Tuesday, May 16, 2006

President Bush on Illegal Immigration

Last night President Bush gave a speech to the nation about illegal immigration. This topic has been much discussed lately, though not on this blog. I'm interested to hear what people think.

The text of the president's speech is here.

Do you think the President's plan, if implemented fully, would be productive? How would you modify his plan if you were in his shoes? What flaws do you see?

Do you think it likely that the President's plan will be carried out? If not, which areas do you think are most likely to get sidetracked, and what are the roadblocks in their way?

And remember... this discussion isn't intended for venting, or debating, or arguing. It's a place to share different ideas and perspectives, to ask questions, and to learn from each other. In a discussion like this that evokes such strong emotions and widely differeing opinions, that can be hard to remember. Let's keep it civil, please. :)



Kevin said...

Well written speech. His ideas sound reasonable and well thought out to me. I'll be interested to hear any objections to it.

grandmac said...

One strange thing I heard today was that Mexico is planning on suing the US for putting their people at more risk because they will have to find more dangerous ways to cross the border if it is being guarded.

Something is not quite right with this picture. :-{

Mark Congdon said...


I found a reference to that potential lawsuit on a website called the Sierra Times, but it offers no verifiable citations other than a generally-worded letter sent by the ACLU to Mexico, saying nothing about a lawsuit. Where did you hear about this news? Is there something more concrete that I can look up to find out more about this possibility?


steviepinhead said...

Whoever it was at ABC/AP who transcribed this speech needs to learn a whole lot more about the use of the comma. At times, the lack of commas to separate clauses and items in a series affected the sense and readability of the President's remarks.

My picky grammar complaint aside, I think immigration policy is one of the very few areas in which the President has articulated a plan that actually makes sense (I here manfully resist the temptation to list the numerous areas in which his policies make no sense whatsoever!). I suspect our Spanish-speaking President with his Texas background feels genuine empathy with these Mexican immigrants and that he has a sincere desire to rationalize our dysfunctional immigration policy.

That all being said, I have some concerns about the border-security aspects of the plan. I agree that the illegal immigrants we are talking about are not any kind of terrorists. Likewise, no significant portion of them are drug traffickers. The influx of illegal job-seekers--who speak little English, possess few marketable skills other than menial labor, and who are weighted heavily toward young males--doubtless contributes to an increase in certain categories of crime in the most heavily-impacted regions of the country. And, undeniably, illegal immigrants are lawbreakers in the sense that they enter the country knowing that they intend to break the immigration, employment, and related labor and tax provisions.

But these realities don't, to my mind, justify "securing" our borders against illegal entrants in the same manner as we would guard against incursions by potential "terrorists." The tools and tactics that may work against one sort of illegal entrant should not be confused with those that may prove effective against an entirely different threat. I'm not comfortable with blurring those lines, or with sloppily applying anti-terrorist rhetoric or strategies to this very different situation.

The underlying problem here is that our southwestern border is like a long semi-permeable membrane: on one side are people living in an economy that doesn't provide enough work; on the other side is an economy that depends on the labor of desperate undocumented workers. The resulting flow is going to be difficult to stem without changing something fundamental in that equation.

You can't just announce a guest worker program, or any form of--let's call it "graduated amnesty"--without simultaneously beefing up border security to some meaningful degree. That would only result in a rush to the border. The same is true of announcing a significant step-up in border security without allowing for some form of continued flow of workers. Not only would that also result in a rush to the border, but creating a significant bottleneck in the flow of workers would cause significant economic problems on this side of the border in the agricultural, construction, and elder-care industries, among others.

The President's plan attempts to address most of the interrelated aspects of the situation in a balanced manner. Whether all the pieces to the puzzle can really be brought into play in a coordinated sequence remains to be seen. And, as suggested above, until the underlying fundamentals are addressed more directly, I have my doubts that merely deploying the National Guard, co-opting local police and emergency services, and building high-tech fences is going to stem the flow of illegal entrants in anything like an effective and humane manner. While any significant gaps remain in "border security," this sounds to me like a better prescription for redirecting the flow, rather than stemming the tide.

Again, I don't object to increasing the incentives for gaining employer cooperation. But there are problems with the "guest-worker ID card" side of the solution, too. A certain percentage of illegal work simply takes place in an underground cash economy that exists outside of any sort of formal employer-employee context. And a significant part of the advantage to U.S. employers in hiring illegals is premised upon the fact of illegality--the illegal workers are poorly positioned to complain of unsafe or illegal work practices, or to negotiate for "market" wages. One wonders whether a legal "guest worker" program will successfully displace these ingrained "advantages" of the status quo.

