Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 11 of 11)

Unanswered Questions

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.)

[Editor’s note: this is the final of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 10 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 10 of 11)

The Family Multiplier: a Large, Not Well Known Issue

Here is an important consideration that I have never heard discussed although nearly everyone understands in principle that numbers matter. The doctrine of family re-unification underlying all our immigration laws guarantees that a multiplier is built into every single legal immigration (legal): When you bring in one, you nearly always bring in more than one. Take my own case. Sometimes around 1975, I received a Department of Labor Certification, that is, I was officially deemed useful to American society because of some rare skills I possessed. Even before I could become a US citizen, I was able to turn my also foreign-born wife into a legal immigrant. Five years later, right after I became a US citizen, my wife and I adopted two foreign children who became automatically legal immigrants then, US citizens. That’s four legal immigrants for one initial admission. I have little doubt that both my wife and I could have brought in our parents as legal immigrants although that may have taken some time. Had we done so, my initial single admission on the basis of a variant of American need, would have recruited seven additional immigrants, none of them obviously needed for their skills or competence. (My two children were a few months old when we adopted them. I will let you imagine what their few skills were!)

I am not in favor of changing the doctrine of family reunification nor of reducing its scope. Doing so would likely result in a substantial increase in the proportion of legal immigrants who are young, single and male. Those are highly mobile people whose chance of acculturation to American society is generally not great. In every society, they are also the main substrate of criminality. (They consume little by way of maternity costs though!) Let me say again that this multiplier is not a form of abuse of proper form; it’s written into the current law.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 10 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 9 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 9 of 11)

American Sub-Consulates in Mexico

To avoid falling again into the same swamp of ineptness, the US might approach Mexico with a request to open twenty or so sub- consulates whose sole function would be to examine refugee applications, most of which – again – we know to be phony. Such establishments might be acceptable to Mexican authorities because they would not need to be under ultimate US sovereignty, unlike traditional consulates and embassies. By the way, the US has only two consulates in Mexico while Mexico has about forty consulates in the US. Perhaps, a Mexican administration could be induced to believe that a partial evening out would be only fair. The new sub-consulates would have to be placed fairly far south of the US-Mexico border, for two reasons. First, the Mexican side contiguous to the border is notoriously dangerous, not a good location to make innocent people and their families wait their turn. Second, the closer to the border the first examination of refugee claims, the greater the temptation to try and jump into the US. The further from being valid theses refugee claims,also the greater the temptation to jump in.

Such a new disposition by itself would have a big dissuasive effect on would-be refugees from the Northern Triangle without a serious claim. I mean that it would help expedite the backlog, avoid the release of large numbers into the general US population but, more importantly, it would also cut down on the large numbers now eager to gamble on being eventually admitted because of the vagueness, not in the relevant laws, but in the manner of their application.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 9 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 8 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 8 of 11)

A Different Way to Process Refugees

The current policy for would-be refugees consists in inviting them to apply inside or very near the country followed by catch-and-release with an honor-based request to appear for final legal disposition, at a distant and undefined date, or never. It’s as if designed for failure. It’s not really part of an immigration policy because it predictably manufactures illegal immigrants.

The policy ignores the obvious fact that would-be illegal immigrants and their carriers and facilitators are continuously alert to American immigration related events and policies. This is difficult for many Americans to believe because they are habitually uninterested in and indifferent to happenings beyond our borders but there are whole subcultures nearby that are vitally concerned about what goes on in the US. They are well equipped to stay informed thanks to the internet and to cellphones. Every anodyne comment on immigration by a high level American politician or public servant is immediately interpreted – and over-interpreted – as the forerunner of a policy change (as we saw in the first three months of the Biden administration with respect to child refugees). In brief, immigration controls begins much before anyone reaches the border. Even loose words often appear as de facto policies. They may signal that doors into the US will be more or less open, or at least ajar.

The current official policy combined with its soft application must unavoidably act as a powerful attractant for very poor people living under conditions of chronic insecurity and within traveling distance of the southern US border. Look at it from the standpoint of a parent of a 14-year-old, say a Honduran: Bad schools leading to unemployment or to very poorly paid employment; lives lived in constant fear of gangs; no expectation of any sort of happy future.

