The right immigration policy

My recent post on the Highland Park High School girls’ basketball team raises the issue of US immigration policy. Although I think it is essential we obey the law, I see lots of problems with our current policy and its enforcement. How much and with what criteria should we restrict immigration ? How do we deal with those illegal immigrants already in the country ?

My personal experience with restrictive immigration laws is intergenerational and intercontinental. My father immigrated to the US from Germany in October, 1939, after Poland had fallen and World War II had started. Somehow, his family was lucky enough to get a visa to the US. A wise uncle saw the handwriting on the wall and my grandfather applied early enough that his visa came through in the summer of 1939. After he got a job, it required the beneficence of the Jewish community in Herrin, Illinois to guarantee that the rest of the family would not become wards of the state before visas could be issued for the rest of the family. Some of my dad’s relatives moved to Chile because they could get visas to go there. Others were trapped in Germany and perished in the Holocaust.

My brother, in Israel, had a cleaning person who lived in fear of being discovered since he and his family had overstayed their visa. Israel imported Eastern European workers after one of the intifadas made Arabs a security risk. A wonderful guy, I think he was eventually deported. That doesn’t seem right.

And as far as enforcement goes, my brother-in-law had a live-in helper who was part of the family. A Brazilian woman in her 30s, she met the love her life and married him. She traveled with him to meet her family, but was refused reentry to the US. She had overstayed a tourist visa and the law prevents her from returning and reuniting with her husband for 7 years or so. Another tragedy.

I see in my work that there are talented foreign scientists and engineers who are either educated in the US or here for a short appointment and want to stay and become part of our vibrant economy and live a good life. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to stay and make their contribution ?

And the unwashed, Hispanic face of illegal immigration is visible wherever landscapers, migrant workers, dishwashers, and the like perform jobs not attractive enough for US citizens, even in the Great Recession.

On one hand, the law is what it is. To ignore it would devalue it and the civilizing force it brings to society. And in many communities, illegal immigrants are a burden. My relatives in California place some of the blame for its fiscal crisis on illegal immigrants.

On the other hand, America is a nation of immigrants. And they have contributed greatly to its success. Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for the Boston Globe I usually agree with, thinks we should revert to a policy where there are no limits on immigration. Let people vote with their feet if they want to be here and deal with the energy, vitality, and problems they bring.

We have an illegal immigration problem today only because federal law makes legal immigration so costly and difficult. A concrete-and-barbed-wire wall along the border will not fix that problem, and neither will punitive sanctions on employers who hire illegal aliens.

There are many government policies that go against economic principles and societal forces that laws cannot contain. Increasing the demand for healthcare will not lower its cost (supply and demand). Restricting campaign contributions will not prevent the wealthy from influencing elections. Enforcing strict limits on immigration to the wealthiest country in the world with the most opportunity is impossible. I am not in a position to recommend a solution, but our immigration policy has to change.


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