These potential practical and logistical problems do not detract from the salutory aspects of this proposal, which deserves credit for facing up to the complicated realities of the situation, and for attempting to deal with the various elements of the problem with a comprehensive approach. If this administration had a better record of competency and adaptability in the face of changing contingencies, I would be more sanguine that any practical problems could be "fine-tuned" as matters developed. Still, the overall concepts embodied in this plan are commendable, and perhaps my doubts should not stand in the way of making some partial headway toward a solution.

The final problem, though, is one of political capital. The more conservative elements of the President's party have come out against this plan as veering too close to "amnesty for illegals" (failing, in my view, to recognize that a heavily-Republican corporate agriculture industry has been complicit in the same illegal behavior for decades). And numerous other interest groups across the political spectum have found one or another element of the proposal unpalatable. However good a start we might agree that the President's proposal represents, I question whether the President retains the political moxie to persuade a partisan, bickering, and election-focused Congress to adopt anything like what has been proposed.

And, as discussed above, any less-comprehensive plan--one that steers too far toward amnesty without meaningful border control or employer buy-in, or one that steers too far toward suppression and interdiction of illegals without continuing to supply an equivalent flow of low-wage workers--is almost certainly doomed to failure.

One is left wishing that this President had brought this comprehensive reform package forward before he had relinquished so much of his political effectiveness.

Mark Congdon said...

Excellent commentary, stevie. Thanks!

I agree with you about the "semi-permeable membrane" description of our border with Mexico. I doubt that we will ever be able to effectively block illegal movement across that border, and I doubt even more that the expenditure in manpower and money would be worth it, even if we could.

I think the core problem, as you so well described it, is an economy that has fallen in love with cheating the system, creating a strong demand for low-class low-wage workers with no rights or privileges.

I also have a hard time imagining the situation changing. People are good at getting indignant about people who are doing bad things "out there"... but most people have a hard time dealing with the ways that they are contributing to the problem. I once hired a guy to fix my car, who I'm pretty sure wasn't reporting any of his earnings to the IRS. He was really cheap... but I was probably cheating the system. How many small business owners get, say, very cheap landscaping, being careful not to ask questions about how all the workers are paid? How many of us would pay more at the grocery store for food with a certification: "No illegal immigrant workers participated in the production of this food"? Do we feel strongly enough about the problem to let it affect our pocketbooks?

For that matter, how many of us fully-legal Americans fudge on our taxes? There are a lot of under-the-table cash economies going around that have nothing to do with illegal immigrants. How many of us who make an extra few thousand dollars a year in some cash business on the side, turn around and report that income to the IRS? If we are willing to cheat the tax system to gain a little financial advantage, how can we have such righteous indignation toward others who cheat our immigration/tax laws for their own financial advantage?

I'm not advocating a hands-off policy. I'm advocating the opposite... a heightened sense of civic duty and honesty in American society. Without that core underpinning, I doubt that we will have the resolve as a nation to end the underground economy that lowers our prices on so many products. And as long as that cash economy is creating a demand, that demand will pull people from across the border who will fill it.

If anyone has a concrete suggestion for how we could end (or minimize) this cash economy epidemic, I'd love to hear it.

And Stevie, thanks again for your insights.


steviepinhead said...

Thanks, Mark. Here's a link to a story that suggests the difficulties facing any attempt to truly "cordon off" the border:

The headline of this AP story filed yesterday (5/18/06) reads:
Report: U.S. Border Patrol demoralized
Flood of cases overwhelms system, meaning few smugglers are prosecuted

This appears to be the "takeaway" point of this article:
"The report raises doubts about the value of tightening security along the Mexican border. President Bush wants to hire 6,000 more Border Patrol agents and dispatch up to 6,000 National Guards soldiers. He did not mention overburdened courts in his Oval Office address Monday on immigration."

So one question that might be asked of the "round 'em all up and send 'em home" faction might be: Yes, but--even assuming we really want to absorb the expense, disruption, and logistical nightmares that would go along with that "solution"--how do you propose that we will be able to keep them on "their" side of the border, once you've gotten them there.

The article notes that the average price paid to a person-smuggler by an illegal entrant-to-be is $1400. In short, by making entry for prospective "guest workers" illegal, we've spawned an incredibly lucrative industry in people-smuggling.

