Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

THE RIGHT TO MIGRATE

A comment from a left-leaning Christian friend of mine on an earlier post ("Bush is On A Roll":

I have to say, I'm not usually very excited when I hear Bush quotes (you know me), but this one gave me an emotional rush. Yes!! Yes!! Social security reform needs to be done, and though it could be done wrong or right, I'm glad Bush is tackling it (though the regressive tax cuts make me question his efforts somewhat). But naming immigration reform as one of two main domestic agendas--Hallelujah! This is such a basic issue of injustice, so deeply ingrained in our greedy, nationalistic (often racist) society--for George W. Bush to stand up and say, "Let's let these Mexicans (or whomever) have a decent living, legally," is such a beautiful thing. May God give him the grace to follow through, and may He change hearts throughout the Capitol to bring about greater justice for foreigners in the US. (Which, after all, is mostly a nation of once-despised immigrants.)


1) Glad to see you're reading Seth! Come back often. 2) I get that emotional rush from Bush a lot. 3) I agree completely.

Since then, David Frum at the National Review has warned that the immigration issue could "shatter the GOP." And Bush is risking a damaging fight with Rush Limbaugh on the issue. Yet he's not backing off. Here's what Bush said in the SOTU:

America's immigration system is also outdated -- unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country. We should not be content with laws that punish hardworking people who want only to provide for their families, and deny businesses willing workers, and invite chaos at our border. It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country, and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists.


This is a courageous statement from a president addressing a country where public opinion is tilted towards even tighter border controls. That Bush presents illegal immigrants as objects for our sympathy-- "hardworking people who only want to provide for their families"-- is especially admirable. Of course, he's also fudging. "Temporary guest workers" are unlikely to remain temporary. And if we give papers to undocumented immigrants that seems to amount to some form of amnesty. Also, does Bush really see this as the most efficient way to prevent "chaos at the border," or does he support immigrants' rights for moral reasons? Even if the answer is "both," is the national-interest or the moral motive first in his mind? (The same question could be asked about Iraq: did he think of Saddam as an intolerable threat, or was replacing tyranny with freedom his chief desire?) It's a fudge in more ways than that, too. To say "jobs Americans don't want" is a dodge: Americans will take the jobs at some wage. Anyway, are we going to verify that illegal immigrants are not competing with Americans in the labor market? Bush is definitely on the side of the angels here, and I applaud him. But is he using the right argument?

I believe a deeper change in our thinking is needed. A widespread view is typified in a recent column by Debra Saunders:

Let me stipulate: I feel for people who, like [California nanny] Perez, want a better life for themselves and their families and come here to improve themselves -- even if they break the law. But I respect those who immigrate here legally. They show respect for the process.

If the law means anything, you don't reward people for breaking it.


At this point it would be useful to remember what Martin Luther King said on the subject of breaking laws:

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may won ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there fire two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the Brat to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."


I agree with King. When Debra Saunders and other people of conscience find themselves sympathizing with lawbreakers, they usually do not follow the logic of their thoughts any further. If we do, we will realize that in this case the violators of the law are in the right, and the enforcers of the law are in the wrong.

I believe that a government which denies the right to migrate does wrong, and I would like to see America recognize, in a constitutional amendment, for example, the right of all persons, wherever born, to live and work in the United States. Until this is done, I believe that people of good will have a duty to ignore and/or subvert the law, to assist illegal immigrants as far as it is in their power, and (like M.L. King) to go to prison for this if the situation arises. Civil disobedience will ultimately test the willingness of the US majority (a privileged minority in global terms) to use violence on behalf of injustice. I hope that this duel of wills between people of principle and people of prejudice, should it emerge, will inspire doubt and introspection on the majority's part, and eventually convert the majority: a second civil rights movement.

However, since I recognize that mass immigration would be disruptive of the US society and economy and undermine the wages of millions of workers, I offer this compromise: Allow migration, but tax it. Create a new visa by which immigrants can enter the US at will upon payment of a sizeable deposit. (Restrictions on clear and demonstrable national-security grounds would still be acceptable; in the vast majority of cases, no one claims that national security is a factor in rejecting visas.) The deposit will be used to deport immigrants if they become destitute, and/or upon their request. Then, if their wages rise above some threshold, e.g. $40,000, apply a steeply rising "surtax" to all their earnings, so that marginal tax rates would rise above 70%. If they eventually chose to return home, a large share of the surtax would be refunded to them (and thus constitute a potent form of foreign aid). If they chose to stay, their tax payments will go towards satisfying a certain maximum (e.g. $100,000), after which they would cease paying the surtax and (contingent perhaps upon a few other conditions) would be offered citizenship.

The proceeds of the surtax, net of reimbursements to re-emigrants, would finance a grant savings account, created for every American-born child at birth, as proposed by David Brooks, among others. To assess heavy taxes on immigrants to endow the American-born with assets at birth is not particularly just. But it would allow us to recognize the right to migrate, without harming the class interests of any major American constituency. And because the abstract injustice of borders would have a face, it would gain a claim on our consciences, and that would lead the way to gradually overcoming it.

5 Comments:

  • Now you're starting to talk. I'm thinking.

    We need more immigration, but the proposal you are talking about wouuld essentially restrict immigration to the rich, wouldn't it? I've always thought some of the virtue of immigration was that first generation that arrives, sees opportunity, and flings itself into a wild flurry of productive activity. We gain so much from that energy. A lot of rich people looking for a safe haven from their own countries should they become internally unstable would not provide the same benefits at all.

