Immigration Reform the Right Way

The United States, depending upon labor for both high-end and low-end industries, depends upon immigration. Currently a large swath of the low-end work like farm labor depends largely upon illegal immigration. Closing the borders will not fix that problem. Technology may, in time, supplant human labor with robotics, but we’re not there yet.

As with other black markets and gray markets, the best solution is to move everything above board. This allows for proper accounting, elimination of abuse, and recourse at law.

The situation can be similar in the high-end work, although it is mostly already in a white market. Maintaining standards of liquidity, for example, are important in labor markets, and H1B does fail in that, along with some other issues it has.

A fix for immigration has been on a lot of to-do lists for a long time. The blockage has been entirely with a subset of congressional Republicans. They blocked it under Bush, they blocked it under Obama, and they will at least attempt to do so under Clinton. Under a hypothetical Trump presidency, the blocking would not shift to the majority. In theory, a President Trump would then be in a position to make a deal, but the irony there is that any such deal would likely be blocked by the same Republicans that support Trump on immigration!

In other words, the entire immigration system is being held hostage by a few extremists. This is anti-capitalist political behavior that is thwarting economic growth and social justice. They want the same sort of draconian policy that Trump advocates: close the borders, deport offenders, and gloat about it.

As with many other issues, they offer no explanation of how that position will improve things, who will pick the crops, and so on. They are in the same boat as anti-trade folks, who pretend that not trading makes jobs come back (or labor abuses in other countries go away). To solve the problems we have with labor and immigration, we must think about the economic implications much more carefully, but instead we find ourselves locked into a suboptimal situation where we are at the mercy of the laws of economics.

During booms, we see the uptick in illegal immigration. During downturns, net immigration reverses. Both make sense, but the swings are more dire than need be simply because in a gray or black labor market there is less maintenance of labor during changes in the economic climate. There are no planners or hedges being built on labor, as we have in other industries for other economic inputs.

We should reform our immigration system, in a balanced fashion that improves the lot of those who lose their jobs due to immigration of labor. Instead, it looks like the status quo will maintain, and folks like Donald Trump will continue to be the source of inaction rather than the heroes they pretend to be.

More importantly, on this and so many important issues, the solutions are basically known. The missing piece is simply the passage of reform. And that’s wholly on the minority of absolutists on the right that are blocking progress.