Cain’s Immigration Plan is Not Enough

October 19th, 2011 at 1:20 am | 30 Comments |

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Last night’s free-wheeling, pharm barely moderated debate was a joy to watch. We learned that Michele Bachmann thinks Libya is not in Africa. We learned that Herman Cain might have another set of numbers besides 9-9-9: 171-for-1…the number of Gitmo detainees that he might be willing to swap for a single U.S. soldier held abroad by violent Islamists.

And we learned, help yet again, hospital that Mitt Romney is the most likely candidate to clean the President’s clock in next autumn’s debates. Lost in all the excitement, it was easy to miss a critical distinction between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry on one hand, and Herman Cain on another. The debate made clear that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have a better grasp of the problems with illegal immigration.

Perry and Romney both touted employer sanctions. Meanwhile, Herman Cain has proposed a (possibly electric) fence, enforcing the laws on the books, promoting legal immigration and abdicating the Federal government’s constitutional responsibility to set immigration policy to the states. That’s not enough.

Before 1986 there was no law on the books which made illegal to hire an illegal alien, and unsurprisingly, many employers took advantage of this tacit “go ahead and hire” policy. After the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli-Reagan amnesty, we had the law on the books, but the fines were mere pittances and largely went unenforced.

Ten years later, Congress passed a new overhaul of the immigration laws. The new law emerged out of a virulent debate where Republicans had taken a hard line on denying public benefits for illegal aliens and been very successful. (See: Wilson, Pete; political resurrection of). As a result, in the run up to the 1996 election, Senator Bob Dole suggested that unauthorized alien children should be denied any and all public education. In this decidedly pre-compassionate conservatism environment, Congress imposed stiff penalties on illegals caught inside the United States and built a triple-fence on part of the border near San Diego. (Clinton, triangulating and appealing to the polls as ever, signed the law in September 1996, won California by 13 points, and came within 5 points in Texas.)

Unfortunately, the new law but did not focus on the employers who provide jobs for low wages, underbid legal labor, and create a vast market for illegal labor. In fact, by imposing strong penalties on the illegal workers themselves (aliens caught illegally in the United States were barred from re-entry for three or ten years, depending on how long they had been in the country without authorization), the 1996 law created some perverse incentives. As Princeton University Professor Douglas Massey has noted, the law “created an incentive for people who are here unlawfully to remain here unlawfully rather than to be able to go home and apply for immigrant visas.” And the border fence diverted foot traffic through an even more inhospitable path across the border, ultimately causing the deaths of thousands of migrants.

Meanwhile, without serious employer sanctions, the unauthorized population skyrocketed in the 2000s, peaking at 12 million in 2007.

Whether you favor earned legalization or attrition-through-enforcement as a solution to our illegal immigration crisis (I support the former, which is less likely to further destabilize the failing state of Mexico, where most illegal immigrants come from, by forcing hordes of newly minted unemployed and presumably dissatisfied citizens home), the country must slap serious sanctions on employers who violate the law.

The federal government must impose a serious penalty, essentially a big tax, on hiring unauthorized aliens (again, preferably concurrently with passage of some form of earned legalization). David Frum has proposed a fine big enough to deter businesses from acting out: $25,000 per illegal alien hired per day worked. Congress should pass just such a penalty, and give ICE the funds to enforce it. After that, a couple of eight-figure fine busts will do more to deter illegal immigration than any “danged fence” ever will.

That’s not to say that the problem will be solved overnight (we probably need a national ID card, for one thing), but it’s good enough for now. Hopefully, Governors Perry and Romney will convince Mr. Cain that business needs to pay their fair share for illegal immigration.

Recent Posts by Zac Morgan

30 Comments so far ↓

  • Oldskool

    Mitt Romney is the most likely candidate to clean the President’s clock in next autumn’s debates.

    That seems to imply that any of the candidates could do so, but Mittens is the one who may get the chance. Not sure what you watched last night, I watched a debate between unstable GOP candidates, half of whom would be institutionalized if they said the same things on a street corner.

    • balconesfault

      I took it as damning with faint praise…

    • Watusie

      “clean the President’s clock”

      Yeah, right. Zac, you may want to consider how much easier it is for Romney to play Alpha Male vis a vis Rick Perry (LOL) compared to what he’ll be up against in the general election.

  • dubmod

    The writer, like all the Republican candidates, completely misses the point. Illegal immigration is a function of the demand for labor and should be legislated for as such. A simple seasonal guest worker program woul allow employers to hire needed workers and allow thw workers to go home, which they want to do. It would also alleviate the security issues. Its amazing the so called business party are ignoring market forces and indulging bigotry, one wonders how much longer the business community, agriculture in particular, will continue to support them.

  • rbottoms

    That’s right, we need hunter/killer robots and drones patrolling the border.

    We can call it operation SkyNet.

  • armstp

    If you caught Frontline last night, you know that Obama has done more regarding enforcing immigration law in this country than any GOP President or any President before.