    I would fuse the two - Bush's proposal and yours. I think people who are willing to come here and work at hard jobs have far more to offer than it seems. JMO.

    By Blogger MaxedOutMama, at 5:09 PM  

  • I don't think my proposal would restrict immigration to the rich at all.

    Before analyzing the impact of the proposal, let me restate it and point out the variables that policymakers would still control.

    1. All persons, wherever born, have a right to live and work in the United States. This will be recognized as a right (though great leeway will have to be given to security agencies to restrict that right for public safety reasons.)

    2. All visas available to foreigners at present will continue to exist exactly as they do now, but a new type of visa will be created. What follows pertains to the new visas.

    3. Any foreigner can receive the new type of visa (hereafter an "Amendment 28 visa") upon payment of a deposit to a US consulate abroad. (Fingerprints and other information may be demanded if the security agencies think they will be useful.) The deposit is meant to be equal to the cost that the US federal government will incur in deporting them, if that proves necessary. These immigrants then gain the right to be deported to their home country upon request at the US government's expense. I assume that this right will hardly ever be used, because the deposit will be set at a rate higher than what the foreigner would, in practice, pay to return home on his own via private channels, and if he does, he may collect the full value of the deposit from the consulate.

    4. A foreigner who enters the United States with an Amendment 28 visa would have the right to work, paying taxes like a US citizen.

    5. A special tax surcharge, paid only by Amendment 28 immigrants, would be extracted after an immigrant's salary passed a certain threshold-- say, $4,400 per month. Immigrants who make more than this amount would face very high marginal tax rates. The surtax, however, would remain in some sense the immigrant's property, though typically they would not be able to collect it in full.

    6. If an immigrant chose to return to his home country, most of the surtax-- say, 75%-- would be returned to him in a series of payments over the course of a year.

    7. If an immigrant stayed in the US and accumulated enough surtax payments, he would be allowed to stay in the US permanently, and apply for citizenship if he so chose. In this case, none of the surtax would be refunded: it would be considered the monetized value of US citizenship.

    8. Special savings accounts would be created for all children born in the US to US citizens. Each year from the child's birth until his or her eighteenth birthday, a "dividend" would be deposited in each child's account, exactly equal to his or her mathematically equally share of the total pot of surtax payments by immigrants, minus reimbursements to re-emigrants and administration costs. This money would help young people pay for education, training, college, a first home, or whatever.

    Now, even though this visa is to some extent designed for guest workers, it would work even better for tourists and investors. A tourist or an investor would not have to pay the surtax. The cost of the deposit would exclude a lot of poor people, though of course even airfare would exclude a lot of poor people. But the global middle class could, by saving or borrowing, could afford it, particularly, of course, since they would get it back aftewards.

    As an example, I recently married a girl from Russia, and my mother-in-law wanted to come to the wedding. She owns an apartment in Moscow. She was not given a visa, because the State Department officer there said they expected she would try to stay. Under my proposal, it would not matter whether she wanted to stay or not. All she would have to do would be to produce the deposit. Since she owns an apartment in Moscow which could serve as collateral, it would be easy to borrow enough money for the deposit. She would then spend about $2000 as a tourist, and fly home. For the US economy this is a pure gain, as it is of course for me personally. It is also a form of public diplomacy.

    A lot of people might come here as tourists and then, if there's a good job market, decide to stay. Labor markets would become more flexible. It would also benefit the dollar, because whenever the dollar got weak, foreigners would seize the opportunity to visit America on the cheap. Those who came here to work would likely be highly motivated, with families back home who had saved to support their trip.

    I think the plan would make America look a bit more like it did in the 19th century, though obviously at a considerably higher level of wealth. You would get teeming, hard-working ethnic slums, a lot of inequality, along with miracles of capitalist advance and rapid progress.

    By Blogger Lancelot, at 11:45 AM  

  • Bush Vs Rush. Rush loses EVERY time. I applaud the President taking on these tough issues. If Rush goes against the President on immigration he's going to look like a bigot and a racist AGAIN. Hopefully he isn't that foolish.

    Go W!

    By Blogger Alexander, at 3:54 PM  

  • "I think the plan would make America look a bit more like it did in the 19th century, though obviously at a considerably higher level of wealth. You would get teeming, hard-working ethnic slums, a lot of inequality, along with miracles of capitalist advance and rapid progress."

    This is what a lot of people are afraid of. They want a flattened and determinate socio-economic structure.

    So the deposit would be quite small then? An awful lot of countries require you show a certain amount of wealth or make a sizable deposit in a local bank in order to qualify for residency or a long-term visa.

    So many people would use this program that it would require a huge beefing up of our federal staff to process and investigate visa requests, so it would have to be pretty substantial at first.

    I think we would have to make exceptions for refugees. Right now we do allow people to ask for asylum. But that could easily be worked into the system.

    People who object to Bush's plan to essentially grant legal status to working illegal immigrants don't understand how many security and economic problems it would fix. The worst thing any country can do is to institutionalize a second-class set of de facto citizens.

    Still thinking. You certainly are interesting.

    By Blogger MaxedOutMama, at 11:08 AM  

  • A

    By Anonymous home equity, at 9:41 PM  

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