You are told by people whose knowledge you trust the nearly incredible news that if you can manage to move your child to the US-Mexico border, there is a better than even chance that he will end up inside the US. There, he will be allowed to attend school, (no questions asked) and he will be given at no cost better health care than he has ever had in his life or, that he has any right to expect in Honduras. As soon as he is eighteen or, likely sixteen (no one really checks), he will be able to earn more in two hours than skilled adult men earn back home in one day. You are aware that the endeavor is both dangerous and a little complicated. You probably underestimate both danger and complexity because your main sources though well informed have no interest in emphasizing them. (I wonder about charitable organizations with no financial interest in the process. I don’t know if they publish warnings nor how frequently.)

The true news is that your son or even you if traveling with him, may apply for refugee status calmly at many designated points on the border with little fear of anything. Failing this, they say, you will be able simply to surrender to any member of the Border Patrol and be taken care of. I can’t see how such information can help but act like a powerful advertisement enticing you to begin moving north. Finally, and, repeating myself, the fact that most of those who say that they are seeking refuge status, when caught, or surrendered, are shortly released inside the US, probably sounds too good to be true. But, even the very poor have cellphones and the whole happy truth gets around quickly.

Under the current system, the authorities are forced to practice catch- and-release with would-be refugees who have little chance of being formally accepted in the end. That is because there is a huge backlog, a backlog of several years, in finally disposing of refugee applications. This is difficult to understand in light of the seeming broad consensus that only a small percentage of those who apply have a valid case that would eventually gain them official refugee status if their case were examined properly. I am also told that laws pertaining to refugee or asylum status are not especially difficult or complicated. If that is correct, the federal government should be able to recall hundreds of retired judges, and to draft many attorneys to act as pro tem judges to adjudicate thousands of cases within a short time. One the backlog is removed in this manner, the original small contingent of professional judges could finalize positive decisions.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 8 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 7 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 7 of 11)

Open the Southern Border to Mexican Citizens

A high degree of flexibility would follow a measure that I advocated in 2009 : “If Mexicans and Americans could cross the border freely” (pdf). (Formerly: “Thinking the unthinkable: illegal immigration; The bold remedy.” ), with Sergey Nikiforov, The Independent Review, 14-1: 101-133 (Summer)). That is, to allow Mexicans (and Americans, of course) to come and go across the southern border at will. Such a policy might do little to relieve worker shortages in high tech fields in the short run. Yet, it would probably be enough for lower skilled labor to transport itself where needed entirely according to demand. Of course, no implied promise of citizenship would be attached to this free border policy. Before the new open border policy is implemented a strong, loud announcement should be made to the effect that no change toward citizenship and no “amnesty” will take place. There would still be some leakage, of course, in particular because Mexican citizens would marry American citizens they would encounter in the course of their daily lives working in the US. A black market in phony marriages might also develop. That would probably be managed easily.

There are two big objections to such a policy of free movement. First, incoming Mexicans would be competing with Americans and effectively place a ceiling on the wages of the least skilled among them. Of course, I understand this Econ 101 argument but I believe it mostly does not apply here for the simple reason that the stereotypical comment is correct and there are jobs Americans just won’t do. There are crops rotting in the fields three miles from where I live in central California, for example. Yet, the downtown retail employees laid off by COVID and who used to earn $11 an hour are not rushing to try and earn $18 or more picking Brussels sprouts. Most Mexican immigrants (legal and illegal) come from rural agricultural areas and they are used to hard, dirtying physical labor. We simply don’t have a reservoir of such population in the US anymore.

To understand why Mexican citizens performing any work they like in the US would probably not undermine much the native born’s wages requires a small dose of cynicism. Coming from rural areas as most do, those people have little opportunity to study English. Working more or less full time, it takes most of them many years to reach a level where they are more or less functional in English. Accordingly, it takes them many years really to compete realistically with the native born. If my hypothesis is correct, many would have saved enough and gone home before they reached that stage.

Incidentally, and contrary to a belief widespread among my fellow conservatives, Mexican immigrants and other temporaries are well aware of the fact that their earning capacity would shoot up if they knew English well. Accordingly, none resists learning English. The reverse fairy tale that they do originates in an American collective belief about learning languages that verges on mental illness. I wrote about this phenomenon in: “Foreign Languages and Self-Delusion in America.”

