What’s wrong with amnesty?
What’s wrong with amnesty? The right-wing anti-immigrant lobby keeps harping on “amnesty” as if the worst possible thing that we as a nation could do would be to offer amnesty to the immigrants who are already here living and working. While I am trying my best to look at this issue from the perspective of one who believes that nation-states are legitimate entities, and that national borders should be respected, even then it seems to me that the most effective solution to the “problem” is an amnesty program.
An amnesty program would allow those who have immigrated here for reasons that are otherwise legitimate to come forward and be documented. This would leave only a small fraction of immigrants who would still have reason to remain undocumented. This would have several beneficial effects: greatly diminishing the “black market” for labor, which diminishes pay and safety standards for American workers, as well as simply removing some jobs from the legitimate job pool; reducing the number of job opportunities available to those who would remain undocumented; and easing the burden on immigration law officers, who would now have fewer people to find, and fewer employers to investigate for violations. This last advantage would also result in the lack of any need to hire thousands more staff, which would save us money.
The simple fact that we have so many undocumented workers living and working in this country is testament to the fact that we have a large black market of jobs available to those without documentation. This black market not offers work and income to undocumented immigrants, but also potentially to Americans and others who may be running from criminal prosecution. Furthermore, because undocumented workers will work for less, and are less likely to complain or bargain about issues like job safety standards, this black market for jobs often cuts these corners. Furthermore, by creating a larger supply of workers, and diminishing the potential supply of legitimate jobs, this also reduces pay and other standards in legitimate jobs, which of course hurts American workers.
However, simply offering amnesty to those who are currently here will not solve the ongoing problem. We must ask ourselves some tough questions that rarely, if ever, are asked in the media or in popular discussions. First, why has this become more of a problem in the recent past? Second, why do so many immigrants choose to enter the country illegally rather than going through the legal channels?
While I do not have readily available statistics, I believe it could be shown that immigration numbers began to increase dramatically after the passage of NAFTA. This policy allowed American agri-business, living off of government subsidies, which had already displaced most domestic family and other small farms, to move into Mexico and undersell the smaller farms there, which sent farm laborers, especially in the south, into the urban areas looking for work. Since these laborers would work so cheap, they displaced a significant portion of the southern urban labor force, which pushed them to northern Mexico seeking better wages, which in turn displaced workers there, and sent them into the US to find better wages.
Therefore, part of the solution to our immigration increase is to reverse the effects of NAFTA. I think it should be obvious that the first step in this would be to repeal NAFTA itself. Then, we need to further counter the effects it has had by enacting in its place a Fair Trade Agreement that will benefit small farmers and small businesses, and thus strengthen the labor market there, making the risks and rewards of illegal immigration less attractive by comparison.
Regarding the question of why so many people choose to immigrate illegally rather than pursuing legal routes for immigration, I do not know the reasons, but I can speculate that at least part of the reason is that we may place limitations on who can enter based on criteria such as professional skills or financial wherewithal, and/or we may limit the number of immigrants per year to an unrealistic number. My guess is that both of these are factors to some degree, but there may be other reasons as well. However, I would also bet that the vast majority of immigrants would have nothing to hide, and no reason to enter without providing ample documentation if our policy was a more inviting one. While I realize that there is concern about too many immigrants coming in, and the effects of immigration on the job market for American, it is apparent that undocumented immigrants have a more adverse effect on jobs and other socio-economic factors than any number of legally documented immigrants would. For many of the same reasons mentioned above for offering amnesty to those who have already immigrated here, having more of an “open border policy” would greatly increase the likelihood that new immigrants would be documented, and would compete in a fairer job market with less adverse effect on wages and working conditions for American workers.
Just like the black market for drugs, policies that create a black market for labor, such as restrictive immigration policies, inevitably lead to more (and worse) problems than they solve.