Presumably this $1400 payment ultimately comes, in one way or another, out of the wages paid to illegal workers, and thus out of the prices we pay for lower-cost labor and consumables. One advantage of Bush's proposal is that it would "legalize" ("decriminalize," whatever term you prefer) the entry of guest workers, which would in a stroke eliminate this "hidden tax" on the wages paid to illegals...

grandmac said...

I'm looking for the information. I know what radio channel I heard it on but not which program and I stayed up entirely too late trying to find it :-) , so will try again tomorrow.

Mark Congdon said...

Today I came across an interesting editorial in the LA Times that relates to this discussion:

A Job Americans Won't Do, Even at $34 an Hour

The article discusses a landscaping firm that can't find willing manual laborers, no matter how much they're willing to pay.

This makes me wonder why? I can understand that most Americans aren't excited about doing a manual labor job... but completely unwilling? At what point does a need to survive, to support oneself, overcome one's inherent laziness?

I wonder how much the answer to that question is affected by welfare. If the government will provide a financial safety net (however minimal) for people to do no work, then what motivation is there for them to get off the couch and work their butts off all day long? Most people will opt for less money and complete laziness, rather than more money and extreme physical labor.

Any thoughts on what part our welfare system might play in Americans' unwillingness to do manual labor jobs? If you think it does play a part, does anyone have any thoughts about what might be done to resolve the problem?


steviepinhead said...

Interesting article, Mark.

This particular job appears to be a bit of a special case, in that the lady runs a governmental public-works "landscaping" company, which runs the pay-scale off of the usual charts for that kind of work. And I note that the $34/hour is for landscapers with a certain amount of experience and supervisorial capability--the "starting" pay is $14/hour, which in Orange County may not be a whole lot above minimum wage.

And the article does have an interesting quote from a black man earning $60K/year as an auto detailer--so clearly not every (stereotypical--and I recognize that YOU do not invoke the stereotype) "welfare recipient" is content to sit around rather than work hard at manual labor.

Likewise, the article also cites the case of a non-welfare recipient--the son of the boss of another landscaping outfit--who was fired three times from a landscaping job that was more-or-less handed to the kid on a platter (the benefits of nepotism!), and who eventually wound up--not on the welfare rolls--but in the restaurant (a euphemism for fast food?) industry.

So I agree that an article like this does raise interesting questions about the willingness of many, if perhaps not quite all, modern Americans to engage in this kind of physically-demanding, culturally-"demeaning" outdoor labor.

But the particular case in point apparently represents a bit of an aberrantion. And the article seems to make it clear that there are other factors at work in the "American" unwillingness to engage in this category of work beyond the mere availability of welfare.

Which doesn't mean that the availability of a social safety net plays no role. For example, setting aside the availability of welfare "up here," what about the impact of the lack of any comparable safety net in Mexico?

Douglas_Coombs said...

I have a really hard time believing that they can't find somebody to work in landscaping for $34/hr. Something smells a little fishy to me. If they gave me a room and board and $20/person to find people, I doubt it would take a week. In fact, I know a white dude in my city who is landscaper and makes much, much less than $34/hr. The wife is always trying to hawk stuff to the mom's club members to make a couple extra bucks when things get tight. I hope folks don't mind my skepticism, but growing up in a blue collar family and still knowing several folks who do manual labor for a living, I can't bring myself to belief the article.


Mark Congdon said...


the "starting" pay is $14/hour, which in Orange County may not be a whole lot above minimum wage.

The article also says that other landscaping firms (not under government-work restrictions) pay $8.50/hour for similar jobs. So $14/hour is at least $5/hour more than minimum wage, no insignificant difference.

And the article does have an interesting quote from a black man earning $60K/year as an auto detailer--so clearly not every (stereotypical--and I recognize that YOU do not invoke the stereotype) "welfare recipient" is content to sit around rather than work hard at manual labor.

This paragraph completely lost me. What does the auto-detailer have to do with welfare recipients? I didn't quite get how his quote fit into the article, either. He is clearly not in need of replacement work, presumably likes what he does, and is nowhere close to welfare income levels.

But the particular case in point apparently represents a bit of an aberrantion.

I don't think so. The article cites many other companies in the same area in similar positions, highlighting this one in particular only because the wages are so high it makes for a good headline.

