I have been writing about American immigration problems for about 15 years. My original conclusion was that the government is at fault. Since then, the more I know and understand, the more convinced I am that Americans bought into the illusion that by controlling the inflow of immigrants, the government can make the United States more prosperous. The opposite happened; our immigration policy is detrimental to our economy.
As my perspective goes against the dominant mantra in mainstream politics and media, I looked for debates where opinions such as mine clashed with others. I found people thinking alike, but nowhere could I find a forum where people of different views confronted each other in discussions, similar to those on the long-gone Firing Line, once a popular program on PBS.
With Medium encouraging writers to start new publications, it was a logical step to open a forum for debates among diverse views. You are reading it now; it is Virtual Agora.
The government proved unable in managing immigration
The question for debate today is: Can government manage immigration? It is a part of a broader question: How much government involvement in our daily affairs do we need? In my view, the less, the better. Peter Faur disagrees. In his article “Government is the Problem?” he argues that Ronald Reagan was wrong when he claimed that “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” I challenged Peter to prove it in the case of immigration. Peter kindly answered by writing that “There’s no alternative.”
I think that the failure of our immigration policy proves beyond doubt that on immigration, Reagan was right; the government is the problem. Surprisingly, Peter sees it differently. He asks, “But if not the government, then who?” My short answer is: Peter, it is you and all your compatriots. My long answer requires references to history and data.
For a little more than a century, the government has been trying to enforce a very restrictive immigration policy, but it does not work. It did not stop illegal immigration. And it will not halt it by repeating with more determination what has not been working so far. We all remember the often-cited quotation about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Someone has to be wrong on immigration. Who is it?
Illegal immigrants are here because the American economy needs them. For the economy to gain more momentum, we need more immigrants. But there is no political will for that. The recent opinion polls show that almost three-quarters of Americans see immigration as good for the country; it is a meaningful increase since prior years’ polls. But only about one-third of Americans agree that we should increase legal immigration. Again, this is more than ever before, but regardless of how we massage this number, it is only one-third, not enough to achieve any change in our immigration policy.
The pollsters did not ask about the size of immigration increase that Americans are willing to accept. Wisely, because most likely, even supporters of increased immigration would not agree to the immigration surge our economy needs. Presently, immigrants are about 13.7% of the population, but legal immigrants are only 10.2%, and unauthorized immigrants are the remaining 3.5%. Most industrialized countries have more immigrants. In Canada, it is 21%; in New Zealand, it is 26.7%; and in Australia, it is 29.9%.
One can make a reasonable assumption that our economy is akin to the Canadian one. For the sake of argument, we can presume that our economy can absorb as many immigrants as Canada has. The 7% difference between 21% in Canada and 13.7% in the United States, out of about 330 million of the current population, amounts to about 22 million new immigrants we would need to admit on top of legalizing all presently undocumented ones. Good luck with getting any support for a meaningful immigration increase.
Presently, about one-third of Americans want increased immigration, one-third want to keep it as it is, and a little less than one-third want fewer immigrants. We have to acknowledge that not all of these Americans can be equally right. Someone is wrong here, and it is the job of people like Peter, me, and others to figure out what would and what would not work.
Without politicians meddling with it, migration works better
In his article, Peter tells us that the immigration issues should be important to us, and we should badger our congressional representatives to get serious about them. But if we do that, we will tell our representatives in Washington the same as what the opinion polls tell us. We will tell them that we cannot agree on what to do.
Recently I looked at the dynamics of migrations inside the European Union after the more prosperous Western European nations opened their borders in 2004 to migrants from the post-Soviet nations. The first two years were wild, but within 10 years, the migrations calmed down. For example, in the years 2005 and 2006 about one million Poles went abroad for work. Since 2016, the net balance of migrations in Poland is close to a boring zero.
One of my mentors used to say that the future has a rich past. We can look at how our immigration policy functioned before the government took over. There were racial restrictions, but Europeans were allowed to come without any significant limitations. By looking at travel documents, we know that one person was going back to Europe for every three people arriving. In short, many people tried their good luck in America, but only those who succeeded stayed. The government did nothing. What was wrong with that?
Interestingly, when the European Union decided to open its borders between the wealthy old member states and the backward post-Soviet states, they took a similar approach. They encouraged businesses to solicit workers abroad. These new workers filled the gaps where they were needed, allowing businesses to grow, opening new jobs for the native population. Everyone gained.
Mass media failed us on immigration; Medium has a shot
Peter’s position in his article is typical for someone trusting the mainstream media. In his defense, we all have lives to live; we do our jobs the best we can. We make a reasonable assumption that the media do it as well. We hope that regardless of whether we watch CNN or Fox News, read The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, we get reliable information. We do not.
As I mentioned in the introduction, nowhere in the mainstream media can an American such as Peter Faur find information that we once had a better alternative for our immigration policy, which made America great the first time around. Our media feed us the mantra about the need for securing the southern borders. But, they will not tell us how Europeans eliminated the borders between rich Western Europe and the emerging former Soviet Bloc countries.
We are told that it is given that the government needs to review and approve every single case of a foreigner seeking employment in the United States. No one in the mainstream media says aloud that it is a relatively new invention. In the past, Americans had the freedom to hire whoever they considered fit their needs the best, regardless whether that person came from across the street, the ocean, or the Rio Grande. Unless they spending a lot of time on research, people like Peter Faur have no chance to know that the same concept has worked great in integrating diverse European countries.
To the best of my knowledge, getting the government out of micromanaging immigration is the only way to fix our current mess. But, assuming that I might be wrong, can we agree at least that badgering our elected officials to do something, as Peter suggests, is fruitless?
We need a factual nationwide conversation on the future of our immigration policy. So far, the mainstream media have not done it. The format of Medium gives us that chance. At Virtual Agora, we are ready to coordinate this effort. We appeal to all writers and readers to contribute with their ideas and suggestions. Together we can do it.