An Immigration Ramble
So, I hear there’s a hullabaloo this week about the possible criminalization of “illegal” immigrants – an issue of some concern in Hou-town. The first shocker in this situation was that it ISN’T a crime to be in this country illegally. Apparently, it’s just a civil offense and those helpful folks in Washington DC are trying to make it a felony. Of course, fairness requires that some of those helpful folks are comparing their compatriots to people who would arrest Jesus or some such. Because there is never just mild difference of opinion in Washinton – everything has apocalyptic significance if the other side prevails. In Houston, of course, Mayor Bob still makes most of the decisions and just tells his proxy what to do and mostly, we all just kind of get along while roundly griping about things. For example, I know folks who complain about Mexican illegals and also think nothing of hiring them to do yard work.
But I digress. I do have a key point to make, one we can hopefully all agree on. That is, the system is broken now. A system of laws that are routinely broken is not a good thing. People risking their lives to cross the border is not a good thing. People refusing to assimilate is not a good thing. Racism is not a good thing.
A year or so ago, while innocently stopped in a traffic jam on I-45, a car ran into me at fairly high speed causing a good bit of crumpled metal. The driver was not legally in this country and the HPD officer didn’t bother to even cite him saying there was no point…he was virtually untraceable and it was less likely that a Republican Congress would arrest Jesus than my accidental acquaintance would show up in court. Instead, the officer merely noted in the accident report that the other driver was at fault, gave me an incident number and waved at the other driver as his car was towed off.I’m sure my fellow residents of Houston can cite hundreds, if not thousands, of similar events.
We live in a nation of laws. We treasure due process and the system of dispute resolution that depends upon the citizen to participate and to accede to the result even when not favorable. And yet, we have created, through our immigration “problem” an underclass of outlaws who are essentially exempt from the rules. Sometimes this is in their favor because they can avoid elements of the system that would punish regular citizens or they can receive benefits that they have not paid for. Sometimes it is very much not in their favor because they live life on the margin, often in terrible conditions and in bad jobs. I imagine that the more we all learn about the conditions of life for the illegal immigrant, the more depressed we would become.
So, something needs to be done. And whatever is done must restore a sense of law and equity to the situation. I haven’t liked many of the proposals I’ve read. I don’t like the idea of an underclass operating under different rules. I certainly don’t like paying taxes to provide services to people who are not legally here. I didn’t much like it when my insurance had to pay for someone else’s bad driving.
If people do not obey the law, we have a far more serious problem than illegal aliens. We have the unravelling of the system. From time to time, force is required to get the law obeyed. From time to time, the law needs reform. I think in this case, both are true. I don’t have a problem with opening the border to any Mexican citizen who wishes to visit and work here. I do have a problem with not doing it in an orderly way.
More importantly, I want the system reformed so the true cost of hiring a foreigner to do the job is borne by the employer and the foreigner and not by the other citizenry. I’ve heard it argued that an illegal alien takes work an American citizen won’t take. I think this is false. Illegal aliens take work American citizens won’t take – AT THAT WAGE. If an American would do the job for $25/hour and an employer can get another person to do the same job for $10/hour, I don’t have trouble understanding the incentive to the employer to hire the illegal alien. But I do think that buries a heckuva lot of other costs into the pockets of the citizenry that the American employee would cover at the higher wage. For example, the rest of us foot the bill for medical care, schooling and insurance premium increases due to uninsured motorists. Those costs – the $15 in my example – are paid for by others.
In Houston, and in Texas, where property taxes only tax people who own houses, I pay about $8k a year in school property taxes for schools that teach a large number of children whose parents pay nothing. If the illegal immigrant had to pay their fair share of the cost to put their children in seats at the school, they could not afford to do a job for $10/hour – they would need to earn a salary more akin to what an American citizen would require to accept in order to keep up with their obligations.
I’m not an economist (obviously). But I think one of the answers to this whole equation is not allowing an underclass to underearn in jobs that should be paying more. And if they did pay enough to allow the citizen to pay their taxes and meet their obligations, I suspect you would see people competing for those jobs that the President doesn’t think want those jobs.
This is not to say that I don’t have respect for the self-sacrifice it takes to cross a border, work hard and send a lot of money home while living in poverty here. It is to say that by allowing employers to pay wages below what the real cost of the labor is to society, we help create the situation that encourages the illegal alien to come here in the first place.
Does any of that make sense?