I think that few Mexicans really want to move to the US permanently. Many are trapped here because we make coming and going so difficult and so dangerous. Instead, most of them just want a chance to earn five or six times more than they earn back home, take their savings and go home there to buy a farm or to open a restaurant, or to set up a car repair shop. I realize this is merely anecdotal evidence, but I have met enough Mexican returnees in Mexico who explain with clarity that they like Mexico more than they like the US and that they wish to live among their relatives. This is not absurd, of course. It’s at least plausible.

The second main collective argument in favor of the establishment of such free circulation zones is this: The existence of so many economic hostages in the US would give any Mexican government an additional motivation to guard its southern border more carefully. The obvious is not said often enough: Salvadoran, Honduran, and Guatemalan pretend-refugees and potential illegal immigrants into the US have no practical way to try their luck without first entering Mexican territory and crossing a large portion of it with immunity.

More objections to such partial but permanent border opening are predictable. Some will argue that it would give free rein to numerous different kinds bandit enterprises based in Mexico, including drug cartels. I think the reverse is true. If a level of funding broadly commensurate to the present were still dedicated to the southern border, many more resources could be diverted from checking on innocent Mexican manual workers seeking honest employment to diverse varieties of gangsters. Furthermore, any Mexican administration, however corrupt, would understand that the free roaming policy could be rescinded any time, causing much disturbance inside Mexico. This would encourage it to try and keep a better lid on trans-border illegal activities, including terrorism. Lastly and, I think, most importantly, the policy would turn many of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of border crossing Mexicans eager to keep the policy alive into law enforcement informers.

In passing, of course, if an international agreement existed to permit such free movement some Americans would go and try their luck in Mexico. Many are already there, working on commission, selling real estate and part-time rentals. More would follow. It makes sense to think of this as a good thing for both Mexico and the US. This happens, in spite of significant bureaucratic barriers that such an agreement would tend to lessen or eliminate under the international principle of reciprocity.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 7 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 6 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 6 of 11)

Work Targeted Immigration

Of the roughly 1,2 million admitted in 2016, only a little more than 10%, 140,000 were granted admission on the basis of some occupational qualification or other work-related fact. This is a small number for a mostly prosperous population of 320,000,000. The possibility that this small number outstrips either our economic capacities or our economic needs is difficult to consider.

One important problem is which workers to admit. The federal government cannot, in principle, determine by itself what categories of foreign workers are required. The current system, under which industry associations and sometimes single companies lobby the government for foreign visas is probably the best we can do. I mean that every other system imaginable is liable to be worse in some respect or other. It’s liable to be worse, in particular because it could induce the creation and/or growth of even more eternal government bureaucracies. Congress can help by quickly enlarging the number of such work visas available in any given year. (As it has done recently, in late 2020.) Greater flexibility than is current, trying to map quickly changes in real labor markets are desirable. I have not thought about how to achieve such flexibility. I don’t think though that the federal government should indirectly, through targeted visas predict winning and losing economic sectors.

We do know from experience that loosely defined “high tech” fields as well as agriculture are perennially short of workers. There must be others. The most efficient and least expensive way to provide such would be a system that is not a system in a government sort of way but a situation where foreigners find and walk to waiting jobs as needed. This non-system violates some of the strictest requirements of sovereignty, of course. Yet, it may be preferable to the current situation. A single inventive alteration in our immigration policies would go a long way toward helping fill low-skilled labor skills, including agricultural ones.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 6 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 5 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 5 of 11)

Closing All the Borders

I focus on the southern border because Canadians do not tend to emigrate in mass to the US, being rather disdainful of their loud and agitated American cousins. Canadians also guard their border rather competently. Moreover, the southern border is the access route for a potential hundreds of millions of destitute people from Latin America. It may be also that it’s becoming increasingly the entry point for many others from underdeveloped countries everywhere, including terrorists. That would be because the countries of Latin America do not guard their own borders rigorously, as a rule. Violent jihadists from Yemen can easily enter Mexico as tourists, for instance. (Maria Anastasia O’Grady reports in the Wall Street Journal of 4/26/21 that 20,000 “undocumented immigrants” entered Panama through its physically very rough southern border in 2020. She says the number appears to be increasing in 2021. She asserts also that these migrants largely originate from outside continental Latin America.)

