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May 02, 2006
William Weld On The Streets of New York
Had a true New York moment last night. I was walking on Park Avenue around 91st Street, and a man happened across my path walking two dogs, a Corgi and another whose breed I'm not sure about. My friend bent down to admire and pat the dogs. The owner said: "People generally like the dogs better than they like me." I looked up at the owner and recognized him as former Mass. Governor William Weld who is seeking the Gubernatorial Republican nomination in New York to run against Eliott Spitzer in November.
Governor. Governor. A little confidence maybe? I said, "Running against Spitzer is going to be a tough slog." Weld's response: "Do ya think?"
Weld served as governor from 1990 until he resigned in 1997. In 1996 he ran for U.S. Senate but was defeated by then Democratic incumbent John Kerry. President Bill Clinton nominated Weld in 1997 to become U.S. ambassador to Mexico, but his nomination was blocked in the Senate. Weld moved to New York in 2000 and is now a partner in investment firm Leeds Weld & Co.
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The Faces In America
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.
This is the message that graces the Statue of Liberty in New York City. It serves as a welcoming message to the many people who came to this country, especially those who came to New York, through Ellis Island, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Immigration changed the face of America that generation leading many to say that this country was built on their. This sound bite is especially frequent when talking about current immigration issues. However, things were different then. They were people seeking asylum from brutal tyrannical dictators, religious persecution, and political unrest. Moreover, America needed more them in its exponentially growing economy; and of course, they were legal.
Illegal immigration has recently come to the forefront of issues in America after proposed legislation for increased border security was met with protests of hundreds of thousands of people in various US cities. People today hold a spectrum of sides and opinions. Racists and fanatics want illegal immigration enforced and the mass of people rounded up and deported. Human rights activists, businesses, and the immigrants themselves want to stay in America indefinitely. However, most people want some kind of compromise and considering the magnitude of the issue they are looking to Washington for that solution. However, immigration reform, which has Capitol Hill buzzing these days will be a hard issue to wade through as politicians must weigh factors of; economic implications, national security threats, public opinion, assimilation problems, international relations tensions, and rational logistical possibilities, all while maintaining the best interests of the Nation and its constituents.
I believe the problem must be met with a combination of short term and long term efforts. To best handle the current situation Washington should move forward with a guest worker program allowing most of the current illegal immigrants to stay temporarily, yet supplementing it with strict programs of English and citizenship literacy, birth control, and job dispersion. However, ultimately, in order to safely reverse the trending flow of immigration America must help Mexico rebuild its economy so that there are more jobs for Mexicans making it more appealing to stay or return.
I asked a political analyst and advisor for the Missouri Senate office, who wished to be referred by his first name Chuck, what he thought was the problem with the immigration issue. He responded that, “the real problem with this is that we have brought the problem to ourselves. Previous policies haven’t accounted for the repercussions and now we are left in dependency for these people with a potential security threat, and we are solely responsible for clearing it up.” He reference two very large points in history. The first was that in the early 1990’s more than 10 million immigrant workers legally to come into the US, balanced by harsh restrictions on businesses employing illegal immigrants. This triggered the wave of immigration from Mexico. But then, in 1995, as problems arose, legislation was passed that increased border patrol and eliminated illegal immigrant’s access to public services, like education and medical care. However, enforcement of employers was relaxed, allowing the wave to continue to grow. (Chuck) Time magazine confirmed that fact in a 2004 report saying that “the number of fines imposed on employers dropped 99 percent during the 1990’s from 1,063 in 1992 to 13 in 2002. (Patel, 3) Chuck attributes this to the growing economy and the government’s desire to let it be.
The result has been a tremendous influx of illegal immigrants in the past ten years. According to the Census Bureau “since 2000 the illegal population has been growing by half-million people per year”, that’s 1,400 per day. Most of these people, around 70%, have come from Mexico and habitated the southwestern states of California, Arizona, and Texas. The total has grown to over 11 million illegal immigrants in America today.
