CEI’s mission of “advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government” doesn’t come with the caveat of “unless it costs too much under our current welfare state.”
Eli, while I agree that immigration, either legal or illegal, isn’t driven by the availability of state-provided social services, I think you miss a key factor. In addition to greater economic freedom, people who enter the United States illegally do so because of the demand for labor here. The push of “Mexico’s poverty” is only half the picture; the pull of American jobs is also crucial — though the economic freedom you mention is what allows those U.S. jobs to be created.
I more strongly disagree with your contention that America has “little choice but as to keep on building walls to keep out illegal immigrants.” That’s another way of saying that U.S. policy makers have “little choice but to build more barriers between employers in need of labor and those willing to work for them.”
I’m not opposed to building a physical barrier, but that should function only as an enforcement mechanism, not constitute a centerpiece of policy (as some Republican neo-nativists want). That means that as illegal entry is made more difficult, legal entry shouldn’t be unduly burdensome and arbitrary caps shouldn’t make it harder for employers to hire the workers they need.
A better option would be to allow more workers in legally, since “illegal” status is purely a legal definition determined by limits to entry that are arbitrary, anyway. More legal immigrants means less illegal ones — it’s that simple, and, yes, that arbitrary — without necessarily any more or any less people entering the country.
Hans, regarding the “costs” of illegal immigration, those are problems that arise not from immigration but from welfare policies. Short of the dismantling income transfer programs wholesale — an unlikely event — a better strategy would be to build a fence around the welfare state, rather than the U.S. labor market. That may be difficult, but it’s preferable than punishing employers.
As far as the distinction between skilled and unskilled goes, who cares? Let employers decide; they know their labor needs better than anybody.
What’s the right level of immigration, either skilled or unskilled? That’s a question no single individual, or group of invididuals such as Congress, can answer, which is why the market, and only the market, should determine it.
Finally the question of family reunification vs. employability is a debate on which criteria should government use to pick winners and losers.
Yes, the system is broken. The solution isn’t to pile more government regulations on top of already existing regulations, but to liberalize America’s labor market — including lifting barriers to entry into it.