Monday, June 18, 2012

Immigration: Inflammatory Solutions and Policy Error

Our President recently announced a “de facto amnesty” provision for young undocumented immigrants.  The provision would allow them to work legally as long as they passed a criminal background check and had graduated high school or served in the military.  While on the surface this act seems similar in spirit to what State legislation was trying to accomplish last year, the President’s actions are disappointing and inappropriate for a myriad of reasons. 

First, the way in which this provision is being enacted is completely subversive.  By using the power of the Executive Order instead of passing legislation, our president has completely circumvented the channels designed to give the law legitimacy.  Even Ronald Reagan’s “Amnesty“ of 1986 was really the Immigration Reform and Control Act which was passed by Congress on November 6 of that year.  Despite IRCA being a total policy failure, it was still debated and voted on by Congress as it should have been.  This is not the case with our current President’s new decree. 

Second, the timing of this announcement during an election year couldn’t possibly inspire more cynicism.  There appears to be in the media an open acknowledgement that this is being done almost exclusively for political gain.  Such disingenuous treatment of an important and volatile issue like immigration is frustratingly flippant and perhaps further illustrates the misguided mentality of those currently operating the Executive Branch.   

Yet, the most disheartening realization in this drama is that the sources of our immigration woes are not even being acknowledged by our President.  If we are to get serious as a nation about dealing with the immigration problem, we need to look at root causes.  What are these causes?  The answers lie in U.S. economic policy.  In the 90’s, we entered the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.  Free trade should benefit everyone, or so we are told.  Unless, of course, a government distorts the market by providing subsidies to one product or another.  A good example is Japan who subsidized cars coming to America in the 90’s as we complained bitterly about it.  A better example though is ourselves.  As Japan was dumping cars in our market, we were subsidizing our corn production and flooding Mexico with it.

The result of this corn subsidy was another unintended consequence of seemingly well-intended government policies.  The ripple in the pond this time though was the massive dislocation of Mexican farmers.  Between 1996 and 2000, domestic corn prices in Mexico dropped 85%.  The farmers could not compete with U.S. corn and abandoned their farms in search of jobs.  These ex-farmers fled north as they followed job opportunities and prospects of survival in the United States.

Thus, we find ourselves in our current predicament.  We have incredibly cheap corn while simultaneously carrying the social costs of millions of undocumented immigrants who fled their homeland because we bankrupted them.  Rather than listen to rhetoric on both sides of the isle appeal to populist fervor on this issue, let’s have a real discussion about the proper role of government in subsidizing agriculture.  Reducing subsidies would return the Mexican laborer to his farm by his own volition.  Until we deal with our national economic policy and how it affects immigration, every other solution will prove to be divisive at worst and unsatisfying at best. 

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