Closing our southern border is not that difficult in principle. Former President Trump showed the way. A physical wall supplemented in places by sophisticated electronic devices (especially in remote areas where allowing wild life to circulate between the US and Mexico forbids a solid wall) would work fine. This can probably be done at a long term cost that compares favorably to the expenses occasioned right now, for example (April 2021) by the necessity to deal in a panic mode with large immigrant surges. What’s required is the political will to do so. It has been lacking for a long time in a large fraction of the US population or, at least, the Democratic Party thinks so.

If the political will to enforce the border were more widespread, we would find penalties against employers of illegal immigrants imposed more frequently and systematically than is the case now. The penalties applied to employers would also be high enough to be more frightening to them. We also indicate our lack of collective seriousness by keeping low the personal penalties imposed for illegal border crossing. It’s now a misdemeanor associated with a $50 to $250 fine. This is not much to people – even poor people – who pay thousands for help crossing the border.

There is a second border issue that almost never makes the news. It’s likely that as many immigrants, and as many illegal immigrants come by plane and even by ship as walk or drive across the southern border. Controlling these should not, in principle, be difficult either. It has long been the practice to hold carriers who bring travelers to the country responsible for their possessing a proper visa. Presumably, the practice has withstood legal challenges. It could be enlarged to make carrier responsible also for foreign visitors not overstaying their visas. There is no reason why the carriers could not be compensated for this service. Tax credits come to mind. It would be cheaper than any other, civil service-based, solution.

We now have a kind of system of randomly open borders. It’s probably possible to bring sufficient numbers of citizens and of their elected reps to agree that there is border and that it should normally stay closed through a Grand Bargain on immigration. First, the Republican Party should come forward finally to solve the problem of illegal residents brought to the US by their parents when they were children (the so-called “Dreamers”). This continuing issue is a blotch on American honor, to my mind.

The Republican Party could also offer to trade cooperation on the matter of closing the border against the acceptance of greatly increased numbers of refugees and asylees. (Those who want to be here and whom we don’t necessarily want.) The Republican Party has nowhere to go but up in this respect anyway. Those refugees admitted in 2019 and in 2020 were a ridiculously low number for a US population of about 320 million. There were a total of 76,00 refugees and asylees admitted in 2019; only 18,000 refugees were permitted in 2020; I have no information about the number of asylees in the same year. (The Biden administration announced in mid April 2021 that the cap on numbers of refugees would remain the same as in 2020. Then he seemed to walk the position back. As of this writing, we don’t know what his administration will do. Does it?) By way of comparison, Canada admitted 102,000 refuges in 2018. Its population is 37 million. Germany with a population four times smaller than ours took in 101,000 refugees in 2019. Tiny Switzerland admitted almost as many. These figures are for illustration only. One must keep in mind that refugee admissions numbers can vary greatly from year to year depending on geopolitical events.

In general, the recipe for success in controlling nation-states’ borders is straightforward: Keep the doors closed until there is a legal reason to open them. Be clear and thorough about what legal reasons are. Don’t confuse again pity and necessity. This formula does not solve the problem of walk-in refugees who avoid legal entry points. A wall largely supplemented by making all applications take place outside the country – with a few exceptions – would solve that problem. I deal with this issue [here] under: “A Different Way to Process Refugees:…”

[Editor’s note: this is Part 5 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 4 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 4 of 11)

The Nation-State and Borders

Nation-states have to possess immigration policies or they cease to exist. I mean any number of things by “cease to exist,” including falling apart organizationally and economically, to the point of being unable to provide a minimum degree of order, of predictability. (This last sentence might rub pure libertarians the wrong way. I am willing and eager to engage them on the topic of nation-states, societies, and social order.) This failure to function can be the result of an influx of large numbers of immigrants unable to provide for themselves, obviously. I am not suggesting that this is the only possible cause. It’s one cause and it’s staring us in the eyes as I write (April 2021, three and half months into the Biden presidency).

More prosaically, but also a little mysteriously, “cease to exist” may simply refers to the nation-state becoming something else, subjectively less desirable than what it was. The insulting word “nativism” does not do justice to the complex and subtle issues involved here.

