadly the importance of immigrants for our economy, authors stopped just before recognizing our need to restore this freedom of migration.
They acknowledged the nonsense of giving priority to so called family sponsored immigration visas, which now account for about two-thirds of all legal immigrants. They propose that only spouses and minor children should be allowed to get family immigration visas. This, without even increasing the quotas – which authors advocate doing as well – would allow for more work based visas, the ones we need the most. This sounds good so far. But, in the third category of immigration, called “regular” by the authors of the book, they propose that any citizen or permanent resident could sponsor an immigration visa for a foreigner. It has a shadow of our current immigration system, which – rightfully – the authors call dysfunctional.
If the authors consequently deduce from their own analysis of the shortcoming of our current immigration system, they would conclude that we need only one visa category: guest worker visa. As soon as a foreigner finds employment in the U.S., after checking for any criminal record, this person should receive a guest worker visa. This person should be able to travel back and forth to the country of origin, as the labor market might change. However a person working continuously for, let us say, five years, paying taxes and staying out of trouble, should earn the right to file for permanent residency, opening the venue to citizenship five years later. We do not need any special family sponsored visas either. If an American marries a foreigner, that foreigner should get a guest worker visa as well. No immigration visa is needed for two people being happy together. The immigration visa is needed if a foreigner wants to use our welfare system; this is exactly what we do not want. After five years, if the marriage is still there, or if a foreigner worked continuously, this person can apply for a green card.
If an American wants to bring a sibling, a cousin or a friend – he can do it by helping them to find a job here. Then, let that person try his or her luck, the same as everyone else. However, if an American wants to bring his elderly parents from abroad, it should be allowed only under one condition – that if they cannot work, their living and health care expenses should be the sole responsibility of their American son or daughter, not that of the U.S. government. If they would not work, they would never be able to become permanent residents and eventually citizens.
Similarly, refugees and asylum seekers should receive work visa as well and work their way up as everybody else. After five years they could apply for a green card.
The authors did not go as far. They failed to draw logical conclusion from the information they gathered. In their defense, they could have felt constrained by the simple fact that most Americans might be not capable of comprehending a message going too far from what circulates in media now. It becomes more obvious when the authors quote opinion polls indicating that the public supports some of their views. If the majority of Americans had correct views on immigration, our legislators would act upon them, and we would have at least halfway decent immigration policy. Then, there would be no need for immigration reform, neither a need for writing a book by Messrs. Bush and Bolick. We have such big immigration havoc only because the public is grossly misinformed, and has expectations that never can be fulfilled.
The authors’ fear of telling Americans boldly that most of them are wrong on their views about immigration becomes obvious when Messrs. Bush and Bolick avoid saying how many more guest workers visas we need. They list all the right reasons for more foreign workers, they even bring up that many countries, such as Canada, have a much higher foreign born percentage of their total population. But they stop there. They fall short of saying that in Canada, which has economy similar to ours, according to 2006 census, 19.8% of population is foreign born. In the U.S., according to 2010 census it is 12.9%, including illegal immigrants. That 7% difference amounts to about 20 million of workers and consumers that our economy needs. The authors know that asking for 20 million new immigrants would trigger vicious opposition. If you cannot stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.
The authors make a compelling case arguing that our current immigration law is so entangled that we should not even be trying to fix it, we just should replace it. Similarly, the authors recognize that the massive illegal border crossing is not a source of our immigration mess but it is the result of the faults of our immigration policy. Who implemented and supported this failed policy? American policymakers, supported by most of the electorate. Who should be penalized for the mess this policy invoked? According to the authors, illegal immigrants, who in pursuit of bettering their life were trapped in absurdities of our politics. The authors acknowledge that there is no way for people to immigrate here legally; they acknowledge that America benefits from work of people who came here illegally. At this same time, they want punish people who circumvented our dysfunctional system, and by their toil and sweat enriched America anyway. If people who are actually accountable for making our immigration system dysfunctional would take responsibility for the problems they caused, then our current immigration law should be revoked, and – at least on moral grounds – we owe an apology to people jammed in our system due to our own mistakes. The authors brought up enough data for reaching this conclusion, but a reader will not find it in their book.
With more immigrants, there is a valid concern about their assimilation. The authors rightfully bring up that most people coming here are Americans in spirit, as they are attracted to our freedoms. I was struck by the caution the authors took in supporting the so called “full immersion” approach, which means putting children of foreigners living here through intense English classes, so they could be immersed into English only schooling. The authors are wrong when they write that the “jury is still out” on this approach. Jeb Bush has immigrants in his family, and I am sure that he could bring many instances to prove that a non-English speaking kid can be brought up to full English proficiency within one semester. There is no way for any child to be successful in any country without knowing the language. All the bilingual teaching has nothing to do with the best interest of the child, or the country, but it serves well the teachers unions in getting more work for their members. It is sad that a reader will not find such bold statements in the book. If immigrant parents want their children to speak languages of their ancestors, they should pay for it. In this aspect, I find it noble that Jeb Bush wishes that his multiethnic granddaughter would speak at least three languages.
In the book, on many occasions the authors stopped almost mid-sentence from saying that the whole debate about immigration is not about immigration at all. The authors failed to spell out that in the global economy, if we do not let foreign workers to come and work along us our jobs will go abroad, and Americans will be left mostly with jobs that cannot be outsourced; at McDonald’s, Denny’s, and Wal-Mart. Americans have passed on immigration laws that are in clear conflict with the rules of the free market, which at least formally we still want to have. These laws are against the basic economic interests of the all parties concerned. It is no wonder Americans have not enforced these laws methodically.
The authors failed to recognize that our current immigration laws in their essence are designed to protect Americans from competition of foreign labor. The authors failed to call it as it is: the nationalization of the always pivotal part of our labor market, the labor of foreigners. The full government control of the immigration is against the basic American concepts of freedom of enterprise. It is an approach from the arsenal of people such as the late Hugo Chavez; it is a pure socialistic concept. So far socialism did not work anywhere else before, and it does not work in the U.S. either. In order to fully enforce our immigration laws we would need a Soviet style totalitarian system; after all Soviets were able to secure their borders. We do not enforce our current immigration laws just because we still do not have a Soviet style totalitarian system.
None of these thoughts could be found in the book. The authors failed to put a dot above the “i” and say that debate about immigration is not about immigration at all. It is a debate about what kind of country we want to have. Do we want to return to the ideas of freedoms of enterprise that built the wealth of the country in the first place? Or, do we want to have more what we have experienced recently; a centrally managed system that focuses on the equal distribution of what we have among those who are already here? Messrs. Bush and Bolick are not the first and not the last avoiding addressing this question. It is not enough for this question to go away.