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U.S. Immigration Reform: It’s Cheaper to Keep Her

When it comes to immigration reform, why has the U.S. Congress decided to stay with the status quo?

July 5, 2007

When it comes to immigration reform, why has the U.S. Congress decided to stay with the status quo?

Nobody denies that this couple — the U.S. legal system and immigrants — is living a lie. Beneath the veneer of propriety, neither party is faithful to its vows. There is a lot of slipping and sliding going on, and the whole neighborhood knows.

But there are the kids to consider — thousands of businesses that depend on migrant labor, millions of poor people in countries where the governments might well capsize if remittances dried up.

And there are the in-laws — those prissy moralists who seem to have nothing better to do than to wag their fingers at the ill-matched couple. Try to please them all, and things might very well get a lot worse.

Given the recent failure of the immigration bill in the U.S. Congress, the United States will have an unchanged immigration law for a few more years. Unskilled people — the very ones who stand to gain most from migrating — will continue to find the door all but closed, unless they have family already in the United States.

Millions of migrants will continue to live in fear. The communities in which they work, pay sales taxes and keep businesses alive, will continue to survive just outside the margin of acceptability. Their home is a social and legal shantytown on the fringe of U.S. society.

Divorce counselors emphasize that children must be protected from angry fights between parents. Ministers and psychologists repeat that everyone is better off if an acceptable compromise can be achieved.

But that is not going to happen in the immigration conflict looming in the United States. The great danger is that any agreement that would be reached in the U.S. Congress would end up far more disruptive to the U.S. economy and far more vindictive towards immigrants than just a continuation of the status quo.

In fact, within the status quo, it is hard to find significant economic problems that can be attributed to immigration.

With the unemployment rate below 5% and experts not even sure that immigration has any depressing effect on wages of native-born Americans, to say nothing of a substantial effect, the economy is doing just fine with immigration.

Far from being economically under attack, the small towns of Iowa and North Carolina that in the last few years have begun to struggle with the social consequences of immigration are being economically revitalized — or rather, their decline has been slowed — as a result of the influx of migrants.

And the social tensions that result in calls for new border walls and deportations? Perhaps their psychological roots are better left in the shadows. It hardly is the United States’ finest moment when public opinion cries to drive out people because they are different.

It seems that the only thing all participants can agree on is that this status quo is unacceptable. Yet, what the United States has now is not as bad as the anti-immigration alternatives that seem to gather the greatest popular support. Today’s immigration policy is the worst — except for all the others.