Opinion

How To Solve The Illegal Immigration Mess Without Deportations

immigration Getty Images/Sandy Huffaker

Illegal immigration is the most misunderstood problem in America. It has become a symbolic battleground for both parties’ professed philosophies rather than a multi-leveled issue that is undermining America’s economy and social fabric. While there may be a level of hypocrisy involved in some quarters, I take a more positive view of most politicians and the electorate and believe the inability to find answers to illegal immigration are because of good intentions. But there is a solution: economic enticements.

Illegal immigration is a complex issue for everyone because we are a country of immigrants, but with little public debate or oversight into the inconsistent rules, reasons and choices for our current government policies regarding any kind of immigration, it’s hard to form a basis for judging illegal ones. Further, in most cases illegal immigrants deserve our sympathy, and even vehement opponents of illegal immigration seem to understand this. Then there is the hard economics, as there are currently huge parts of the American economy that cannot function profitably without illegal immigrants.

So why is stopping illegal immigration necessary at all?

The most pressing reason is that illegal immigration is a key factor in the destruction of the American economy and central to its injustices because it doesn’t allow poorer Americans – of all races – to become part of the only system they have theoretical access to: the U.S. job market. It prevents upwards mobility, wage increases, insurance coverage, basic protections, and every other decent requirement of the American dream while condemning entire communities as a result, including legal and illegal immigrant ones. This is getting worse and advancing technologies and robotics will only exacerbate these problems.

Free trade has come under attack for American job losses, but the idea of pulling back on it with any positive result is a mirage. Although it is absolutely correct that there have been American job losses with free trade, and also correct that job gains have been made from it too, beyond any statistical debate is the fact that its advances cannot be stopped because there are too many vested interests in a global economy the U.S. doesn’t control. So the key to limiting the damage free trade has caused to many American workers is to curtail illegal immigration. This is because illegal immigration wrecks the even playing field the American free market system needs to provide to be fruitful and just.

It’s a popular — though patently false — idea that no one wants a certain group of bad jobs and that illegal immigrants are the only ones who will take them (common examples include farm and kitchen labor). What is true is that those jobs aren’t appealing to American workers because they aren’t part of our market system once illegal labor is an option.

No one but an illegal immigrant wants that high intensity dishwashing or grape picking job for $7.25 an hour and no benefits? Maybe. But there is certainly a price that someone will want it at ($10, $15, $25) yet there’s simply no competitive job market at the bottom end when you have a desperate and hungry illegal with no rights and whose salary business doesn’t have to pay employment taxes on. If we applied unadulterated illegal immigration to the rest of economy almost the entire country would be out of work at the end of the month. This is why we make it so difficult and pay so much attention to enforcement at the higher end of the employment food chain.

What is accurate is that those jobs at real market wages may make them unaffordable for American businesses; that’s an important systemic flaw and one that must be fixed as an integral part of illegal immigration reform. It’s terrible policy to force a business into a position of hiring illegals, closing down, or exporting jobs overseas.

No current proposals to help American workers or curb illegal immigration make sense. Although enforcing worker’s rights and minimum wages are vital, they largely fail because illegal immigration and free trade allow for lower domestic pay levels or jobs to be exported to cheaper markets. On the other side is the idea of physical enforcement (mass arrests and building walls) against illegal immigrants, something that has never been implemented because it can’t be; America neither has the stomach, money, or incentives to do so.

But there is a solution and it’s relatively straightforward, though of course not politically easy: tax incentives. The simplified version? Offer American employers a tax deduction equal to double the salary they pay to American Citizens employed in the U.S. and most of the motivation to hire illegals disappears overnight. If we need more immigrant workers afterwards, make sure they are given legal status and full rights or no one will want to hire them.