The one area where it seems that this employer might be an aberration is that she doesn't appear to have very good methods of finding employees. If her best attempt is to put up flyers in landscaping-supply stores, she should really start using an outside firm to do her hiring for her!

And the article seems to make it clear that there are other factors at work in the "American" unwillingness to engage in this category of work beyond the mere availability of welfare.

Certainly. There are undoubtedly other factors at work.

Which doesn't mean that the availability of a social safety net plays no role. For example, setting aside the availability of welfare "up here," what about the impact of the lack of any comparable safety net in Mexico?

I'm sure that plays a part. That's not a situation, however, that I have any control over, not being a Mexican citizen. If our American welfare system plays a part in the problem, that's something that we have control over. I'm interested in considering whether (and how much) our welfare system is part of the problem, and what might be done to fix it if it is.


steviepinhead said...

Again, Mark, my "stereotypical" comment was a general one, not directed at you. And probably, in retrospect, not directed at anyone on this blog!

My point, or attempted point at any rate, was that--in following the immigration discussion in the media--unemployed black males have been frequently held up as the prime example of those "Americans unwilling to do this work." And that, while not all unemployed black males are on welfare, the stereotype of welfare recipients would have to prominently include at least some of those same unemployed black males.

And the article furnishes at least one example of a black male who is employed--relatively lucratively--in auto detailing. While auto detailing is not classic "stoop" labor, it is manual labor, often conducted (at least in part) outdoors, and--I would have assumed--is not usually a good deal more lucrative than many other unskilled or menial manual labor jobs.

I don't know what aspect of auto detailing this $60K/year earner is employed in--maybe he's a supervisor or customer service guy, or who knows--but I do drive past an auto detailing outfit every day on my way home from work here in Seattle. The guys I see working on the cars are, almost to a man, young and black. And I have also represented a young black man who happened to have been employed as, among other things (including "ushing" and fast food service), an auto detailer.

So here's an outdoor, manual labor job, which cannot--at least at the entry, wipe-and-polish-and-vacuum level--require any great amount of skill. In Seattle, young black men predominate in this "trade" at a well-known and highly-visible location. (And, at least in Southern California, it appears to be possible for those engaging in this trade to work themselves up to a decent wage level.)

I agree with you that the presence of the $60K wage-earner in the article presented a little bit of a logical mystery. My conclusion--which may not persuade anyone else here--was that the reporter's purpose was to present a counter-example to the stereotypical meme that lurks behind this discussion, which runs something like this: "Americans aren't willing to do the jobs that these Mexican illegals are willing to do and, specifically, unemployed black men aren't willing to do the jobs these illegal entrants are willing to do."

(Again, I recognize that you were speaking to the interplay of our welfare system and the immigration problem generally, and were in no way buying into that meme.)

And there's a counter-meme, along the lines of, "These entrants are depressing wages and taking away jobs that unemployed black men might otherwise be willing to fill."

My attempted point--which I freely admit I didn't explicate very well, since it was only one of a number of things that flew off my fingertips--was to suggest that there's something at least a little bit trickier going on: at least some young black men are willing to work in at least some entry-level manual labor jobs (and, the article suggests, though using only the one example, are possibly willing to work themselves up to responsible decent-wage positions in those jobs). Whereas, there may be other jobs, which fall into the same broad category of entry-level manual-labor jobs, which young black men may not be willing to get involved with.

What's the difference? How physically-demanding the work is? Or something more subtle, for example, whether the job is culturally-perceived as a "Mexican" job or a "black" job? A halfway "hip" expensive-car related job, versus a totally un"hip" dirt-moving job? Or even simpler, a job which young Mexican men or young black men feel comfortable taking on, because--in some sense--they can see that they will have Mexican or black "mentors" or predecessors in those positions who can steeer them to the job, show them the ropes, and with whom they can talk and hang out during the course of the work, etc.

I completely agree that this particular employer did not seem to be very savvy at advertising her positions.

But I still have some questions--which I think Doug to some extent shares--about how common or representative the scenario portrayed in the article really is: my term was "aberrant"; Doug's word was "skeptic[al]."

I have no doubt that the availability of welfare plays some part in all this, but my sense is that we lack enough information to meaningfully quantify that at this point. My impression--and that's all it is--is that it's a lot harder for able-bodied persons to simply "hang" on the welfare roles when jobs are available under the "reform" systems in place in most states these days...

I realize none of us can directly impact Mexican society or economy or whatever their version of welfare may or may not be. But I don't think American voters are entirely without a voice, given the ability to engage in a debate about issues like, say, NAFTA within our own polity.