This is a tremendous mass of people in our 276 million people nation and they bring incalculable benefits as well as costs to America. 96% of illegal immigrant males are working and they are mostly working as cheap labor in low-skilled, poor working condition jobs that most American’s would not consider doing. Many argue that this is providing a valuable service to the American economy. (McNatt 2) However, illegal immigrants are a huge liability. They have no social security number so they can not acquire drivers or medical insurance. Therefore, other means have to cover accidents, and tens of millions of unpaid medical costs are incurred per year which has caused many California hospitals to close. (Patel 2-4) Furthermore, undocumented workers do not pay taxes, yet have the benefits of public services such as parks, roads, clean air, and education which has astronomical costs, especially since No Child Left Behind. Local school districts “are estimated to educate 1.8 million undocumented children… [costing] about 11.2 billion dollars,” most of which will be incurred in California where their presence is really hurting due to their high concentration. (McNatt 3)
But do these people really pose a national security threat like Chuck mentioned? He explained that the worry is more about the flow of undocumented people than the actual people immigrants here. Enemies, intending to cause harm to our country, could be mixed in the flow of masses entering our country and then present terror threats. However, editor of Newsweek Fareed Zakaria makes clear that not only has there been no terrorist attack in America since 9/11, there has never been a terrorist attack associated with anyone legally or illegally crossing the Mexican border, in our history. He sees no association between anti-immigration policy and anti-terrorism efforts. (Zakaria 2)
Congress senses otherwise as explained by the 9/11 Commission, which reports that the Justice Department, along with Congress, in associated with terror fear, has made “among their highest priorities shoring up the Southwest border to prevent the migration of illegal aliens.” Accordingly there is current proposed legislation in Congress to construct a 700 mile fence (along the 2,000 mile border) costing over two billion dollars. This doesn’t appear to be very cost effective as Congress has already spent over five billion dollars and employs over 11,000 patrolmen, yet according to T.J. Bonner, president of National Border Patrol, “the patrol catches no more that a third of illegal border crossers. (Patel 3, 5)
Personally, I believe that construction of a fence is a bad idea that will not deter the flow of either illegal immigrants or determined terrorists. Just like drug enforcement, as long as the demand exists, people will find a way to supply that demand, regardless of how much money is spent to deter it. Furthermore, I think that the symbolic presence will be a problem, perhaps even a national security threat in itself. I think that affected people on both sides of the border will be insulted and could react in a hostile manner. In addition, I think the insult extends politically and will harm international relations with Mexico, and our ability to deal with this issue peacefully together.
Overall, I think the only real national security threat associated with this issue is if America is too hard on these people. Though the nature of Mexicans is not radicalist (Zakaria 2), there are 11 million illegal immigrants within our borders who could strike back if America is too hard on them; peoples who have nothing, and who will lose all hope if sent back to Mexico. There can be no determining the degree of threat involved with a mass of people who in response to proposed legislation alone took to the street in millions.
Even if politicians wanted to be hard on the issue, deporting, or forcefully attempting to get rid of the illegal immigrants in America is a logistically impossible task. It would cost an unseen amount of troops and interrogations which could never be feasible. Many don’t think that should even be a thought, proponents cite that illegal immigrants are good for America and our economy and we should find ways for them to stay. (Senate 2) But do these people actually help our economy?
From the repeated statements of our President and news reporters it would certainly seem so. However, Harvard Economist Borjas, an expert on the effects of immigration, claims that directly immigration only added a “modest” $10 billion to our $8 trillion dollar economy in 1998. An economy which he adds is growing by $300 billion per year. (Patel 4) However, he points out that it is not the net gain, but who gains and who looses. Jared Berstein director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Living Standards Program explains that the large presence of lowest-wage-tolerating undocumented workers depresses, or lowers, the wages of domestic workers in low wage sectors. These immigrants are willing to work in poor conditions for nominal wages and “in the absence of those immigrants, the quality of those jobs would probably improve, and American workers would take them,” Berstein concludes. (Patel 4)
This is unfortunate for certain low-skilled American workers however, most of the cheap labor is concentrated in “particular industries,” namely the housing and construction, agriculture, grounds keeping, restaurant labor, and health care, especially nursing. These are backbone markets which affects every American and the way Americans live. (McNatt 3) Changes would have drastic effects on the economy in places that every American really takes for granted and if altered would disrupt what Demitrios Papademetriou, director of the Migration Policy Institute, calls a “subsidy to every person in America.” He explains that this cheap labor “maintains a higher standard of living above what we can really afford” because crucial products become cheaper. For example, illegal immigrants comprise over 50% of agricultural labor jobs, and we pay less for food than any other country in the world, according to the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service. (Patel 3)
Furthermore, John Gay, co-chairman of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition refers back to a decade and a half of tremendous economic growth, and argues that the immigrant’s benefit to American workers goes understated. He says that these “low-paid workers helped business thrive, allowing them to hire native-born people and legal immigrants for higher-paying jobs.” (Patel 5) So illegal immigrants, though their contribution looks small, have actually contributed not only to America’s strong economy but to the living standards we are used to and make America great.
