The Corner

Amnesty Requires Immigration Cuts

I sincerely hope the next Congress will succeed in stopping Obama’s lawless amnesty (though it’s far from clear the GOP leadership is fully invested in doing so). Apart from the blatant Caesarism of Obama’s decrees, we shouldn’t even be considering amnesty until the tools are fully in place to prevent another wave of illegal settlement. Instead, Obama is actually dismantling enforcement.

Fully implementing E-Verify and visa-tracking and the rest will result in significant attrition, but at some point, we are likely to amnesty a sizable share of the remaining settled illegal population — I discussed this a year ago in a piece sketching out how we might get to a sustainable immigration policy.

But putting enforcement before amnesty is only one of the two fundamental design defects in “comprehensive immigration reform.” The other is the treatment of legal immigration numbers. The misbegotten Schumer–Rubio bill in the Senate would not only have legalized the illegals before its spurious enforcement provisions were implemented, but it also would have doubled legal immigration.

A story in Monday’s Washington Post highlights one of the many problems with that approach. Not only is mass immigration incompatible with the goals of a modern society in general (as I argue in one half of a new Encounter Broadside), but if we’re going to amnesty people we’d better do what we can to create conditions for their success. Further loosening the low-skilled labor market by doubling annual new arrivals from abroad from 1 million to 2 million is not a recipe for success for low-wage workers, whether they’re Americans or immigrants.

The Post story looks at two Latin-American immigrants who got green cards as a result of the 1986 amnesty. One, “from a Bolivian family that valued education,” took college business classes and became a successful small businessman. The other, more representative of the amnestied illegal population, had little education and did not do well — and continued excessive immigration has hurt him. From the story (emphasis added):

By contrast, [Tomas] Villalta remains on the lowest rungs of the region’s economic ladder 26 years after getting his first residency card. Even unskilled work dried up after the Georgetown restaurant where he’d washed dishes for 16 years closed in August. Villalta, 65, who became a U.S. citizen a year ago, recently found himself in a Home Depot parking lot, hustling for work with undocumented day laborers.

The Salvadoran-born Villalta is proud of his new blue passport. He was thrilled last month to cast his first vote in the D.C. mayoral election (“por Muriel!”). He knows he is better off in Northwest Washington than in the poor mountain village in El Salvador where he was born. But he has begun to question the value of a legal right to work in a country where no one wants to give him a job.

“Now I see all the young guys getting work who don’t have papers just because they are young,” he said in Spanish. He has never learned more than a few workplace phrases of English. …

But his U.S. passport has been no shield against hard knocks. He and his wife are divorced. His children don’t call him. After 16 years as a dishwasher at Mr. Smith’s, he lost his job when the restaurant closed last summer, and he’s now three months behind on his rent at the apartment he shares with three other men. He worked three days cleaning a store for a man who hired him off the street and then didn’t pay him.

It’s legal for anyone to hire him, but lately, no one will.

“I feel helpless,” Villalta said. “I have the papers, I am a citizen, but I don’t have any work. That’s all I want, is to work.”

Would the trajectory of Tomas Villalta’s life have been better if we’d enforced immigration laws after the amnesty and cut back on legal immigration, as recommended by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform? Maybe not — there are always going to be people who fail. But odds of success for Tomas Villaltas in general — unlettered men with strong backs, whether native-born or immigrant — would have been much improved with the tighter labor markets that would have resulted from tighter immigration policies.

Amnesty-pushers clearly don’t care about American workers, let alone about American taxpayers or American sovereignty. But if they truly care about the illegal immigrants they’re trying to amnesty, and want to maximize their future opportunities (as we all should, if and when we get to the point of legislating an amnesty), then legal immigration cuts, along with tight enforcement, have to be part of the package.

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