In his column appearing in The Californian on Aug. 26 ("Both parties fuel immigration rage"), Jay Bookman correctly asserts that solutions to illegal immigration aimed at the immigrants won't work because they do not address the "overpowering economic incentive creating that tide." He maintains that only by removing the economic incentive can illegal immigration be controlled at an acceptable rate. That is also true.
Bookman concludes that "simple policy changes, such as requiring businesses to confirm a job applicant's name and Social Security number with a government agency" as well as enforcement and punishment of employers hiring illegal immigrants, would do much to remove the economic incentive. He ponders why legislators have failed to advocate such approaches.
The answer is simple: They don't work. The Simpson-Rodino bill of 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, took the carrot-and-stick approach. It allowed longtime illegal immigrant farm workers to become legalized while requiring employers to guarantee that their workers were legal residents. The law provided sanctions for those caught employing undocumented workers. The legalization aspect backfired because it unintentionally spurred more illegal immigration as family members emigrated from their home countries to join their newly legalized relative. The law also opened up new avenues for fraud and forgery.
Though early attempts to enforce employer requirements were well-publicized, the effort languished until there was little or no enforcement. The reason: Such a policy is by its nature impractical, unenforceable and unpopular within the context of a free-market economy. If there were an easier, economically viable solution than reliance on immigrant workers, legal as well as illegal, employers would jump at the chance, as they would be able to avoid the legal complications and language issues with such a labor force.
Opponents of illegal immigration emphasize the economic burden it places on government and the taxpayers, while defenders of the immigrants point to their economic contributions. Their labor allows Americans to enjoy much lower prices on produce as well as many other products and service and many contribute taxes, while often not reaping the benefits. Whether one aspect outweighs the other can't accurately be measured. It's also irrelevant because they are directly proportional to each other: The more the economy relies on undocumented immigrants, the greater will be both the burden and the benefit. They are integral to the economy.
To remove the economic incentive for illegal immigration would require two things: A legalized labor force would have to become available within U.S. borders to replace the undocumented workers, and economic conditions would have to improve beyond the border from regions from which the tide of illegal immigrants flows. Given the huge disparity in wealth between the United States and these countries, the latter scenario is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
This country's plight is not unique. The European Union is grappling with the same issue as hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia take up residence in Western Europe without documents. Mexico has its own illegal immigration problem on its southern border. Even the small kingdom of Thailand copes with illegal immigrants who come from Burma, Cambodia and Laos looking for work.
The same economic law applies in each case. Socioeconomic realities supersede the imposition of a politically created border. On the United States' southern border, the sociological aspect is just as obvious as the economic: Southern Californians still live in places with names such as Los Angeles and San Diego and on streets whose names begin with Calle and Avenida. The roots and fruits of that culture remain in place. If the United States took the politically odious and incredibly costly step of erecting the equivalent of a Berlin Wall along the entire southern border and succeeded in throttling illegal immigration, the only conceivable way to avoid a collapse would be through the creation of a labor force to replace the evaporation of workers.