Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Some thoughts on immigration

In an effort to distract from his incredible shrinking poll numbers, the Preznit delivered a speech on immigration policy designed to make Lou Dobbs' head explode. But rather than deconstruct presidential proposals that have no hope of passing our xenophobic House, I thought I'd take a stab at the whole immigration thing myself.

After all, I grew up in San Diego, doesn't that make me an expert? (That's a joke folks).

Anyway, here goes:

Maybe I'm way off base, but shouldn't we be encouraging immigration?

Robert J. Samuelson's op-ed in today's WaPo helped crystalize a thought that's been rolling around in my cerebral cortex for a while now: that immigration could actually help resolve the demographic problems with Social Security and Medicare.

With the aging of the baby-boom generation and concomitant increases in both Social Security and Medicare expenses being born by a relatively smaller number of younger workers, there seems to me just a few options. Either a) decrease the amount of benefits paid out, either by reducing benefits to all seniors, reducing the number of seniors eligible for benefits (e.g. increase the eligibility age, or means test benefits), or b) increase the dollars coming into the system by either increasing taxes on current workers, or increasing the number of workers paying taxes.

Frankly I believe that the answer will lie in some combination of all those approaches, but the one I'd like to look at is the last: increasing the number of workers paying into the system.

Think of it this way, the main challenge facing Social Security is too many seniors relative to active workers, or to re-phrase, too few active workers relative to too many seniors.

At the same time we have 12 million workers (and potentially hundreds of thousands more annually), some of whom are actually paying into a system whose benefits they'll never reap, but most of whom are participating in underground economies where the main beneficiaries are their employers.

Hmm, the US needs workers, and these folk need work, doesn't it seem like we should be able to work something out?

Now just letting millions of unskilled, untrained workers flood our labor market does us little good (though I've yet to see any convincing numbers as to the societal costs of undocumented workers relative to their societal contributions), but be that as it may, certainly skilled, trained (or trainable) immigrants would certainly better benefit the economy.

My thoughts for solutions are as follows.

First, make a commitment to integrate all immigrants into our society as quickly as possible.

This requires both a clear path towards citizenship, as well as a commitment from the immigrant to take that path. I have some thoughts on what these steps should be, but I'd love input from the group.

Second, institute qualifying criteria for fast-track immigration. And throw out the current limitations on the numbers of highly qualified immigrants.

Third, implement pro-labor policies. This last may not seem germane to the immigration issue, but stay with me. Current lefty opposition to more liberal immigration reform is often based, and rightly so, on the effect of unlimited numbers of unskilled workers on wages. But to admit such is not to buy into the GOP canard that there are some jobs Americans won't do. I'd submit, rather, that there are jobs Americans won't do for slave wages, and neither should immigrants.

The GOP effort to drive a wedge between immigrant communities, and the Black community that should be, in fact, its natural ally must be stopped. Imagine the impact of both communities joined in demanding, for example, a raise in the minimum wage, as well as increased support for labor organizing, or universal healthcare?

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. But, regardless, I just can't seem to shake the feeling that there's a solution in there somewhere. What I'm hoping for is some input from you folks.

Am I completely missing something here?

[X-posted at DailyKos. Be sure to read the comments, which are quite superior to my little scribblings]

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