Monday, July 9, 2018

DACA, Immigration, and the US Labor Force

"Just as we respect your borders and your sovereignty, we insist that you respect ours," was a recent statement by the current Vice President of the United States.  That is interesting and almost comical because the United States has clearly intervened in Latin America many times during the past century.  I assume the Vice President has some notion of that.  Still, I understand that the current political discourse is to blame US problems on undocumented immigration.  I am sure there are very few people that believe that US borders should not be respected.  All countries have the right to have their boundaries protected.  The discourse on the issue, however, has to be well informed and put into context.

Unfortunately, the issue goes a lot deeper than politicians would like the US population to believe.  They talk about "wait your turn in line," and about the evil nature of Mexican and other Latin American immigrants.  The facts are different and they have deep historical roots.

The usual "wait your turn in line" argument is misinformed as there is practically no line to speak of.  Close relatives of US Citizens can usually get a "green card" within 10 years of applying.  Also, highly skilled individuals with advanced degrees and/or scarce skills can be certified by the department of labor and be admitted to the US.  Regular laborers have a very remote opportunity to immigrate legally.  For them there is basically no line and that is the key problem because these are the most numerous segment of people wishing to immigrate to the US.

It is the farm workers, construction workers, service workers, and other laborers that are needed in the US now.  So, rational immigration reform that allows for these needed workers to come to the US with documentation, do their work, and then return home should be the kernel of the discussion.

Mexicans in particular, and other Latin Americans have deep roots in the United States.  About half of the US used to belong to Mexico in the 19th century.  So, for many, the border left them behind.  That accounts for the deep connections between people on both sides of the border.

Further, over the past 40 or 50 years, the lack of labor availability in the US led many employers to encourage workers from Mexico and other countries to fill the void.  The availability of work has been the main lure.  This is particularly true because even these mostly undocumented immigrants get paid better in the US than in their country or origin.  Still those wages are low but have afforded them a better life and the opportunity to send money to their relatives to improve their lifestyles.  These are not evil people but mostly people who have escaped deep poverty.  Now they have been vilified and humiliated when the reason for their coming to the US is the opportunity the US has provided them.

There have been many attempts at remediating the immigration system.  Generally these have been poorly orchestrated and failing efforts.  The Obama administration was one of the most aggressive in deporting undocumented workers but they did it silently.  That administration installed DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) which gave two years of renewable or not renewable permission to those who were brought to the US as children.  At face value DACA seemed like a good measure for immigrants, but upon analysis it was a smart maneuver to get these people to come forward and be accounted for, and also identified and tracked.  It was a beneficial move for the US and provided some hope to those who were brought here as children.  That is now in jeopardy and the mood of anti-immigration is growing.

Few politicians and news people bother to point out that net immigration from Mexico has been below zero for the past several years.  Still, the vilification of immigrants continues.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics states "As a result of declining fertility rates and decreasing international migration, the population of the United States is growing more slowly than in previous decades and is also getting older." (reference)

It is tragic and difficult to understand that US politicians are spending so much time demeaning immigrants that are needed for the prosperity of the country.  The US should be rushing to establish a rational and well designed immigration systems that benefits the US and those who are willing to work hard here.

Undocumented (so called illegal) immigrants have provided Americans with housing, food, services, and other types of labor that have benefited everyone.  Why not do it with a system that recognizes the value of these workers to the economy and encourages legal immigration?