    Check out the episode:

    Record Number of Illegal Immigrants Deported in 2011

    Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton announced that 396,906 people were deported during the 2011 fiscal year, the largest number in ICE’s history.

    “These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before,” said Morton.

    While the numbers are historic, they’re not dramatically larger than 2010 deportations, which were reported at “more than 392,000.”

    As Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano alluded a few weeks ago, 55 percent of the deported immigrants — about 216,700 people — had criminal convictions (felonies or misdemeanors). Overall, the number of criminals deported has increased 89 percent since 2008.

    • jakester

      As Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano alluded a few weeks ago, 55 percent of the deported immigrants — about 216,700 people — had criminal convictions (felonies or misdemeanors). Overall, the number of criminals deported has increased 89 percent since 2008.

      So much for the law abiding illegal alien meme.

      • armstp1

        And if you look at the number closely, only a couple a thousand are real criminals and the rest are being deported as “criminals” after they have been pulled over for a seatbelt violation or failing to signal.

  • Sinan

    Romney is the most skilled debater of this bunch of fools. However, his history will always come back to haunt him if he wins the nomination and ends up debating Obama. Obama is a master at debating and has full command of the facts, the alternatives, the goals and the political environment of every possible issue they will debate. Much like Clinton, he clearly states his position and understands the opposing view by acknowledging it and then tearing it apart bit by bit. The moderators of these debates are going to be the real drivers of the election. I wish desperately that each debate centered on one theme only. I also desperately want non-partisan experts in the fields to be the moderators. For instance, if the topic is the economy, we need a Rogoff or Stiglitz driving the questions and follow up. If the topic is foreign affairs, get someone from Europe or Asia or Latin America up there to ask them real questions not some jingoistic nonsense coming from a media personality. If we insist that the moderators actually have expertise in the subject matter and refrain from playing to the political theatre that the media requires for ratings, we may actually come off as a mature, serious and intellectually honest nation trying to find the person who is best qualified. Why is this so hard for our media to understand?

  • jamesj

    Testing the comment system.

    (My last few attempted comments over the last few days have all failed for some reason)

  • PracticalGirl

    Did anybody else notice the rich juxtaposition of candidates who “all like legal immigration” (I forget which one said this, but he got nods) with the commercial content NumbersUSA gave shortly after- the one that said “end legal immigration now” to protect American jobs?

    I adore the candidates on stage who beat the same drum the GOP has been beating for years: Enforce the policies we have NOW! Go after the employers! As if they didn’t have 6 unfettered years to do that when Bush controlled the White House, Republicans controlled the House and Senate and the Party had as part of its stated platform that illegal immigration was one of the top two problems killing our nation…

    Neither party is serious about illegal immigration except as a way to bludgeon the other side and whip up a froth among their base. I’d rather it not even be a topic of discussion, since both sides are more invested in the wedge issue staying status quo than the fix.

  • Rob_654

    Best line I heard recently was that Herman Cain was on a book tour and somehow ended up at the top of the Republican Nomination polls…

  • ryancerium

    1) How is a national ID card a conservative principle? It seems eye-gougingly antithetical to the conservative principle of a smaller, less-intrusive federal government.

    2) How many hours before the first small business starts screaming bloody murder because they’re going out of business from hiring an illegal dishwasher or lawnmower or carpenter? This also seems mind-bendingly antithetical to the conservative principle of helping small businesses by “removing regulations.”

  • LaLupa

    Herman Cain and the Republicans on that stage did enough to make the Republican party look like a bunch of fools unfit to govern this country.

  • LaLupa

    Keep it up Frum Forum. Keep it up until Texas and the whole Southwest turns blue. If this is what “modernizing the GOP” looks like, I want no part of it.

    • Watusie

      Just thinking outloud, but what would happen if Joe Biden “decided to retire” and was replaced on the ticket by Charlie Gonzalez, the D Congressman from San Antonio? And the opponent is Romney? Does anti-Mormon bias among southern evangelicals + a Texan on the D ticket = Texas being in play? A nightmare for the Republicans. McCain knew he had Texas and its huge wad of electoral votes in the bank and so spent no time and money there; if Romney can’t do the same, then he has significantly fewer resources available for the states that he has flip if he is going to prevail.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    I am actually starting to have a full on hate of “say whatever I think the audience wants to hear” Mitt Romney. He said Jews who vote for other Jews as a way to see the interests and protections of Jewish people in America are somehow anti-American “But the concept that we select people based on the church or the synagogue they go to, I think, is a very dangerous and — and enormous departure from the principles of our — of our Constitution.”
    So every Jew who voted for Michael Bloomberg in NYC party because he is a member of the tribe are now “dangerous” people who have undertaken an “enormous departure from the principles of our constitution.”

    That ahole is as bad as Cain is, worse even. Cain doesn’t think before he speaks, Romney chose what he said as a direct result of an analysis of how he could attack Perry while sounding high minded.

