Thursday, October 26, 2006


Last night, there was an interesting program on CNN about illegal immigration, 'Immigrant Nation'. The program mostly showcased how ludicrous the whole illegal immigration situation has become. Or at least that's what I got from it. No doubt that the problems are serious, but I think this is a typical instance of someone creating problems and then pondering how to solve them. America allowed illegal immigrants to come in, America encouraged them to stay by giving them jobs, and now America thinks they are a problem at a time when they have become indispensable to the economy. Interspersed with stories of illegal immigrants (who by the way, have no problem announcing with audacity that they are illegal) who are struggling to get their children across the border, was the story of a Georgia resident who is so outraged by all these immigrants around him that he has started a one man crusade against them. He wanders about and whenever he sees them loitering around (and there are many such places in Atlanta as I can certify), he asks them if they have proper documentation, then calls the police and INS officials to come pick them up, and then usually gets a nice rebuttal from them saying that they cannot do it. Their reasons are valid too; no space in jails, and higher priorities than patrolling streets for illegal immigrants. As one official said, apart from being illegal, these immigrants don't (usually) cause trouble and are helping the economy in considerable measure. So should the INS go after them, or spend time more fruitfully looking for terrorists who are trying to get in?

The whole thing is a sham, and certainly a slap on the face for many in the US administration. Even those who oppose illegal immigration have such people working for them, because there is no way Americans will work for such low wages. To the lone patriotic crusader, I say this; if you are so concerned about 'importing poverty' (something which I did not really understand by the way), then spend your time finding Americans who will work for 5$ an hour for the rest of their lives. It's a free market, and if you want to really change it, you will have to introduce working conditions and personnel who are competitive with the current going rate. And also, if you really want to get rid of them, be prepared to have your corporations suffer major setbacks because of loss of labour. It's all economics. The moral indignation of the Georgian also seems to be not universal; many business owners who were interviewed said they already knew that many of their employees were illegal, but said they did not care as long as they worked hard and cheap. That fellow Adam Smith was right.

I personally think that complicated as the issue is, the best possible 'solution' although certainly not the best one, is to make the border more secure at all and any costs. In any case, it has always been an urgent need to prevent drug smugglers and terrorists from getting in, a need whose solution has long and dangerously been defered. I know that the border stretches on for as far as the eye can see, but securing it and nipping the problem in the bud can be the only possible solution, not because it will be perfect, but because it will preempt many of the problems that can arise once illegal immigrants get in. One they do get in, many American humanitarian laws will encourage them to stay doggedly. As the head of border security for the US said for example, what do you do about the two small children of a illegal immigrant couple, who are US citizens? The allure for illegal immigration is evident. That's why I think that sealing the border to illegal immigration is possibly the only thing that can be done. As I write this, Bush has signed 700 miles of border fencing on the Mexican border, and Mexican premier Fox likening it to the Berlin Wall is silly to say the least. What to do with the people who are already in is a different and much more difficult question; a federal program that can tax them without making them legal residents may help to some extent. Otherwise, let them stay on. After all, in two or three generations, nobody would care if their grandparents were here illegally or not. Why else would one of them become the Attorney General of the US?

The other interesting thing is how this whole issue is not just about the US and illegal immigrants, but the univeral dilemma about the rift between the haves and have-nots. What better way to highlight this rift than to have two countries abutting each other, one the most affluent nation in the world, and the other close to a third world country. As long as the US is the US and Latin America is Latin America, illegal immigrants will keep on trying to get in at any cost. How do you stop the have-nots from aspiring to the haves? That's a question that goes much beyond Mexico and America and illegal immigration. And blog posts.


Blogger Vivek Gupta said...

Nice post. The other day a guest on Jay Leno on hearing that US is going to build a fence around their country remarked, " Who do you think is going to build it?" America needs these so-called illegal immigrants as much as they need america, if not more. By keeping the cost of labour low, they have helped keep american living standards high. Americans are living far beyond their means. Despite the war in Iraq, high oil prices, competitive threat from China and India, american economy keeps surging. In a delicious twist of irony, this is being made possible by the third-world. China supplies cheap goods and credit, Mexico supplies cheap labour and India supplies cheap brains. The richest country in the world is being kept afloat by the poorest.

9:52 AM  
Blogger SN said...

One interesting objection I have heard against building fences: The allure of USA is so great that people will try any means to get in. The fence does not deter them from making desperate attempts. What it does deter them from is going back. A lot of illegal immigrants are 'seasonal' immigrants - the are farmers or farm labourers who come over to make money doing odd jobs once harvest is done and before the next growing season starts. They come alone and go back. Once they fence is in place, they will still try to come in, but this time with families because they know they cant go back.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Vivek: True. America leads a precarious existence. At first glance, it is a leader in seemingly everything, just like it was in say 1955, but a deeper look quickly makes clear as you said, that the foundation for all this stewardship is the resources of other nations. So it's dominance is illusory.

SN: Yes, it's a valid objection. Actually, building the fence should be part of a much more general action of nipping the problem in the bud. Also, the fence needs to built for a very long time now because the border has been very vulnerable to terrorists.

1:41 PM  

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