I’m taking a chance that illegal immigration will not be a hot topic for the next month or so. Inevitably, it will return, fueled by something reliably outrageous: a loud protest, an ill considered local government policy, somewhere; or a violent crime. Or, it may flare up when a single mother is deported, leaving children behind; or, when a plant is raided by immigration officials, jeopardizing the jobs of the workers, legal immigrants and citizens included, along with the suspected violators.
I don’t know for a fact that any forging companies are employing illegal immigrants, but it’s a safe assumption, considering the demanding nature of many foring industry jobs, and the high cost of labor to keep companies competitive, that some managers somewhere would avail themselves of the most affordable workers they can locate.
Nor, am I accusing anyone of doing anything wrong; how could we know that with certainty in the muddled ethical landscape that has developed on this subject. It’s a plain fact that the federal government has casually avoided the demands of maintaining a coherent immigration policy, so why should individual employers be held to a higher standard of compliance.
And yet, it’s certain that the debate will be revived, and when it is the vested interests will revive their allegations of criminality, or cynicism, or bigotry, depending on their point of view. This, I think, is where the debate will go off track: it will center, as it has every time it’s come up in the past two years, on the goals of the debaters, not the question in debate.
This was the case with Senate immigration legislation that failed this past summer. That bill, backed by the Bush Administration, would have created a way for millions of illegal immigrants to obtain legal standing, and eventually apply for legal residency. It would have created a guest-worker program, too. It was probably an effective approach to resolving what are literally millions of individual problems, but it failed to address the institutional problems, meaning borders that are too easy to penetrate, an inadequate level of enforcement to contain the violations, and a bureaucracy that is not equipped or committed to resolve an out-of-control situation.
The bill’s opponents built their objections on the premise that it did not effectively address the domestic-security aspects of illegal immigration. It would have increased efforts at border security, but that plainly was not its focus; it did not provide nearly enough federal funding to support the efforts it proposed.
The latest turn seems to be a reaction to that bill’s defeat: the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security is implementing new rules by which (among other changes) employers who hire persons with questionable Social Security documentation (i.e., workers whose numbers don’t match their names) may face criminal sanctions.
Perhaps before it’s too late we’ll arrive at an approach that screens out the individual interests, and deals with the general interest. Proponents of freer immigration policy will have to accept that we cannot maintain a system so ridden with corruption and unaccountability. Opponents of immigration will have to accept that we cannot maintain a free society in a global economy without personal mobility and access to skilled workers.
Mostly, everyone will have to acknowledge that we are free country, but one where laws prevail, not agendas. Once we have set aside the agendas that shape immigration politics — cheap labor, electoral demographics — we can address the fact that this is a subject that supersedes personal gains.