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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The American Revolution and Immigration Today

As we write on this July 4, the country is celebrating Independence Day and representatives of the Episcopal Church are gathering in Indianapolis for the triennial meeting of the General Convention, which runs from July 5 to 12.  My colleagues on the Geranium Farm, Mother Crafton, Deacon Joanna "DJ", and Debbie Loeb, will arrive Thursday to host the Farm's now-traditional Convention luncheon on Friday, July 6.  Mo. Crafton will present the program to some 60 attendees (at last count), including at least two bishops.  I am unable to make the trip this time myself, but I extend hearty best wishes to everyone out in Indiana.

July 4 this year is marked by considerable national controversy.  We could pick any number of issues to talk on here – ObamaCare, for one – but in keeping with our Ways-of-the-World practice at this season, we'll focus on one tied to the American Revolution: immigration.  This is a current "hot topic", with last week's Supreme Court decision on the Arizona enforcement law, but it certainly also has historical significance.

Gordon Wood, a prominent historian we have quoted before on the Revolution, reminds us in a recent book, The Idea of America, that America is unique among nations.  "We Americans do not have a nationality the way other peoples do.  Our sense of being a distinct ethnicity was not something we could take for granted, the way most Europeans could . . . . A nation like ours, made up of so many races and ethnicities, could not assume its identity as a matter of course.  The American nation had to be invented . . . ."[1]  A great expression of this difference comes from a speech by Ronald Reagan in 1990, at a ceremony marking the first anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  "I received a letter just before I left office from a man. . . . He wrote that you can go to live in France, but you can't become a Frenchman.  You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can't become a German, an Italian.  He went through Turkey, Greece, Japan and other countries. but he said anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American."[2]

All of which makes a bit unnerving the current controversy over immigration.  Surely there need to be some laws about it.  A country ought to be able to protect itself from criminals and – especially in this era – from terrorists.  But beyond that, we sincerely wonder what might be needed; do we need to protect ourselves from extra farm workers or skilled economists (the profession we're most acquainted with)?  At the same time, we have laws about immigration, and a society founded, as ours was, on the basis of law ought to enforce them.  Gets tricky, doesn't it?  Thus it is that we actually agree with the Arizona officials and those of other states who are trying to help the Department of Homeland Security improve their enforcement.

More consternation:  we're totally sympathetic to the young people whose parents brought them or sent them here as young children and who now find that they are really "illegals".  But the solution recently chosen by the President to skirt regular legislative channels in an effort to help them only effects a short-term expedient that does nothing to fix an obviously flawed law and ignores efforts to that end that were already in process through a bi-partisan group in the U.S. Senate.  In a similar vein, after the Supreme Court decision validating the key enforcement provision of Arizona's SB1070 law was announced June 25, the Department of Homeland Security summarily announced that very day that it would simply not respond to calls from Arizona officers trying to report instances of lack of documentation.

As of the latest Census Bureau data, which cover 2010, there were just under 40 million "foreign born" among the U.S. population about 12 percent of the population.  The Department of Homeland Security and the Pew Hispanic Center both estimate that, of these, about 11.2-11.5 million are undocumented.  There is some enforcement, to be sure, and during 2010, there were some 387,000 deportations and 476,000 "voluntary" returns.[3]

We've also learned recently that employers' efforts to follow the laws when they hire foreign workers can prove prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.  Perhaps this is deliberate, to give U.S. citizens first crack at job opportunities.  But the outcome seems often to be that the employers, particularly of farm workers, choose to ignore the law rather than participate in the relevant visa program or recruit American employees.  As an example, a North Carolina Growers Association representative testified to a Congressional committee last fall that if he used undocumented workers, local agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) predicted that there would not likely be any investigation.  But when Growers Association farmers hire workers through the H-2A visa program, they are processed and audited not just by ICE, but also by the IRS, the FBI, the Department of Labor and various state and local agencies, taking up substantial additional amounts of time and financial resources.  In another labor group, skilled professionals, there were 15,000 government audits of 27,000 employers of one class of them in 2009, a tremendously high audit rate.[4]

So our laws are complex – just one specific law book on professional worker visas runs to more than 2,000 pages – and, as we have seen here, their enforcement is hydra-headed and unpredictable.[5]  As a "nation" now, we are obviously ambivalent about whether we want immigrant labor and how hospitable we feel toward those people and their families.  But our nation was founded by immigrants and is unique in the world for making ordinary people the heart of the political process.  Those ordinary people continue to come – even if they have no legal status – because they believe their lives will be better here than in their native land. We need more than ever to work together to rationalize this conundrum.


We don't have room here to talk about recent immigration discussion events in which we have personal involvement and knowledge, and we will continue with this subject matter.

[1] Gordon S. Wood.  The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States.  New York: Penguin Books. 2011.  Page 321 and numerous other references.

[2] Ronald Reagan.  "The Brotherhood of Man", a speech delivered November 19, 1990, at Westminster College, Fulton, MO, at the dedication of a statue at the college's Cold War Memorial.  Reproduced here: .  Accessed July 5, 2012.

[3] U.S. Bureau of the Census. American Community Survey. 2010.  Also, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics.  2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. "Table 36. Aliens Removed or Returned: Fiscal Years 1892 to 2010", page 94, and other Homeland Security sources.

[4] Stuart Anderson.  "America's Incoherent Immigration System", Cato Journal. Volume 32, Number 1, Winter 2012.  Pp 71ff.

[5] Ibid.

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