The economy needs more workers than can come here legally, so they have been arriving illegally. The most logical solution would be to adjust the number of available workers’ visas as soon as the problem started showing up. This way we would have much greater control over who is coming and living among us.
This most obvious solution is not favored by most Americans and has not been implemented because our fervent debate about immigration (or illegal immigration in particular) actually it is not about immigration at all.
“What part of illegal you do not understand?” the opponents of amnesty ask rhetorically. Most Americans do exactly as Romney and Tancredo did; when it comes to having their grass cut or their basement remodeled, they enjoy the price and do not inquire about the legal status of the workers.
Americans have passed on immigration laws that are in clear conflict with the rules of the free market and are against the basic economic interests of the all parties concerned. No wonder, Americans have not enforced these laws methodically. Americans are the only ones responsible for illegal immigration and all the mess it has caused. However, Americans blame illegal immigrants, Mexico, globalization, politicians, and the greed of big corporations — but not themselves.
U.S. immigration policy is a big fiasco. Voices for the meticulous enforcement of the current immigration laws ask to repeat what has failed so far, but to do so with greater determination. The most logical way out is to repeal current immigration laws. It will never happen, as overconfident Americans are too proud to acknowledge their own fault. It is not about resolving immigration issue anymore. It is about Americans’ false pride.
Until 1924, entrepreneurial Americans, in their pursuing of happiness, enjoyed the freedom of hiring whomever they pleased, regardless if that person came from across the street or across the ocean. Some Americans believe that they still should have the freedom to hire whomever they want; other believe that their freedom to pursue happiness should empower the government to protect them from others that are eager to work harder for less. This is their real bone of contention when they talk about immigration.
Liberties given to individuals unleashed the energy of entrepreneurs, which — as a result — created vast wealth of this country. By the nature of its creation, this wealth has not been distributed evenly; not all people pursuing happiness have been able to achieve it. Out of compassion, we created a gigantic welfare system assisting the least fortunate and many others along. The government was put in charge of securing happiness for every American. Unfortunately, for many Americans, this welfare state is what they perceive as one of the core American values.
The burden that illegal immigrants bring to government-distributed goods and services is a hot topic in the immigration debate. America was created on the concept that individuals should have the freedom to explore opportunities. It ended up that many individuals are standing in lines to receive government’s giveaways. Instead of turning their energy to fight forces of nature, and enriching themselves by work, they turn their energy into fighting each other in order to enrich themselves by getting more without work. Immigrants are perceived as competing for limited government distributed resources. Obviously, immigrants, legal or illegal, are not the real problem. The expectation that the government should dispense so much is.
Thanks to the free market system, the capitalists accumulated a huge wealth, and consequently, this nation can effort to support many individuals that take more than they provide to the society. However, the wealth of our country, though enormous, is not unlimited. Therefore, thinking of political solutions, we first need to preserve the political mechanisms that made this country rich. This is the leading thought behind some attempts to reform the immigration system. However, it clashes with the populist concept that corporate greed needs to be curbed; with an assumption that riches are given and their resources are unlimited, as well as the possibilities to milk them. This is the real agenda of many disagreements on the immigration issue.
All Americans talk proudly about freedoms in general, but in their practical decisions many are eager to trade liberties for government-provided security. Others are not afraid of taking on responsibilities and follow the famous Reagan mantra: “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” At least on immigration, most Americans believe otherwise. In this aspect, the immigration debate is not about immigration but about how deeply the government should put its fingers into micromanaging the economy in general, and the labor market in particular.
About a hundred years ago, as long as it was do-able, most goods and services were produced and consumed locally. Today, “local” means anywhere on the Earth. Some see it as a great opportunity for America in leveraging its existing infrastructure. Others fear that the coziness and relative comfort that Americans enjoy would disappear with our opening up to the miseries of the outside world. Is it better for America to open up to global economy, or is it better to build legal and physical barriers isolating America from the wretchedness of the world? This is the real dilemma behind many disagreements in the immigration debate.
The immigration debate is about America defining itself at the beginning of the 21st century. What does it mean to be an American here and now? What do the fundamental concepts of individuals’ freedom that led to the original rise of America mean to us today, and do we care?
A version of this text was published by Huffington Post