Immigration, Borderline Stupidity and Back Checking

Today is the longest day of the year making it entirely reasonable for hockey to be top of mind. Actually, that is entirely unreasonable and hockey would not be top of mind but for a season-distorting strike.

The strike means there are two or three games to go before we determine whether the Boston Bruins or the Chicago Blackhawks get to join the Miami Heat at a photo op in the White House.

Even if it were reasonable to be thinking about hockey on what our English friends call Midsummer’s Day, the last thing that would come to mind would be back checking. Only the most intrepid defensive zealots like struggling back toward their own goal to impede the efforts of speedy opponents to score against them.

Inevitably, this line of reasoning leads to the splendid work of North Dakota Senator John Hoeven and Tennessee Senator Bob Corker in saving the immigration reform bill from death by talking points.

The two Republicans wanted to make the pathway to citizenship contingent on achieving a 90% apprehension rate along the Mexican border. Turned out this was unattainable or maybe impractical or maybe it just didn’t poll test very well. Whatever the reason, they decided the problem could be solved by tossing $30 billion at what is now being called a “border surge.”

In Washington, where they are pretending to legislate about immigration, the border surge is the equivalent of back checking.

Let’s imagine two possible problems with the suggested approach.

First, $30 billion is just about five times the $6.5 billion initially budgeted for border security. That could be a problem if Paul Krugman turns out to be wrong and we actually do need to worry about how much money we spend.

Second, what if you decided to spend $30 billion to hire 40,000 intrepid defensive zealots (a.k.a. border agents), build a 700 mile fence and deploy a whole bunch of drones and other sensors only to discover that there aren’t really any speedy opponents headed toward your goal.

There aren’t?

Turns out that politicians are not the only people who think about immigration. Investment professionals do too and, since they have money riding on it (sometimes even their own), they try to be pretty accurate.

Mexicans actually began returning to Mexico in 2004. This was well before the recession though that increased the number of people leaving. There were other reasons too. The Mexican economy was improving and there were more jobs available without the necessity of avoiding intrepid defensive zealots. Also, the number of people likely to try to jump our $30 billion fence is declining for the simple reason that there are less of them in the most likely age range.

The report I saw demonstrated this four very simple charts.

Back checking is no fun and spending $30 billion to back check is even less so. The only thing worse would be a discovery that the back checkers were chasing nonexistent speedy opponents.

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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2 comments

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  • Immigration reform was touched upon in the President’s State of the Union address. It is a current “hot topic” so I’m adding my comments to Haven’s article.

    It is true that the net immigration from Mexico has subsided since many illegals here are going back to Mexico since the work opportunities here are not good. However many here still want to increase immigration and make it easier to become a citizen. Obama said in his address he is behind this.

    This appeals to the Hispanics, who make up a larger proportion of the 99%, on whom Obama is focused. It also benefits the 1%, since it holds down the price of labor. In short, it’s a great political issue as a vote getter. But it in the best interests of the country?

    Enforcement is currently being constrained for political reasons. Raids are said to be “discriminatory.” As a matter of fact, they probably are. They target illegals. Most of them are probably Hispanics. Fines against employers for hiring them are not enforced. Once you get across the border, you are home free. Employers hire while blinking an eye. Some employers say the only way they can get labor with the skills they need are to hire those from south of the border, and that there aren’t enough legal applicants to meet their needs.

    On the other side of coin, many come here from other countries for skilled training and then return home after getting it. Many of the Silicon Valley companies were founded by immigrants. We need more incentives for those that are skilled to stay here. Our economy benefits from it. They are productive and their efforts create jobs.

    I believe the way for the Republicans to meet this immigration challenge is to stress that opportunity and benefits will increase for those who are here legally if we restrict the number who are here illegally. Of course we should have a process to naturalize citizens, but we should be sure they will not take away jobs from those who are here looking for jobs. A $10,000 fine to an employer for each illegal hired would certainly be an effective enforcement tool, but only if it is enforced.