I believe that considering the repercussions of removing these people, and the underlying benefit they provide our country we must find a way to accommodate these 11 million people, at least for the near future. The most effective way of doing this involves an idea that is being worked on in Capitol Hill called a guest worker program. A guest worker program would construct a legal way for these people to stay in the country if they are working or preparing to do so. President Bush’s current plan would work to match future immigrants and undocumented workers already here with employers looking for work that is not being filled by American workers. The stipulations of the program are being debated, however, certain pillars of the program include more responsibility on employers to report the status of employers, which will crack down on the abuses of business. Also, the immigrants will be eligible for a degree of citizenship after a certain number of years of good standing. (Senate 2-3)
I think this will be the most effective way to handle the current situation. A guest worker program presents numerous positives. It creates the crucial plan for managing the undocumented immigrants currently in the country, while not alienating their interests or harming their well being. It keeps the people working within our economy, keeping aligned with growth potential, however it will assign more responsibility to businesses to manage the standing and welfare of these people. Overall, this program would allow for control of the situation. Together with affected businesses the American government would be able to hold down much of the associated liabilities. The control will enable them to design appropriate programs to handle the problematic issues of medical costs and education costs.
However, this program will not be a free ticket for these people. I believe that the government needs to address its responsibility to make these people responsible members of the community. I think this should involve programs with emphasis on English literacy in schools, and living citizenship literacy which would teach these people acceptable behavior and conduct, and what entitlements they do and do not have rights to. In addition, birth control programs should be developed because these people have a much higher birth rate according to the Center for Immigration Studies, however, they are unable to afford them and their costs. According to international relations experts, this widens the income gap and the levels of lower education continue. (Broad & Cavanaugh 7) We need to articulate to these people through intensive birth control programs that it is in their best interest to have fewer children. Only when these programs, which will increase the welfare of all parties, are implemented will the liabilities truly be reduced.
Furthermore, one part of the guest worker program which should be emphasized, asserted, and utilized is the dispersion policy. The program is supposed to align the proper labor with the job openings, but it also must work to direct the people further than the Southeast. Dispersing them more evenly throughout the country will create a thorough and most productive use of their labor, as well as take the competition and pressure off of the Southeastern states, which in many parts, are currently being run down. Furthermore, it would provide for better opportunities for assimilation which has become a serious problem in high areas of concentration.
Unfortunately, this program and its stipulations would involve a large load of paperwork and the bureaucratic structure, which would have to be created, developed, and implemented anew, would be expensive and slow. However, it would be a preemptive strike against problems in the future, a policy our government rarely practices. Furthermore, its effectiveness would develop over the next few years and it, as immigration tends to do, would create thousands of well paying, government, salaries to Americans.
The most important part of the guest worker program, though, is the fact that it addresses the problem according to supply and demand, because that was what really created the problem in the beginning. With the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which lifted nation to nation barriers to free trade, North America became “the world’s largest free-trade area in terms of territory and GDP.” Since its inception in 1994, America has profited solely, enhancing its free trade, prosperity, and global position. Meanwhile, “the income gap has widened,” and Mexico’s economy has declined in the past ten years, with no aid from America or Canada. This is the explanation and reason for the exponential growth flow of labor and immigration from Mexico. (Pastor 1)
Consequently, if America wants to permanently stabilize and reverse the trend of Mexican illegal immigrants it must help to rebuild the Mexican economy. The benefits of these actions to America are endless and extend beyond the problems of immigration. Robert Pastor, the director of the Center of North American Studies at American University, refers to the successes of recently inducted EU countries like Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal which invested billions of dollars in their road system and experienced tremendous economic growth. (Pastor 2) If America followed that lead and once the illegal immigration is under control here, invested in Mexico’s infrastructure and economy it could bring growth to Mexico, enticing people to stay and work in their homeland. If there was a larger demand for jobs in Mexico, the trend of migration would slow down even subside completely. According to Pastor a “$200 billion dollar investment over ten years, in roads and communications connecting the poorer southern part of Mexico to the North American market,” would encourage private investment and other “experts estimate that such an investment could double Mexico’s rate of GDP growth.” This could reduce the income gap by 20% in the first decade of implementation. (Pastor 3)
This would be one of the most altruistic moves in recent American history. It could trigger the end of a depression in Mexico, creating thousands of jobs and maybe even a cultural revitalization. However, the benefits are not exclusive to Mexico. This would be a renewing economic area with millions of people working for lower wages, close to America, and an ally. This means that America could outsource and send private investment and multinational corporations that could potentially generation trillions of dollars of wealth.
It is a very hard thing to do, to alter the course of millions of people. Problems will ensue, perhaps even some that people couldn’t even think of today. However, Mexico is neighbor, and if it was more functional would be a very strong ally. In a global environment which is very anti-American we will need all the help we can get over the next century. If perhaps we could create this help, for ourselves, by helping our neighbor, I think by all means we should try.
Posted by: MichaelFord at May 7, 2006 05:04 AM