Too Steep A Path

Yesterday I read the Senate Gang of Eight’s proposal on immigration reform. (Since when was Marco Rubio in this group, which first formed before he was elected to the Senate?) It promises a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for an undocumented worker presently in the United States. I suppose that in order to pass political muster from some very, very loudly-shouting people, the path must of necessity be “tough.” And it also apparently will need lots of ineffectual toys and par for the course in the Senate, the guys who agreed on the package yesterday can’t agree today on what they agreed on yesterday.

President Obama promises to announce his own preferred constellation of policies later today, which he says will be more liberal in nature, for instance by way of including provisions for same-sex bi-national couples. This does not seem calculated to appeal to Republicans for support should a reform proposal be sent to the House of Representatives, so I’m not entirely sure of the strategy here.

The proposal already gave rise to shouts of “Oh noes its amnesty!” from the usual suspects, some of whom will not be satisfied with anything short of issuing licenses to shoot illegal immigrants for sport. It hardly seems that demanding that a fine and back taxes be paid before getting to the back of the line constitutes amnesty. Indeed, I suspect that demanding this payment and submitting to a background check that creates a danger of deportation, before even beginning the process of getting a work permit and later citizenship, will deter a large number of undocumented people from stepping in to the process and incorporating themselves into the legal system.

We’re talking about people who very likely do not have a lot of money readily at hand — they’re working at low-wage jobs and probably not doing much better than living hand to mouth in most cases. They likely do not have a lot of knowledge about, much less trust in, the U.S.A.’s legal system. I’d be surprised if even one-tenth of the people purportedly covered by this program step forward to take advantage of it under these conditions.

And maybe that’s the political point. This can be called “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” but in fact it won’t be a whole lot of help to a whole lot of people. It would shift the blame to the individual workers here without documentation, for not stepping forward and taking advantage of a “path to citizenship” so steep effectively no one it aims at will be able to follow it. And then everyone in Congress can say, “Hey, we Did Something” and it isn’t their fault it didn’t work.

I suppose I should be happy that the reform proposal is more enlightened than “self-deportation,” although that isn’t saying much. Maybe if there could be payment plans set up for the fine and back taxes? Maybe if green card applications could be processed in a reasonably expedient fashion so the line wasn’t so long? The “tough but fair” path to citizenship looks like there’s a lot more emphasis on the “tough” part than the “fair” part to me — and as Will argues on our sub-blog, America’s policies should be tailored to meet America’s actual needs, and this looks more like something cobbled together to meld something less than half a loaf of actual reform along with heap of mollifying a variety of inchoate anxieties.

Of such raw materials good policies are at best only rarely made.

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13 thoughts on “Too Steep A Path

  1. It’s kind of hard to ask people to pay a penalty when they already feel like they’ve been putting monthly payments down on a different penalty.

    Incentive-wise, that usually doesn’t work. At all.

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  2. I agree that this is unlikely to be the most effective, or even the 5th-most-effective, plan. But I see little hope of getting anything better, and I think this is better than the status quo, so I’m willing to take it and have another bite at the apple later.

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      • Heh. Touche’.

        I don’t know that more laws will fix immigration problems anywhere near as much as getting rid of laws would do so (Ellis Island, baby!) but I do think that reconciliation to “amnesty” will do a lot better result-wise for not only Mexican immigrants but immigrants from all of the other countries in the world (who we *ALSO* want coming here in droves).

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        • Everything is Political.

          Politicians have seen the Hispanics as a voting block force now. It’s time to use them for their own ends.

          Will it end up doing anything? Probably not, the status quo still works for both sides of the isle. Too bad too, because REAL immigration reform would be good. You never see a dialogue about what types of folks america wants to receive. I’d say the folks we want to come to america are well educated folks, rich folks, folks with means and drive to start new companies, to do research, etc., regarless of race.

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          • I agree that we need people like that. Even if we don’t need them, we want them.

            We also need manual labor. Someone has to pick heads of lettuce. Someone has to clean up the office at night. There is demand for that kind of labor and employers have difficulty filling it.

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            • There is demand for that kind of labor and employers have difficulty filling it when they are offering crap wages and abusive treatment.

              Fixed that for you.

              Offer people better wages, and those jobs would get filled. Make sure those jobs had reasonable treatment (the number of people I’ve seen sneer and look down on fast food workers, janitorial staff, and other professions considered “menial”) and that the people were treated with respect, and more people would be likely to do it.

              The happiest janitorial staff I’ve ever met were at a hotel chain where I knew the night manager. It was also, uncoincidentally, one of the best maintained hotels with least amount of customer complaints about dirty rooms or other janitorial-type issues. The secret? The night manager knew his staff and treated them very well and more to the point, with dignity.

              The rudeness of society, the way the CEO level treats everyone lower than management level like dirt throughout the USA, that contributes to a whole host of problems.

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              • Low pay, no benefits, crappy working conditions? Fair points indeed!

                I suppose the proper attitude about whether better compensation would attract more workers from within the country is… we’ve never really tried it, at least not for a generation, so we don’t know if it would work or not, either in terms of attracting people to do the job or what effect it would have on the price to consumers.

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  3. A quick path to legal citizenship is the best way to stop illegal immigration. Because we hear a lot about “jobs Americans won’t do”, but you dig down and learn that the job Americans won’t do is spend ten hours in the sun, bending at the waist and twisting your wrists, with no water, no break, no hat, and no bathroom, getting paid ten bucks for each basket you fill with what the supervisor thinks is “good quality” produce.

    It’s not like there are millions of jobs in ag work. The “jobs” currently being done are not supposed to exist. If there weren’t illegal immigrants to do them, they’d be done by machines–and that’s exactly what will happen.

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  4. I simply find it delicious that the same bizarre people who are constantly trying to force creationism into schools are today talking about how their party position is (or needs to) “evolve” regarding immigration.

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