Thursday Immigration Meeting: Will Immigration Reform Be a Boon or Bust?

When Senators Graham (R-SC) and Chucky “I know nothing about business” Schumer (D-NY) come to a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform, the only things that gets compromised are our freedoms and prosperity. Tomorrow will be no different when they meet with President Obama at the White House to discuss immigration reform.

Here’s what they will likely agree on:

1. A national biometric identity card. As I discussed here, a biometric ID will dissipate all of the gains from immigration reform. Eventually the ID card, like our Social Security numbers, will be a vital part of daily life. Losing it would force millions of Americans to be fired from their jobs, lose their apartments, and operate in the black market. A benefit appeals process for the Social Security Administration takes 1153 days to sort out. While that is a different issue from sorting out identification disputes, it gives you an idea of the difficulty in fixing errors in government databases.

2. Electronic employment verification for all workers. This will delay hiring, training, and cause millions of Americans real anguish when system errors reject them from employment. The current version of this, E-Verify, is a catastrophic and expensive boondoggle, failing to identify undocumented workers 54% of the time.

3. Subsidies. Everything from social programs to ESL to border crossing points will be subsidized further to cope with the “strain” of immigration.

What Chucky and the rest of these guys don’t understand is that immigration is not a charity. Immigration is massively beneficial to the economy, both nationally and globally. But Chucky, Graham, and many others think of it as a charity. Modern immigrants are, in most ways, better suited to assimilation and success in America than immigrants from generations past. Our ancestors did it without any help from the government and modern immigrants can do it too. By all means, open the border to massive legal immigration, but build a high wall around the welfare state. Extending immigration does not necessarily mean extending welfare.

Of course there is a much more beneficial immigration compromise that will eliminate illegal immigration, free up border resources to deal with real threats (terrorism, slave trade), and dramatically cut down on cross-border crime: Create legal pathways for massive immigration to the United States.

1. Massively increase the quotas for immigration or eliminate them altogether. Provide a legal pathway for the massive majority of immigrants who just want to legally enter the United States, work, and raise a law-abiding family.

2. Build a wall around the welfare state, not around our country. I’d prefer to eliminate the welfare state altogether but means testing and further limits should be imposed in the mean time. For instance, legal immigrants can’t get most Federal benefits for the first 5 years of their residency. We should increase that to 15 years with an eye on making it unavailable permanently.

3. Focus all border and immigration resources on making sure that terrorists or criminals don’t enter the U.S. Instead of doing surprise workplace raids on busboys, fruit pickers, and computer programmers, we should focus our limited security resources on real threats.

These three commonsense reforms would save the government billions of dollars a year, generate additional billions in tax revenue, be a boon to existing businesses in these tough economic times, and result in the creation of hundreds of thousands of new enterprises.

At Obama’s Thursday meeting there will be a lot of talk about what the government can do to “help” immigrants and the American worker. All of their ideas, however, will ossify labor markets, impoverish workers, and create enormous black markets. The simplest and best thing for the government to do here is to legalize the market and then leave it alone.