    • jakester

      Romney says what?
      No one plays the religious card more assiduously than the GOP towards evangelicals etc. How many Jewish presidential candidates have run on a pro Kosher Torah platform?

  • CautiousProgressive

    A penalty on the employers of illegal immigrants *would* be the most effective way of reducing long-term illegal immigration.

    However, it would be such a burden on certain businesses (which depend on just that kind of labor) that such a law has almost no chance of passing. Congress depends too deeply on money from those same businesses.

    • LaLupa

      Employers will just pass on the fines to consumers. Or they will declare bankruptcy and restart under an new entity.

      • Graychin

        The employers who don’t hire illegals will have lower costs than the ones who pay big fines for illegal hires. Do you really think it will be so easy for them to “pass along” their fines to customers? If they try, they will be undersold by businesses that follow the law. (After bankruptcy, where will the business get the capital to restart?)

        Some of us still believe that the price of goods and services is set by supply and demand, not by businesses who can successfully “pass along” whatever costs they want.

        • LaLupa

          No that hard to restart a business. Unless you make the owners personally responsible. In any case, I am sure that the regulations will be written in such a way where only employers who knowningly hire illegal immigrants will be subject to the fine. Good luck establishing that. Even the much vaunted E-Verify has a over 50% failure rate in detecting fraudulent documents.

          The focus should be in reforming the system so that labor based illegal immigration is re-routed through a legal channel. All the talk of attrition is nonsense. It is based on the idea that illegal immigration only has costs and no benefits. The reality is that illegal immigration is just like everything else. There are costs and there are benefits. And most academic studies have found that the benefits outweight the costs.

  • Graychin

    At least Mr. Morgan recognizes the real problem.

    People come to America illegally for one reason only – to WORK. The obvious way to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in America is to apply stiff penalties to employers who hire illegals, reducing the number of jobs available to them.

    I can’t imagine any Republican candidate supporting this solution. The Chamber of Commerce types would hate it. And it’s much more appealing to Republican voters when a candidate beats up on brown people – and leaves those salt-of-the-earth Main Street “job creator” guys who hire them alone.

  • LaLupa

    Actually, no. Mr. Morgan does not recognize the real problem which is a broken legal immigration system that doesn’t address our current labor needs.

  • JohnnyA

    I’d say the writer, like many Republican candidates completely misses an even bigger point. We have very big issues facing the country that demand immediate attention and none of them are caused by illegal immigration. The real gimmick is the manufactured ‘crisis’ over illegal immigration. Many politicians would rather try and associate some part or all of the current crisis with immigrants/outsiders rather than face the music on how they themselves contributed to the crisis and have little to offer in terms of a solution.

    Illegal immigration is wrong and we should take all reasonable measures to contain it, but we also need to recognize that much of it is caused by an immigration and guest worker policy that needs serious reform. Beyond guest worker programs, I’d also revamp the immigration policy to fast track candidates who have high education and entrepreneurial skills in areas we need. Canada does this much better than we do.

    The economies of Mexico, Brazil and the region as a whole will continue to grow much faster than the US economy for decades and this growing export market is a key to our economy’s future growth and prosperity. We are fools to antagonize them. China, Canada and a number of other countries are heavily investing in opportunities in the region and are happy to take our place as top exporter.

  • WillyP

    What would a President Romney do? Honestly. What’s his big proposal?

    Issuing wavers to states on Obamacare is illegal. He’d be challenged in court and almost surely lose – there is no statutory authority to do so and the courts would uphold it.

    He governed MA like a big government Republican, and, much like Nixon and the EPA, birthed a massive healthcare bureaucracy and entitlement program that burdens businesses in the state and is forcing his successors to raise taxes.

    The United States is seriously imperiled. We can’t afford a milquetoast Republican president who will not seriously challenge the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. The issue of illegal immigration is incredibly important. How does America nation survive while absorbing millions of non-English speaking, uneducated illegal immigrants? Putting the heinous elements of crime aside for a moment, even the best intentioned illegal immigrants are not Americans as soon as they step on the soil, and to make an honest effort at assimilation would at the very minimum insist that they learn to speak and read English, as well as be conversant in American history and civics (what remains of American civics anyway).

    I have no faith that Romney would challenge the status quo on immigration in any meaningful way. His record suggests a Republican who would gladly compromise principle for political expediency at every turn. Some politicians are Republicans only because they’re not Democrats, and not because they believe in advancing a particular agenda. Barack Obama is NOT such a politician; he is a Democrat because the party is the appropriate political vehicle to advance his big government agenda. Romney is a Republican not because he believes in limited, Constitutional government, but simply because he believes that as a Republican (and not a Democrat) he may be elected president.

    What he’ll do with this power, if elected, is “tap the brakes” on Obama’s agenda, and artfully attempt manage the almost certain decline that will occur if we do not substantively alter course.