Saturday, October 28, 2006

Why Lou Dobbs gets it Wrong on Immigration

The immigration issue has been a frequent topic of discussion over at the Bellman, from discussing "nativist paroxysms of the Republican base" to discussing reform proposals such as granting green cards to guest workers more easily or amnesty programs for illegal immigrants.

Lou Dobbs just wrote a book and has been doing the talk show circuit. One of his big issues is immigration, but I think he gets it badly wrong and I'm curious what others think.

For instance, Dobbs wrote for CNN:

"I've said from the beginning that we can't reform immigration laws until we control immigration, and we can't control immigration unless we control our borders and our ports. Constructing the border fence certainly is a good beginning to our efforts to control our borders, but let's be honest about the legislation: It isn't nearly enough, and far more must be done. A congressional victory lap isn't in order for funding only half of a 700-mile fence along a nearly 2,000-mile border." |CNN|

I think Dobbs is making a couple of arguments here. He's been repeating these arguments elsewhere, but I think the above quote is a succinct statement of his view.

He seems to argue that we need to reform our immigration policy, but the prerequisit e for an improved immigration policy is something approaching total control of the immigration across our southern border.

This strikes me as a naïve argument and bad public policy.

It's naïve because in the real world we almost never have the luxury of having total control over a problem and then deciding how we want to regulate it. Some problems are long standing and it seems unlikely that we'll ever be able to control them entirely. I'm thinking of issues other than immigration such as drug abuse, mental illness, poverty, sexism, racism, and resistance to the metric system. Should we wait until we've total control over these issues before improving our laws? Then I think the laws would never be improved.

Law enforcement policies almost never entirely eradicate problems, you don't judge them that way. The best we can hope for by switching law enforcement tactics is to get a comparative advantage1, moving us slightly closer to our desired public policy goal.

It's bad public policy because Dobbs ignores the underlying cause of Mexican immigration: the lack of jobs in Mexico. Our southern border is the only place in the world where a 3rd world country shares a border with a 1st world country according to Charles Bowden's article in Mother Jones.

The way to resolve the immigration problem is to improve the Mexican economy, not to build some stupid fence.

The whole idea that any fence (regardless of funding and congressional support) would stop illegal immigration is absurd. Immigrants will still cross the border in planes, trucks, trains, or simply tunnel under the border.

1 I use comparative advantage in the sense it is used in policy debate |See the Debate Outreach Glossary's entry|, not the term as it is used in economics.|See Globalise Resistance's Glossary|

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