Right now, for example, many French people believe that the large presence in their midst of un-assimilated Muslim immigrants endangers the fundamental building blocks of their society’s ethics and laws. These would include, for example, the separation of church and state (of religion and government) and the equality of men and women. Many French people who are not “white supremacists,” (or, more pertinently perhaps, not Christian supremacists) are calling for an end to all Muslim immigration. (Note that I have said nothing about whether I believe their fears are justified.)*

Guarded national borders have been the conventional way to protect the nation-state since the mid-19th century. They don’t have to be but other available methods are even less palatable to those who love freedom. If, for example, every resident of the US carried a personally identified GPS that it is illegal to turn off, it would be easy to monitor the totality of the population. Those moving about without an authorized GPS would stand out. Legal immigrants might be given a GPS with a different signal. Legal visitors who are not immigrants would get yet another with a signal set to come off on or just before their visa expiration. Illegal immigrants would carry no authorized GPS. This absence would designate them the attention of immigration authorities. (Of course, fake GPS would soon be for sale but they would be more difficult to create than are current SS card and other such paper or plastic documents.) And, thinking about it, a microchip painlessly implanted under each person’s skin might work even better! See what I mean about guarded borders not being so repugnant after all?


*The French left-wing media do not offer substantive arguments to calm the widespread alarm raised by the center, by the right, by many others. Instead, they try to make the alarmed feel guilty of “Islamophobia,” supposedly a close cousin of racism. This accusation quickly losses forces because many people realize that Islam is a set of beliefs and of values that Muslims are free to abandon, unlike race. At least, they may abandon it in the French legal context. (In several Muslim countries, such “apostasy” is theoretically punished by death.) By the way, a month before this writing, I talked on a Santa Cruz beach with a pleasant young French Muslim, a pure product of French public schools born in France. He told me calmly that he believed French law should forbid blasphemy.

With all the agitation and all the negative emotions, people with Muslim names appear well represented at all levels and in all sectors of French society. (Firm numbers are hard to come by because the French government does not allow its various branches to collect information on religious affiliation nor on ethnicity.) And, by the way, I just love what Arabic influence has done to French popular music and songs.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 4 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 3 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 3 of 11)

Numbers Matter

Numbers have a way of sobering the imagination while dispelling some absurd beliefs. In 2016, about 1,200,00 people were admitted into the US. (Some had been physically in the country for a long time, due to technicalities not worth discussing here.) This is all about being a legal immigrant. If there were only 200 annual candidates to admission to the US, for example, no one would be speaking about immigration. But the figure of legal admissions has been consistently over one million in past years, with many candidates rejected. The proportion of the population born abroad is currently as high, – or as low – as it has ever been, somewhat under 15%. Many people, especially conservatives, vaguely feel that it’s too many. (The fact that many of those tell themselves fairy tales about the quality of past immigration in contrast to current immigration makes matters worse, of course. This is another story, something we can talk about if anyone asks.)

Quantitative limitations on immigration ought to be subject to cold- blooded assessments. First, there must be a mental recognition that the world’s misery is immense and that the US cannot take care of all of it however much Americans would like to. (Personally, I think it’s honorable for us Americans to take charge of our share of misery and of a little more than our share; it’s good for our collective soul and we can afford it.) Second, as I will explain below, the numbers of immigrants we agree to accept for reasons of either the mind (those we want) or the heart (those who want us) are subject to a near automatic multiplier. I explain this [here] under: “The Family Multiplier:….”

[Editor’s note: this is Part 3 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 2 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 2 of 11)

Does America Need Immigrants?

By way of honest introduction, let me say that I think American society needs immigrants. I also think it will draw them either through an orderly process or through a disorderly one. Two big reasons US society needs immigrants. (There are other reasons.) First we have chronically unmet labor needs. As I write, more than a year into the pandemic, the unemployment rate of 6.2 is unusually high (not very high) as compared to mean unemployment for the past 70 years. Yet, many jobs are going unfilled according to newspapers, national and local, and to other media, including Fox News, repeatedly. I know the overgenerous subsidization of unemployment during COVID plays a role in the lack of responsiveness to job offers. I don’t think it explains everything, especially toward the top of the income structure and also toward the bottom where many just don’t qualify for benefits.

