Headed to Arizona for T-day holiday so the mind turns toward immigration reform.
To restate the overstated, there’s a real opening for comprehensive reform coming off of the election.
The President has made it a priority for term two, many D’s are surely ready to consolidate their electoral advantage, and some R’s recognize that it would be politically damaging not to board this train. (I heard one R pollster after the election claim that going after immigrants was like smoking to Republicans—they know it will kill them but they do it anyway.)
The politics are, of course, the sine qua non here—there will be no reform absent some alignment of political stars that has eluded thus far. But I’m here to talk about the economics.
These can be divided into a few bins: the impact of immigration on the incomes of domestic workers who compete with immigrants; the fiscal impact; the macro impact (I’ll get back to this soon in the context of this post). And along with these big questions, there are distinctions like undocumented immigrants and their kids who are here already versus those who want to come to America.
I plan to write numerous posts on these topics in coming weeks, but for this first one, I’d like to focus on one: undocumented workers already here within our borders.
My motivation grows out of a discussion I had with a friend in the food industry. He is clearly a good, ethical employer who abides by the law. But he also lives in some measure of fear that he’s unknowingly hiring illegal workers. He runs the required checks but is aware of their fallibility. He doesn’t use E-Verify much (it’s not required in VA in the private sector), in part because he’s heard about the false positives, but in no small part because he doesn’t want to be at a competitive disadvantage against other employers who don’t bother with it.
He told me of many cases of excellent employees—some who’d been with him for a while—disappearing when a check came back with a question mark or when ICE authorities came around.
This is highly inefficient and I really don’t see the upside. Evidence is surely sketchy, but I don’t believe we can hassle people into self-deportation, certainly not in significant numbers. All we’re doing with the current shadow dance is creating more uncertainty, inefficiencies, and nervousness in the job market, and typically in sectors dominated by small or medium-sized businesses with tight margins.
I don’t have any way to quantify the waste involved with this dynamic—I’m stuck at the level of anecdote. But I guarantee you that in areas with lots of immigrant workers, employers waste a lot of money on turnover, covering their butts (e.g., outsourcing hiring/subcontracting), and underinvesting in their workforce that could be avoided if we had a rational policy in place.
Don’t get me wrong. As my friend stressed, there’s nothing good about illegal hires. But employers like him are at the mercy of a broken system. And when the Feds take a pass on the issue, it’s perfectly legitimate for the states to come in and fill the gap. That’s by no means an endorsement of the harsh, anti-immigrant measures adopted in some states like the one I’m jetting to as we speak. But I get their rationale.
So, in the name of workplace efficiency—to ease the uncertainty among employers hiring questionable applicants and to avoid costly turnovers and high vacancy rates in vulnerable businesses, we should accept the fact that the folks who are here are mostly staying here, as are their kids, who should have Dream-Act-style access to the same public services as my kids.
I just read that the Texas Republican party platform includes the following: “Mass deportation of these individuals [undocumented workers] would neither be equitable or practical.” And that’s from Texas Republicans…
As the President has already stressed, such benefits should come with explicit costs (fines), and should be paired with border security measures. It makes no sense to contemplate immigration reform if we can’t control the flow.
But a smart place from which to start is to throw out the idea introduced in the recent Republican presidential primary that we can hassle people into going away—the history of immigration in America clearly shows this to be ineffective—and work toward integrating the families that are here. And not just because we’re a nation of immigrants and all that sentimental stuff. But for hard-nosed efficiency reasons.