John Bennett: Let immigrants in

Half a million people protested in Los Angeles over immigration March 25. It was the largest demonstration in the history of LA. A year ago, few beyond the Minutemen – an anti-illegal migrant vigilante group – and Hispanic activists were discussing immigration. Now, the House of Representatives has passed a resolution, the president has introduced a plan and every politician, celebrity and businessman has his own opinion. Some Republicans say we should build a wall and put illegal immigrants in jail. Hispanic activists say everyone has a right to work in America, even non-Americans. Businesses want to expand H-1B work visas. Labor unions want to see them cut. Everyone has a bias and everyone is wrong.

This country is dangerously underpopulated. Our population is so small that our government has to pay farmers to not grow food. Our unemployment rate is below 5 percent, virtually unmatched in the world. Our population is growing old because people our age are having fewer babies, lowering the birth rate. We “outsource” jobs to other countries because we don’t have enough cheap labor at home. Medicare is already insolvent, Social Security will be in 12 years and pensions are a long-lost dream.

The solution to underpopulation is simple: import people. Specifically: healthy, young, motivated people who are willing to work for low wages. By and large, these are the exact qualifications of the people crossing our borders. Even if we spend millions on evening English classes, it’s a deal compared to 12 to 20 years of full-time instruction. These people show up eager to do whatever work is available and freely move to wherever their labor is most needed. What’s more, with a new “flight to the suburbs” underway, many urban areas already have the resources to house them.

We do have a border problem. We face a long, unguarded border with a country, Canada, that doesn’t support our foreign policy and lets virtually anyone, including terrorists and criminals, pass though their country en route to ours. Canada has allowed terrorists into our country, most notably Ahmed Ressam, the Los Angeles airport millennium bomb plotter. Religious terrorists have never entered the United States through Mexico. Our country is vast, with long, open borders. We cannot build a wall to keep the world out, nor should we.

With our current system, we force workers we desperately need to break the law simply to get into our country. I won’t bore you with the standard questions of who would pick our avocados if every illegal immigrant left tomorrow. Immigrants will be here whether it’s legal or not; there simply are too few Americans to do all the work this country needs. Yes, crime rates are higher in recent-immigrant communities. How much of that is a supposed racial propensity for crime, how much is because of poverty and how much is our fault? It doesn’t cost much to break the law when society already brands you an outlaw. The current system serves no one.

I propose a simpler solution: let everyone in. Rather than Congress setting politically motivated quotas, the market could dictate the efficient level of immigration. I do not propose we simply throw open the gates; we must assure immigrants aren’t criminals or carrying infectious diseases. Provided someone can find work and pay his own way, why should we spend money to keep him out? We have no obligation to provide welfare, food stamps, Medicaid or unemployment to immigrants in their first years here; the law should be updated to reflect this. We cannot support unemployed immigrants. This proposal is far from radical. In fact, we had virtually this policy (for European immigrants, at least) for most of our country’s history.

We’re facing a new set of challenges these days. The Muslim world is flirting with totalitarianism. Russia and other nations are returning to autocracy. China and India are rising in the world economy and reshaping the global balance of power. None of this is new; change the names and it all sounds familiar. Immigration was not a curious byproduct of America’s rise; it was the cause. History repeats itself and it pays to listen.

-The writer is a senior in the engineering school.

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