Richter Scale

Fixing Immigration: If Not Now, When?

Will the United States ever get around to fixing its immigration system?

Will the United States ever get around to fixing its immigration system?

Takeaways


  • The prospects for progress on this vital issue are not made any rosier by the fact that meaningful immigration reform is usually considered a "second-term issue."
  • The populist impulse is to "deport all the illegals" in order to get "all Americans employed again." Such false thinking also reared its ugly head in Germany in the 1980s.

Amidst the current economic pessimism in the United States, it seems extravagant at best, and completely illusory at worst, to discuss the matter of U.S. immigration with a view toward resolving it constructively.

The two parties are just too divided and keen to play “gotcha games.” The prospects for progress on this vital issue are not made any rosier by the fact that meaningful immigration reform is usually considered a “second-term issue.”

That piece of Washington political wisdom foreshadows that it is only tackled by a president who has built up political capital and is willing to use it in the interest of the country, without having to worry about reelection concerns.

Given the fact that the outcome of the 2012 U.S. presidential election looks increasingly uncertain, that political rule of thumb could be catastrophic news for anybody seriously interested in immigration reform.

If Barack Obama turns into a one-term president (and he has even allowed himself to muse aloud about whether that’s so bad), then it wouldn’t be until the year 2017 that another president would enter his or her second term and be prepared to tackle immigration.

The political calculus entailed in shying away from the issue becomes even clearer when one considers that the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States, at around 11 million, is perilously close to the 13.9 million unemployed.

Under those circumstances, the populist impulse is to “deport all the illegals” in order to get “all Americans employed again.”

Such simple, and false, math also reared its ugly head in Germany in the 1980s, during a prolonged structural unemployment crisis there. In that particular case, it was the number of Turks and the number of unemployed in the country that were identical, at around three million.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of the few U.S. politicians who has the brains and the brawn (read: courage) to take on the issue. He understands that wishing the issue away is no solution for anybody concerned.

And he is correct, of course, when he says that there are next to no indications that native-born workers would be taking the jobs now done by undocumented workers, even if one assumed for a moment that they would all be deported — so that it’s, thankfully, no more than a pure thought experiment, although a somber one at that.

Quite to the contrary, Mr. Bloomberg argues that the United States actually doesn’t have enough foreign workers in the country. Pointing to small towns across the country that are slowly shrinking, he argues that only those towns that manage to replace their outflow of young white workers with de facto immigrants will resuscitate their economic fortunes.

Go tell that to members of Congress — and one is, sadly, bound to encounter nothing but disbelief. And yet, it is true that the United States, by comparison, is underpopulated and that any sustained economic growth probably depends, first and foremost, on a larger population size to increase demand.

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About Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter, from Berlin, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist. [Berlin/Germany]

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