Friday, May 27, 2005

The U.S. Needs More Legal Immigration, Not Less

Last year, 300 people are known to have died while illegally crossing from Mexico into the United States. Two hundred of those deaths occurred in the Arizona desert, and it is likely that many more died and were never found. The estimates of the number of people living illegally in the United States are between 10 and 20 million, and about a million additional illegal immigrants are believed to arrive each year. More than half of them are believed to enter by crossing the border between Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora.

Almost all of the illegal entrants are attracted by jobs. A large percentage of the jobs that the U.S. economy creates each year are unskilled and were once filled by high school dropouts. Despite worries about low educational standards in the United States, the number of people born in the United States who finish high school is now over 90 percent, and one-third of the adult population as at least some advanced education. There are no longer enough native-born Americans who are suited to fill the large number of unskilled jobs that the U.S. economy creates, so those workers must be found abroad.

As we should have learned from the history of prohibition in the United States, wherever there is a pressing demand for a product or a service, an organization will spring up to fill it. That has been the case with alcohol, drugs, and entry-level workers. Many U.S. industries such as food processing, agriculture, fast-food restaurants, hotels, and construction rely on inexpensive, low-skilled labor, and because the legal U.S. economy is unable to meet that demand, an illegal industry has evolved to fill it.

The illegal smuggling of human beings into the United States, mainly from Mexico, has given rise to vicious criminal gangs, just as prohibition and anti-drug laws have done. Rival gangs of smugglers of human beings sometimes conduct gun battles in the cities and on the highways of Arizona. Those victims of the smugglers who are unable to pay for their passage are held prisoner until their families come up with the money, or failing this, they may be executed with a shot to the head. The human suffering that is involved in meeting an economic demand in the United States is both unimaginable and immoral.

Illegal immigrant smuggling is also a huge security flaw. Any terrorist who wants to enter the U.S. without leaving a trace can do so by paying a human trafficker a few thousand dollars. Probably some already have. No matter how many Border Patrol agents are deployed along the U.S.-Mexican border, there will never be enough of them to seal the border and prevent the entry of terrorists as long as U.S. immigration law encourages human trafficking.

Current U.S. immigration law arbitrarily fixes the number of immigrants who are admitted to the United States each year with no regard to the number of immigrants that the country requires. A rational policy would attempt to fill by legal means the economic requirements for foreign workers, by admitting temporary workers, immigrants, or both. A bill before Congress that is sponsored by Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy and Arizona senator John McCain would attempt to do just that. It would establish a program to allow temporary guest workers sponsored by an employer to enter the country legally and would establish a process for some of those foreign workers to become residents and begin the path toward citizenship.

Such a change in immigration law would have benefits for the U.S. economy, for border security, would result in a reduction of violent criminal activity in the Border States, particularly in Arizona. It would allow a large part of the law-enforcement resources currently deployed along the border to be redirected towards fighting the genuine bad guys instead being used to hunt down people whose worst crime is that they are looking for a job.

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