5.08.2010

Letters to Congress: Immigration


With immigration talk heating up due to a controversial proposal in Arizona, and with me due to write my semi-annual letter to my elected officials in Washington, I went looking for past posts of mine on immigration, and found this previous letter to Congress from May 2007. Despite the now-painful shout-out to Spain (their economy pretty much tanked from that point on), this has had a pretty good shelf life. A good starting point for a May 2010 version of what's on my mind on the subject of immigration. Maybe if I can unclog my brain for a few minutes, I could actually write such a version.

***

On the subject of immigration, I'm sure you've received your share of
letters. Some have xenophobically called for measures that run
antithetical to the way in which this nation was built and continues
to grow. Others have scolded any sort of hard stance on the law and
law-breakers as un-American. I'd like to propose that a more moderate
approach to the subject is the correct one.

To begin with, I reject those who would seek to keep low-skill and/or
high-skill immigrants out for fear that "they" will take "our" jobs.
This sort of protectionist sentiment is short-sighted and
self-fulfilling. It is short-sighted because in the long run, the
introduction of new labor and new competition necessarily spurs
greater economic growth, resulting in more opportunity for all. It is
self-fulfilling because in fearing that the economic pie will have to
be cut into more slices with smaller pieces for all, rather than
seeking to make the pie bigger, the pie will in fact not get bigger
and people will indeed be left with smaller pieces than before.

Whether it is those who are desperate for any sort of work and willing
to do the most menial of labor, or high-end engineers and researchers
wanting to be where the global action is in terms of cutting-edge
technology and science, we all do better and not worse as a nation if
we are welcoming. Spain is a good example of an economy that has
thrived due in large part to a willingness to accept immigrants who
will work low-paying jobs, freeing up local human capital for greater
productivity. And the Silicon Valley would not be what it is today,
with resulting economic and employment opportunity for many, without
the stimulation and innovation provided by immigrants.

Nevertheless, making legal immigration easier does not necessarily
also mean making illegal immigration easier. The "stick" of continued
border vigilance and penalties for law-breaking must be offset by the
"carrot" of higher caps and streamlined citizenship processes, but the
stick must be wielded nonetheless. We may be a nation of immigrants,
but we are also a nation under law, and that law must be upheld and
not allowed to be flouted without recourse. We have also tasked our
elected officials at the national level with the increasingly complex
task of ensuring national security, of which border patrol is
certainly a component.

I hope, then, that you will consider saying yes to the contributions
of immigrants who desire to obey the law, work honestly, and take part
in our market economy, and no to responses to the immigration topic
that either disturbingly jingoistic or naively cavalier. Thank you
for your efforts in this realm. I look forward to further
correspondence with you on this and other subjects.


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