The second reason American society needs immigrants is that it is aging fast. It’s aging fast enough to threaten the future viability of such essential social programs as Social Security and Medicare unless we have an unprecedented rise in per worker productivity (which is not out of the question given fast technical progress, and a greater acceptance of artificial intelligence and of robotization). The bad news is that the current mean number of children per US woman (including permanent immigrants with a superior fertility) is only 1.7. That’s much below the generally recognized replacement rate of 2.1. If current trends continue, we will be seeing dwindling numbers of physically active younger people struggling to support a growing population of old people. (Current trends do not have to continue, I know.) I realize that there are solutions to this problem other than immigration including making many or all work latter into their lives, or even earlier. Still immigration looks like the quickest solution. In the short term, its concreteness, its immediacy, makes this solution pretty much irresistible. One more reason to think it through.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 2 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 1 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

The Moulin Rouge, San Francisco, a Fragment of Memoir

When I was 22, I lived at the Moulin Rouge, a French bar in North Beach, San Francisco, California. Not all the time, only when I was not hitch-hiking to and from the community college with almost a view on San Quentin Prison, and when I was not attending classes there, or working. The Moulin Rouge was run by a spiffy well-coiffed older French woman. I always thought she was a retired madam from Marseilles. I don’t say that to blacken her name for she was a real sweetheart. And anyhow, I don’t know this for a fact.

I was a good student who did his assignment efficiently and who drank too much every night at the Moulin Rouge. It was a good plan to meet new people, some who were interesting, some who could be useful. The regulars were a mixture of French immigrants and of American Francophiles. Some of the latter were single women of an uncertain age in the low light of the bar. I met a middle-aged French woman who owned an expensive hairdresser’s shop and who tried to make me her chauffeur/gigolo. She failed (we failed,I failed).

I had emigrated to the US with no skills and no money. That’s no money, not a cute way to say “little money.” Through the Moulin Rouge, I landed a succession of part-time jobs, not all as unimportant as you might imagine. One job was editing a small, largely local French language newspaper. I always wanted to make it more hifallutin. The publisher, a Frenchman who only lived in San Francisco part of the year, objected. We had a final falling out when he fired me with these exact words, “We don’t need intellectual shit in this paper. Fifty per cent of our readers are Basques; the Basques are stupid. I know because I am Basque.” ! At the time, I slept in a small room in a Basque hotel precisely, also in North Beach. The other tenants were Basque shepherds on vacation from their lonely jobs in the Sierras. They did not seem stupid to me although they were not what you would call real literati. Plus, they cooked great six-egg plus smoked ham breakfasts.

A middle-aged gay customer who was an interior decorator – I am not kidding – heard of my predicament. He introduced me to a rich old lady who would have me occupy her basement apartment on Pacific Hill and pay me a little stipend in return for “some work.” She called the lodgings: “the Chinaman’s flat.” (Again: Would I make this up?)

The old lady, a widow, drove a hard bargain. She thought she had a right to be demanding because she often brought down for me her surplus cooked vegetable. That was a misplaced concern, of course: Young men use beer for both fiber and vitamins. I did not enjoy the job of a houseboy much and bringing girls down into the basement was hellishly difficult because the old lady never slept. She did not even take naps in the afternoon, I know this for a fact. After a couple of months, she fired me. She told me to my face she would replace me with an Asian boy who would be “more docile.” It made a lot of sense since her main offer was the “Chinaman’s flat.”

I kept spending my long winter evenings at the Moulin Rouge. I kept meeting interesting characters there. One was a Frenchman in his forties who told me he was a pirate on leave. He said he owned an old Navy PT boat with a machine gun he used to prey on Chinese ships in the Celebes (Indonesia). “How come you are not in prison for 20 or 25 years? How about the police, the local coast guard, the navy?” I asked. “Nobody cares about the rich Chinese in Indonesia; besides, we never, never kill anyone. We wave big guns at them, my crew and I, and they always pay up. Sometimes, they bargain with me. I am not unreasonable,” he explained. He invited me to join him in a piracy campaign on my next summer vacation. I told him that I would like too but I would probably have to study in the summer too. I had my values down straight: junior college before piracy.

Evidently, the pirate had detected my criminal fiber before I had. “How about spring break – he said – I have a contact in Columbia. We could go quickly and smuggle back pre-Columbian artifacts. I know some collectors. Actually they come to his bar once in a while. I have heard you speak Spanish. Your Spanish is good. You could be very helpful and make enough money to support yourself for a whole year.”

