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Saturday, May 21, 2005


What IS The Problem Definition Here?

The question posed by CO introduces the subject by unintentionally (I hope) framing the issue, thereby inadvertently establishing the parameters for the discourse. It may have been better to simply state “what is your opinion on the immigration laws of the U.S.?” I mention this because this issue simply cannot be encapsulated into a one-size-fits-all answer; the multiple dimensions of our national immigration policy are far too many and exceptionally complex. Are we discussing Canadian border issues? Mexican? International boundary lines at sea? Are we discussing trade? Workers? Students? Diplomats? Visitors? There are many reasons for, and routes of, entry into our country and we as a nation utilize differing approaches for each of them because of political, economic and cultural nuances.
I suspect very few of us have ever read U.S. immigration policy (The Immigration and Nationality Act, or INA, arose out of the McCarran-Walter bill of 1952, Public Law No. 82-414). I certainly haven’t but I know it’s been around since 1952 and it’s been amended a good many times to address the changing face of immigration (no pun intended) needs and issues in this country. Do we know there is a problem? By whose definition? Where is the quantitative data? The only numbers I’ve seen on this issue—although I must confess, I haven’t looked real hard—arise from an article written by Jason Ackleson, Ph.D, from the American Immigration Law Foundation. His article, “Fencing in Failure: Effective Border Control is Not Achieved by Building More Fences” provides some empirical evidence about our efforts at controlling the Mexican border “problem,” and I suspect this is the area of focus most have had as they have responded to CO’s initial question. Ackleson data illustrates that the peak of border arrests actually occurred in 1999, with approximately 1,600 individuals; by 2004, this number had dropped to around 1,200, and this is not because of a lack of money or personnel. Indeed, from 1994 through 2004, border patrol agents increased by about 1,000 agents per year, from 4,200 to about 11,000 during that time. There was a dip in the funding for INS in the latter half of 2001, from about $400 million to about $350 million, but this was because a boatload of additional money was given directly to Customs & Border Protection--$600 million to about $650 million at the end of 2004.
I’ve reviewed the arguments on the site; most are the standard issues related to the idea of “foreigners” arriving into a “home” country; it is difficult to escape xenophobia, I suffer from it myself at times. We can debate whether foreign labor adversely impacts the citizen’s ability to find employment (NAFTA created an economic system that chiefly serves the interests of large U.S.-based multinational firms such as agribusinesses). Conversely, we can argue that business owners—especially those who make their living off agriculture—would be run out of business if we were to stop their supply of inexpensive labor (I picked apples for a summer once when I was 17, in Empire, Michigan to earn some spending money. I can unequivocally state that I would never ever do it again, especially not for the pittance I was paid, and I’ll bet there isn’t one person on this board who would do it, either).
We can claim that national security is an issue and that we must stop terrorists from easy access. I could point out however, that the majority of the terrorists responsible for 9/11 were here legally and the Bush administration recently relaxed the visa standards for Saudis. I would also add that visas and closed borders wouldn’t have stopped Tim McVeigh.
No, we’re approaching the immigration issue from too many angles and attaching far too many problems that arise from other policies onto the back of immigration.
The idea that America is home to the “huddled masses” should not be forgotten. I doubt any of the readers here would qualify as aboriginal, but one has to keep in mind that we’re looking at the problem from a very narrow, ethnocentric and ignorant point of view, no offense intended. I doubt anyone—even those who specialize in immigration issues—are able to fully grasp all the issues related to this subject. It is clear that completely closed borders are not an option, so we must find a way to address what we perceive are the problems. For that, we must first turn to those who can do something about it and second, we’ll need decent data and a good problem definition.
Once we have that, for governmental policymakers, there are three methods of approach; regulate it, tax it, or spend on it—and that’s it. When we debate how to correct the policy, we’ve got to keep these restrictions and parameters in mind. Ackleson points out that policymakers should be reviewing alternate approaches that; “take into account the transnational nature of trade and migration, as well as terrorism.” His suggestions here are good ones: “This could be accomplished through a revised version of NAFTA that includes three additional elements. First, an agreement on security cooperation should be implemented among the United States, Mexico and Canada which approaches terrorism as a North American, rather than simply a national, issue. Second, migration must be addressed in a humane way that acknowledges the contributions of migrants and the economic needs of all three NAFTA partners. Finally, an investment fund should be created that builds infrastructure, protects the environment and encourages economic development in Mexico. Re-evaluating U.S. border security policy does not mean abandoning important counterterrorism and homeland defense priorities. To strengthen these efforts, policymakers should consider a more intelligence-driven approach that builds a trilateral security relationship between Mexico, Canada and the United States. This would involve sharing key information on threats, additional law-enforcement cooperation and the establishment of “virtual borders” away from the physical frontier, where inspections would take place and goods or people would be pre-cleared to cross. Counterterrorism policy is most effective before a terrorist hits the vast mix of people and commodities trying to expeditiously cross into the United States. There has been some progress on these issues – the meeting of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, U.S. President George W. Bush, and Mexican President Vicente Fox on March 23, 2005, was positive – but much remains to be done. The three leaders, for instance, did not address migration. An accord on migration would allow law enforcement agencies to focus their attention on the very small proportion of non-migrants with criminal objectives in the United States” (2005).
I know this doesn't answer the original question posed by CO, but how can we answer what hasn't been defined as a problem in the first place?

I can definitely relate to that. Before considering much else, I pretty much decided that immigration to Canada is my best option and although I have been tempted to reconsider from time to time, I can't help but think about how much the 2000 elections have changed things for us (and not for the better I'm affraid).

I really enjoy this blog, I'll be back!
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