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?

7 Comments so far

  1. Jake Jacobsen (unregistered) on March 26th, 2006 @ 2:00 am

    Yes, yes it does.

    My only comment would be this, one man’s poverty is another man’s wealth. A daily wage in the third world is about $1.88 an hour, I think.

    So that $10 an hour you posit looks pretty sweet until somebody tries to live here on that with five kids.

    Good post!

  2. shawn (unregistered) on March 26th, 2006 @ 9:01 am

    What’s really maddening is that by enforcing this second class citizenship of quasi-illegal aliens, we’re telling them that the best they can hope for is nothing even close to the best of what we would want for ourselves. In other words we know that illegal aliens won’t make more than $10/hour, and we use that as a glass ceiling.

  3. adrian gonzales (unregistered) on March 27th, 2006 @ 11:07 am

    While thoroughly disagreeing on several points there, I do understand what you’re trying to say and I agree.

    Immigrants should pay taxes where applicable and should be bound by the laws of the land. Yes, the way to answer that is to make them legal here in America. Make it easier to be in this country legally and you will have most of this “problem” fixed.

    What the officer said in your accident situation is probably true. But it’s not so much about getting away from it because of untraceability. It’s about fear. Fear that if they show up, they’ll be taken in and deported. So, “Mexican” immigrants are not a criminal sub-class, they’re just scared, trying to work in a country that is working against them.

    Now as far as supporting the economy and paying for the services they use, I think you’re wrong. Illegal immigrants pay just as much sales tax as you do. There’s no dodging that. They (mostly) don’t go to hospitals. And they don’t use welfare/public services. Most people don’t understand that. There’s no way to get on welfare without being properly documented, fingerprinted, iris scanned, background checked… everything.

    Re: your property tax argument. What do you say about other neighborhoods where the citizens are legal but ownership is low? Are they a castoff burden on the system? What should we do about them?

    I will let you go on the non-assimilation statement.

    What this proposed law is doing is making it a felony to be in the country illegally. So, instead of finding illegals and deporting them, we’ll keep them here in America, in prison. And you get to pay for every area of their life. Even if they don’t keep them in prison, do you know how much tax you’ll pay to create the new systems that will handle these felony charges?

    So in summary:
    Do something? Yes. Do this? No.

  4. shawn (unregistered) on March 27th, 2006 @ 12:00 pm

    Wow, Adrian, awesome insights. Thanks!

  5. Jen (unregistered) on March 27th, 2006 @ 5:21 pm

    I agree – great response Adrian. I think it’s good to have more than one perspective posted on this.


  6. sarah (unregistered) on March 28th, 2006 @ 6:08 pm

    Re: your property tax argument. What do you say about other neighborhoods where the citizens are legal but ownership is low? Are they a castoff burden on the system? What should we do about them?

    I certainly don’t see a difference between a non-property owning citizen and an illegal immigrant not paying the taxes that fund the schools. If anyone who doesn’t own property isn’t required to pay this particular tax, we can’t really hold it against someone who is also not paying this tax simply because they’re not from here.

    As a homeowner who doesn’t have any kids, I do think it’s a bit strange that part of my money goes to fund schools I’ve never received any services from, but I understand the need and am all for kids having access to the best education they possibly can.

  7. Eric Scalf (unregistered) on March 31st, 2006 @ 3:43 am

    …Let’s take a look at this, here..
    They want to make it a felony to be in the country illegally, most probably because of the whole job issue, yeah?

    Why not make it a freaking felony to hire an illegal immigrant? What is it now? I don’t even think it’s a misdemeanor. I think it’s civil. There’s a lot of idiocy, here.

    Yes, I think that there is a major problem with people crossing the border, illegaly, and I’m a big supporter of the “build a wall” idea (figuratively speaking). But aside from the problem of people coming to the country in droves (and it ain’t just from Mexico, folks.. people come here from Canada all the time, too. A lot of illegal immigrants from other countries will go to Canada and then cross into here)… Aside from that problem, there’s the fact that employers still hire them. Here’s my three step plan:

    1) Surprise inspections of any employer, at any time, by INS. By surprise, I mean much the way TABC does a raid on a bar. Show up with a couple of cops in tow, and check the ID/green card of everyone there.

    2) If illegals are found, issue an arrest warrant for the owner of the business, and/or (if a corporation, etc) the person in charge of hiring. Charge them with a FELONY (make the law, first, heh), requiring a fine and jail time. Then, fine the company, and every individual who knew the illegals were illegal, and still allowed them to work, down to third level of management (i.e. Top dog, district manager, store manager). We’re not talking $500 fines. We’re talking a few thousand, first offense.

    3) Arrest and deport the illegal worker, immediately.

    (For repeated offenses, the jail terms and fines go up. After a certain number of offenses, shut down the company (revoke their licenses).

    Think that wouldn’t cut down on illegal workers?

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