Large questions whose answers would guide immigration reform are left unanswered, I think. Below are four.
First: The Republican Party, and many Republican elected officials, seem terrified that any immigrants, legal, but especially illegal immigrants, would automatically swell the ranks of the Democratic Party, perhaps ushering a permanent Democratic majority at the national level. If this is correct, it’s difficult to understand why the Republicans have hardly even begun discussions of the possibility of legal US residency with not link to citizenship (and thus to voting). The European Union has done this for thirty years or more and it’s not one of its problems.
Two: Republicans in general are shy to discuss the obvious burden influxes of immigrants (legal or illegal) from across the border impose on local services, and especially on schools. They seem to be entirely too fearful of incurring contrived accusations of racism. Yet, even solidly Democratic voters are affected. In my area of California, it’s probable that about 40% of the population is composed of immigrants from Mexico, their children and their grandchildren. In some elementary classes, half the students are children who speak no or little English. It’s obvious that teaching how to read and write, or teaching anything, to such classes is problematic. I would guess that all the children are held back by this situation, the non-English speakers as well as the English speakers. Pointing this out constitutes common sense, not racism. There are well tried solutions to this problem but conservatives show no enthusiasm for them.**
Three: At the risk of exposing here my ignorance, I must say that I am not aware of any serious research on the following proposition: It might be cheaper, more lasting and less destructive of our social fabric to repair the three nearby countries that are flooding us with poor people than to try to handle humanely their fleeing population at the border and inside the US. I refer, of course to the so-called “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala which has a total population of about 32 million. GDP/capita in those countries are about $ 4,200, $2,700, and $4,000. An investment of $1,000 for each citizen of those God-forsaken countries would cost about 32 billion US dollars. Such investment is almost certainly beyond these countries inhabitants’ present capacity to save.
Two comments about this idea: First I don’t know how much the current reception and care of immigrants from these countries actually cost (but see below). My nose says it will reach this order of magnitude by accumulation fairly soon in 2021. Second, I am well aware of the fact that such investment may do little lasting good absent a deep institutional change in those countries, as concerns the rule of law, in particular. This is another topic, of course and it could easily undermine the credibility of any reasoning along the lines I propose here. So I pose the question: Would the American taxpayer be better off or worse off if the federal government, perhaps guided by select NGOs, orchestrated investment in the Northern Triangle equivalent to $1,000 for each of its inhabitants. Order of magnitude check: According to Jason Riley in the Wall Street Journal of 4/21/21, the small federal bureaucracy in charge of sheltering immigrant minors alone had spent all of its annual budget by mid-April. The budget was $1.3 billion (billion). The question above does not require a yes or no answer to be useful. It could simply be the beginning of a fruitful discussion in the same general direction.
The example of the neighbors of the Northern Triangle suggest that such a rough proposal is not merely pie-in-the-sky. As always, I pay attention to what might be expected to happen but does not happen. Note the absence of Panama and of Costa Rica in the current horror narrative of alleged refugee flooding. Granted, Panama has a considerable resource in the Canal. But Costa Rica has nothing but good government. Even perennially troubled, leftist-run Nicaragua makes almost no news in connection with refugee immigration into the US. I am only emphasizing here that in this matter as in others, geography is not necessarily destiny. Yet, ultimately, each of the countries in the Northern Triangle, is different, of course.
Four: There is a perverse hidden obstacle to taking vigorous measures against illegal immigration that is seldom discussed, I think. In areas where many illegal immigrants can be presumed to live, almost everyone who favors a firm hand against illegal immigration, has in mind an exception or two. Yes, they say, throw the whole lot out tomorrow – except Luis, Luis is a hell of a car mechanic! No, not Elena, who cleans my house; she is a pearl! This suggests that the lack of political will to deal with immigration issues I mention elsewhere does not reign only in the political class. Instead, it penetrates far and deep into the general population. Relate this punctual exceptionalism to the mild penalties for crossing the border illegally; relate to the infrequency of actions against big employers of illegal aliens.
I propose no solution to this particular problem. Instead, I consider it a proxy for the general idea that Americans may profess to hate illegal immigration in general and in the abstract but that many realize that our society needs immigrants. (As I showed above, the forceful distinction between legal and illegal immigrants is largely illusory because many excellent potential immigrants have no legal way to move to the US legally.) In my completely subjective observation, many Anglo-Americans actually like immigrants. As I said though, numbers matter.
One final thought. I wonder if it would be practical to limit both the quality and the quantity of immigration though a vast sponsorship program? I imagine that every single immigrant would have to be sponsored by a US organization, including a non-profit organization, or by a US citizen. Sturdy strings would be attached to sponsorship.
**So-called “Spanish immersion” elementary school classes are widely considered successful in my area of central California. They attempt to teach both Hispanic and Anglo children alternatively in both Spanish and English each week. This is a slow process. Something else does not get done, probably. Given the low productivity of teaching in the lower grades though, I wouldn’t worry about what does not get done. The attractiveness of immersion programs for Anglo parents is that their children do learn some Spanish, much less than they think but enough to impress a skeptic like me. (While I was writing this piece, I heard a blue-eyed blonde at the pharmacy explain something fairly complicated in Spanish to a customer and it worked fine. She told me she was a product of local elementary Spanish immersion classes. Yes, I know Spanish well.) The more conventional approach everywhere but in the US and in a handful of other countries is to alphabetize first the children in their own language and to switch them gradually to the dominant language if it’s not the same, including for reading and writing. (I did learn to read and write in English as a child in France, after all.)