Before I had time to really consider his tempting offer, he changed the subject. He told me that today was “El Dia de la Raza.” I did not know what that was then. Anyway, it’s not really about race. It’s just a day when Spanish speakers from all countries celebrate their “hispanidad,” whatever that is. He said there was a big dance at the Masonic auditorium. He added that it would be full of tarted-up Hispanic women on the make. (Here is a rule of thumb: Like a hunter who has lovingly cleaned and oiled his gun, a woman who has gone to great expenditure of time and money to make herself sexy for a special event hates to return empty-handed.)

So, we went to the ball and it was just as he had said. For some reason, women visibly outnumbered men. Now, a neutral, scientific note about Frenchmen: They may look like any northern Europeans but many can dance like Puerto-Rican pimps. The reasons why this is are interesting but too complex for this story. In this case, we both also spoke Spanish with ease which is not uncommon among French people. Quickly, the pirate and I did very well. I met a short but shapely brown, black-eyed Central American woman with hair down to her waist. She wore a bare-back dress and her skin under my right hand was the smoothest and the softest I had ever felt. She liked that I was twice her size and she raised herself on her toes to reach me. After a decent hour or so, she took me to her apartment in a taxi she called herself. Turned out she was twice my age. CUT! This may be read at a family gathering!

My friend the pirate had met a very sweet Mexican-American woman half his age at the dance and he had immediately fallen hard for her. She had the kind of sweetness that caused her to keep worrying about who was doing my ironing since I was a bachelor living alone. She thought that was not right. The pirate told me it was time for him to abandon his evil practices and to return to France where his old mother was still alive. He and his Mexican-American sweetheart began traveling West to East toward our shared native country. The girl had never been outside the Bay Area. Together, they hitched-hiked and worked their way on ships toward Singapore. That included a two-month stay in Australia where the pirate made good money killing rabbits. Then, he worked as a cook and she as a maid on a freighter that took a few passengers. They made it to France by various means in a little under a year.

“Why stop in Singapore?” I asked the pirate when I met him and Maria again briefly in Paris. “Why, it has the biggest and the most beautiful Catholic cathedral in Asia. That where I wanted to marry Maria. That’s where I married her,” he said simply. Real or not, the pirate had great style. I am sorry I don’t know what became of him or her. I imagine they lived in a nice farm in the beautiful French countryside and that they have had many children who look like pretty Maria.

Soon afterwards the Dia de la Raza, I moved to Sausalito where I had found a gardener’s job on the sole strength of my French name. After that, I only returned to the Moulin Rouge infrequently. In Sausalito, every night, I would attend the No Name Bar, right downtown. It was an intellectual sort of place. There was wallpaper in the restroom that showed scenes from the Trojan War. Someone had drawn a bubble coming out of a hoplite’s mouth with words in Greek letters. Another graffito said: “Schwartz is a neo-classic.” Schwartz must have been devastated! Soon, I found that the Moulin Rouge had played out its part in my destiny. I was steeped in American life and on my way to becoming a scholar, not a little thanks to the No Name Bar. Staying on the academic straight and narrow was not always easy though because of the pirate’s bad example.

Nightcap

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  2. A defense of maths in economics Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  3. The end of the world John Guzlowski, North American Review
  4. Small business in the urban riots of the 1960s (pdf) Jonathan Bean, TIR

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  1. The local touch of Soviet modernism Aliide Naylor, Jacobin
  2. The bad Muslim discount Kristin Yee, Asian Review of Books
  3. Ireland, America, and…national parks Melissa Buckheit, FIVES
  4. Can Japan bring the US back into the TPP? Daisuke Akimoto, Diplomat

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  1. On that radio signal from Proxima Centauri Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams
  2. Wow! signal Wikipedia
  3. How far aggressive aliens? (Part 2) Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
  4. Legal immigration into the United States Jacques Delacroix, NOL

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  1. Parties become popular by taking unpopular stands Scott Sumner, EconLog
  2. A European who understands America Antonio Garcia-Martinez, Pull Request
  3. Legal immigration into the United States Jacques Delacroix, NOL
  4. Birthday parties in the Soviet Union (photos) Nikolay Shevchenko, Russia Beyond