Mark Congdon said...


Thanks for the explanation... I understand much better now.

There does seem to be a significant undercurrent of race running through this discussion in society.

On the one hand, there are people who resent Mexicans in general, and tend to view them as an underclass. I have no tolerance for those people.

On another hand, there are people who (as you pointed out, and I hadn't actually even considered) view "lazy young black men" as the culprits who won't take manual-labor jobs. That race-oriented perspective seems misguided and unhelpful to me.

In my mind, when I consider this situation, I think of a good friend of mine (who, though it matters nothing, but because race is a part of this conversation, is white, as I am). He lost his job in a computer-related customer-service position a couple years ago. For a long time--over a year, if I remember correctly--he stayed unemployed and continued looking for a job. He ran out of money, went into debt, borrowed, etc. I'm sure that there were manual labor jobs available for the taking, which would have paid a reasonably good sum of money... but he never once considered them as an option.

And, I consider myself. If I lost my job... how quick would I be to offer myself for 40 hours a week of hard manual labor, no matter how good it paid? I have a hard time answering that question.

My friend did find work eventually, and he was able to rely on friends and connections to survive until that time. He used unemployment for a time, but never needed to depend on the welfare system.

But, I can imagine a situation where someone in a similar situation would be continually unable to find work (or hold down a job), and would go on welfare. At what point would a middle-class American, raised with the expectation of a comfortable job, be willing to face necessity and work a manual-labor job?

It's quite possible that my question only flows out of a misunderstanding of the welfare system, and I'm certainly not trying to make a firm statement of certainty. Just thinking out loud, I guess. :)


purple_kangaroo said...

I think a lot of people are unwilling to branch out of their field or their interests when looking for a job. I know of quite a few people who are qualified for an experienced in particular jobs, but won't apply for those types of jobs because they've discovered that they strongly dislike the type of work.

I would venture to guess that when it's a choice between doing work they don't like or being on welfare, a lot of people will make a different choice than they would if their only options were taking a job they didn't want to do or going hungry.

On the other hand, as an employer, how inclined would you be to hire an employee who had absolutely no experience or interest in the field, hated the work and was physically a wimp, knowing that as soon as he could find a cushy tech job he'd be giving his two-week notice at your landscaping company? Would you want to put the resources into training him? Probably many employers wouldn't.

So, I think perhaps the habit to take a job and a relationship with an employer lightly, as a short-term thing (until something better comes along) without a real committment to the job contributes a lot to our employment problems.

I think a lot of the employment issues in our culture have to do with the fact that most people, of all colors, do not grow up with good work ethics instilled in their heads and habits. Someone who is willing to work hard at ANYTHING and has a good attitude, can take orders and follow instructions, and has a generally good work ethic will usually get hired easily and do well.

That's why you have these tandem problems which seem, but really aren't, mutually exclusive--applicants who can't seem to get a job, and employers who can't seem to get good workers

purple_kangaroo said...

In thinking about this further, I wonder how much our labor laws, social security and all that mess up the supply and demand element of employment. If there were fewer (or more sparingly administered) laws, regulations and safety nets, would our current economy be able to support an environment in which employers had to pay competetive wages and treat their employees decently to get good workers, while workers had to have good attitudes and work hard in order to get good work? Or do we already have such a dynamic?

grandmac said...

Here is an interesting article and (also ad for a book), which was sent to me by a friend who works in the government about Mexican drug cartels taking over US cities.

grandmac said...

I'm really good at forgetting the links. LOL

Mark Congdon said...


It's useful to note that the news article in question is basically a book advertisement, as all the information in the article comes from the book as its source, and the book was published by WorldNetDaily itself ("new book published by WND Books").

I also notice that there are two types of situations presented in the article. There are cases where local officials have been prosecuted by state or federal law enforcement for fraud. These cases encourage me, rather than discourage me. The other are "confidential briefings with top officials in big-city law enforcement" that Tancredo cites. These, obviously, are completely devoid of details (otherwise they wouldn't be confidential), so we are left simply taking Tancredo's word for it.

Which I am uncomfortable doing, for other reasons.

It wouldn't surprise me if he was right about drug cartels making a play for local governments to control cities... that certainly wouldn't be a new tactic for organized crime. I'm not nearly so certain that this is a sign that America is in "mortal danger". Seems like either an over-reaction, or a book-selling marketing ploy.