Monday, May 15, 2006

Border Fences

Here come the premises: I am against illegal immigration. I am in favor of legal immigration. I want our borders to be as open as possible, to encourage free trade and to encourage people to vote with their feet, choosing the United States as the best location to make one's home. Illegal immigration has become a serious problem, and must be addressed. I am with Teddy Roosevelt, who decried the phenomenon of "Hyphenated Americans". I believe that all official documents should be in English only- otherwise, we should have begun having official documents in English and German in the 1850s, and dozens of other languages in between then and now. No- that's a recipe for chaos. So...

When I think of fences at borders, none comes to mind before the Berlin Wall. It was symbolic of all that was wrong with Communism and the Soviet Union. The relatively open borders of the United States stood in stark contrast, perhaps more symbolically than in reality, but that symbolism was powerful, and defining.

It is why Ronald Reagan famously declared, "Mr. Gorbechev, tear down this wall". It was symbolic of the difference between liberty and repression.

So now President Bush considers building a wall- with the Guard today, and perhaps bricks and mortar tomorrow.

I am deeply concerned about the possibility of erecting a wall on the Mexican border. Obviously, the walls being talked about aren't meant to keep our people in against their will, as the Berlin Wall was. I suppose this is to be a sort of one-way wall, that allows anyone out, but only citizens and authorized visitors in.

Still, it stands in contrast with the words on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

The wall is going to be a great expense, if it is to be built. In the short run, the Guard stationed at the border will be a great expense. Problem is, a wall or Guardsmen can only affect supply, not demand. There is obviously demand for the services of illegal immigrants, or they wouldn't be coming here. What are the root causes?

Employers are desperate to avoid paying the myriad taxes that are levied against them when they hire citizens or legal guest workers. Employers are desperate for good workers at a low rate of pay. The demand for cheap labor won't go away once a wall is built. However, if the tax burden is lowered, more employers would feel real relief, would be less tempted to break the law by hiring illegals, and could begin to consider paying more for American labor. Obviously there is great reward for employers to run the risk of hiring illegal employment, or they wouldn't engage in the practice.

Illegal immigration is also very much a compliance issue, like so much else in America. Make it easier to become a legal immigrant, and more would take that path, just as simplifying the tax code would yield greater compliance, just as marginally lowering tax rates results in greater revenue yields.

But a wall, because it is symbolic, strikes accord across the political spectrum on a visceral level. It is not a rational solution.

No, after the wall is built, employers will still have high tax burdens, and therefore, the demand for illegal immigrants will still exist. Will we have to build a wall around Canada then? Will we have to build seawalls in the oceans?

Public policy on immigration must not merely address the fact of the immigrants. It must get to the root of the problem, which is our enormous tax burden.

-Mike Kole


Tim Zank said...

Welcome back Mike, I hope the trip went well. You make some very valid points. You won't see a brick & mortar wall any time soon. The national guard will suffice for a while, IF they help train and increase the border patrol. Until after the 06 elections we are still in the political posturing stage pandering for votes on both sides.Once all the rhetoric and posturing calms down, most thinking folks will realize the solution comes from within as well as along the border, I hope!

Jeff Pruitt said...


I don't believe the tax burden is the problem - it's taxes in general. No matter how low the tax burden was if there was an easy way to hire illegals to avoid paying taxes completely, then that's what these companies would do. Greed drives everything in a capitalist society.

So unless you're going to abolish all taxes for business then you're going to have to address the availability of illegals to these businesses.

William Larsen said...

Mike, did the U.S. write "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door." or was it the French?

You might even infer that to say "Give me" is saying hand them to me, do not hide from me and sneak across.

I will reiterate once again, there is no job in the U.S. that an American worker will not do. In the occupations with the most illegals, illegals and immigrants are still the minority by a very large percentage. At most those occupations with the least number of Americans amount to no more than 1.3 of the work force and in these occupations we have 1.4 million unemployed Americans who perform the very same work. We have 19 million American workers who have left the work force and stopped looking.

We do not have a shortage of workers; rather we have illegals taking jobs from Americans.

Mike Kole said...

William- I don't believe there is any such thing as 'taking a job' from anyone. Jobs do not belong to employees. They are offered by employers to serve a purpose. There is an incentive to employers to employ illegals.

Jeff- I really believe that if the costs to an employer were equal to hire a citizen to hiring an illegal, the citizens would get hired, because the employer would no longer have an advantage in hiring illegals to justify the risk. I'm going to assume that you are not an employer, or the tax burden would be very apparent. Come to think of it, that would make an excellent post!

By the way- power drives everything in a socialist society.

Jeff Pruitt said...


I know what the employer's tax burden is and you made the exact point that I was trying to make. Namely that the cost can never be equal when hiring a legal vs illegal worker unless you eliminate the employer's tax all together. I believe that lowering the tax burden as you suggest will do nothing unless the supply of illegal workers is reduced as well. Is your position (and the party's) to eliminate taxes on business or to reduce them?

And if a corporatation is going to be treated the same as any other citizen then it must pay taxes like citizens.

William Larsen said...

Jobs do not belong to employees. They are offered by employers to serve a purpose. There is an incentive to employers to employ illegals.

Mike, you are correct that jobs belong to no one. However, illegals do not belong here. If they were not here companies would hire those that were available. The data clearly shows there is little incentive to hire illegals. After amnesty twenty years ago, the wage increase was less than 5% according to Steven Camarota, Research Director for the Center of Immigration Studies. The data does not support the myth that there are jobs an American will not do. If the laws were enforced there would be no economic incentive to hire illegals.

Illegals increase the supply of labor displacing American willing to do the same work while at the same time hold down wage increases. The labor data clearly shows 4.4 million Americans unemployed in the same occupations performed by illegals.

I am not against immigration, I am against illegal immigration.

Mike Kole said...

Jeff- My party's position on taxes is that they are too high in virtually every area of life. We tend to make calls for incremental reductions on these taxes, whether on business or on the individual.

You're right that it can never be equal unless the tax is eliminated altogether, but risk-reward considerations affect people in interesting, non-uniform ways. Of course, right now not every employer succumbs to the temptation to hire illegal immigrants. For some it is because of their personal ethics. For others, it is because the risk is greater than the reward. This is why I believe that even incrementally reducing the tax burden on employers reduces the reward for hiring illegals. But eliminating the tax burden leaves virtually no incentive to hire them.

William's comment leads me to point out that there is very little will to enforce current laws, despite popular sentiment. A tiny handful of employers have been questioned, but it is hardly widespread enough to affect demand. Eliminating the tax burden, or reducing it, eliminates the reward to employers, thus eliminating the demand by them. It works real well if there is no will to enforce.

It's interesting- because politicians are so addicted to the tax revenues, I would have expected a deep will to enforce. But, it's a classic case of wanting to have the cake and eat it too.

I have no doubt that building a wall or a fence will have an impact on cutting the supply of workers. It's logical enough to shut off supply this way just as if you had a pipe break you would shut off the water and then fix the pipe. I've already stated the symbolic concerns I have about it in the main post.

But think of it like any prohibition. Did the 18th Amendment and all the enforcement in the world reduce the demand for drink? Does the current War on Drugs and all the enforcement behind it eliminate the demand for meth or crack? In the same way, putting up a fence or enforcing immigration laws will have no reall effect on the demand by employers to secure cheap labor.

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