Sunday, October 12, 2014

Politics: Immigration

Even when I was living in Louisiana, a state that shares no borders with other countries, the problem of immigration was a hot topic. People are pouring over the borders of Mexico to escape that hellhole, and they're coming into our country to work longer hours and for less pay than any Americans are willing and legally able to work. All this while having their kids, who don't speak English, come to our schools that we pay for with our tax dollars, visit our charity hospitals, and just generally take advantage of all of the freedoms we've earned. Also, it's illegal, and the problem is that the government needs to just start enforcing the law.

Except, it's really not that simple at all. I think we will need to completely reevaluate our approach to immigration in this country. And, if we do, I think immigration can help to fuel the country's growth rather than drive it into the ground.

For years now I've been wondering why we don't start making the path to citizenship easier. Thanks to the History of Rome podcast, I have a nice historical basis for this idea. Early on, Rome was very insular: the patricians were the original citizens of the city, and the plebeians were the newcomers. As long as that class distinction was paramount, the city was unable to really grow. Once their differences were resolved, though, the city expanded, and soon their territory encompassed all of Italy.

Roman expansion was sort of the opposite of immigration: instead of having people enter their country, Rome itself expanded into the lands of other tribes. The peoples of these tribes were assimilated: they gave up their weapons, submitted to Roman law, and were integrated into the Roman machine. The people of the tribes were broken up and sent to different places so that they were forced to assimilate--the Romans knew that if these tribes stayed together, they would likely insulate themselves and potentially become a threat. Better to keep them separated until they were effectively Roman.

The problems occurred when this method fell apart. Rome started refusing immigrants generally, and when they accepted them due to one crisis or another they failed to follow through on their old tactics. The Goths, for instance, were allowed to enter Rome as an entire tribe, and they remained armed. They stayed together, were not assimilated, and in short did not become tax-paying Romans. As a result, when something happened politically that the Goths didn't like, they simply banded together and started raiding the Roman countrysides. This internal struggle, along with the failure to assimilate other barbarian tribes, led to internal instability that left Rome open to attack from the outside, from people like the Huns.

What I've taken from this is that it is a mistake to become insular, and by making it harder to assimilate immigrants we're actually hurting ourselves and our country. For instance, even today we have ghettos where, for social and economic reasons, minorities are effectively barred from even getting the chance to assimilate into our society. Instead, they're forced to effectively fend for themselves, creating an altogether different society within our borders. I don't think these ghettos become havens for gangs, drug dealers, and such because this is a natural inclination; these institutions appear because they are existing institutions taking advantage of a society that doesn't have as many defenses against such things.

If illegal immigrants became legal citizens, several things would happen:

First, they would no longer have to live in places where they can safely hide from Immigration Services. They could come out in the open and spread out, hopefully searching for better communities to live in where, in a generation, their families will be largely assimilated culturally and in language.

Second, this massive influx of taxpayers would suddenly be helping to pay for those services that so many people are offended that their "taking advantage of," such as hospitals and schools.

Also, as US Citizens they would be protected by all the same labor laws as everyone else, meaning they would be making more money, spending more, and generally helping the economy. This is a theory that is the antithesis of the trickle-down effect. Trickle-up, maybe? I'm not sure what it's called.

Regardless, such an effect would counter the concept of illegal immigrants taking jobs away from American citizens, and not just because these immigrants who had taken those jobs were now citizens. The job market is not a zero-sum game; the more people there are participating in the economy, the more jobs will open up to serve the needs of the growing market. So, demand-side economics.

Barack Obama planned to institute a system that would allow illegal immigrants to start the process of becoming citizens, but I haven't heard anything about it since, so I assume it's in legislation hell. The sad thing is that I'm willing to bet the reason it's being held up is not because there are legitimate arguments against such a system, but rather because Republicans know that if such a system is launched and the new citizens recognize Obama as the creator of the bill, then those new citizens will become lifelong Democrats. Especially when you consider how generally hostile Republicans have always been to illegal immigrants.

A final note about assimilation: I do think it is necessary for the growth of this country for it people to share a language and a culture.I don't think that immigrants coming to the United States should have to give up everything about their own cultures, though; rather, assimilation should be a two-way exchange. If we have a huge population of Mexican immigrants, then Mexican cultural holidays like Dia de los Muertos should enter into out culture as a whole. Though, Mexican national holidays, such as their Independence Day (September 16th) probably should not be assimilated.

Likewise, it would be helpful if everyone in the country could effectively communicate with each other. English as a language is a perfect example of assimilation, as its lexicon has evolved through the centuries to take words and meanings from other languages. I think it's important that immigrating families teach their children the language of their own people while also allowing them to learn the language that best allows them to communicate with their new countrymen. Likewise, I think it would be a great idea to start teaching children second languages as early as possible--in kindergarten, right alongside their growing English skills. That second language should probably depend on the cultural makeup of the area: a heavily Spanish-speaking area should focus on Spanish, while a culturally Chinese area should focus on Mandarin. In this way, the new immigrants can have a fluent teacher to help them if they're having trouble with English, they get to retain their cultural language, and the English-speaking kids have an early start on learning a new language during that crucial, developmental stage.

However, that all seems like pie-in-the-sky dreaming. The logistics for that last part alone kind of boggles the mind, but if these immigrants are paying taxes...

Anyway, Charlie4Prez2020. Vote for me, and let's figure this out together.

1 comment:

  1. Republicans are trying really, really hard to become more attractive to Hispanics because most analyses of the 2012 election showed that they underestimated this population in their strategy. The problem, as you've pointed out, is that Republicans as a party really emphasize the in-group/out-group rhetoric, while Democrats are generally more inclusive. So now Republicans have to reverse their positions on a lot of pretty objectively horrible immigration policies (See Romney's "self-deportation" plan for the recommended party line at the time) without simultaneously alienating the voters who subscribed to this in-group rhetoric in the first place. Sounds like rough going. Is there a reverse dog whistle available?

    Anyway, you seem to have a sensible perspective on this, but I'll pretty much just have to take your word for it that the economic argument pans out in the data.