Sunday, June 26, 2005

One More Embrace, Then Slam the Door

One More Embrace, Then Slam the Door

By James P. Smith, James P. Smith holds the chair in labor markets and demographic studies at Rand Corp. He led a panel for the National Academy of Sciences on the economic and tax effects of immigration.

We have two immigration policies. One uses quotas to decide who is allowed to enter the country legally. It benefits the economy and taxpayers. It brings in some of the most talented people in the world. It helps families reunite, enables people to escape from political oppression and allows U.S. citizens to marry the person of their choice. Although we should tinker with and perfect its rules, this immigration policy is under control.

The policy dealing with illegal immigration is not under control. A lot of money and manpower are devoted to guarding our southern border, and these resources have an effect. Just think what would happen if there were no border police. But migrants keep coming because they think, mostly correctly, that their lives will be much better here than back home. And judging from a drive across Los Angeles on any given day, we take advantage of and accept this view.

Undocumented and legal immigrants could not be more different. Legal migrants are often more skilled than the typical American and divide roughly equally among Asians, Latinos and Europeans. Undocumented migrants are mostly low-skilled, earn low wages and are heavily Latino.

But for both groups, coming to the United States is akin to winning the lottery. Legal migrants, on average, earn $16,000 more a year in the U.S. than in their home countries — a $300,000 bonus in lifetime earnings. Those with employment visas do even better. But if you come to the U.S. for love, it had better work out: The wage gains for migrants who marry Americans are small. The undocumented also earn much more here than they would back home, which is why they risk so much to get and stay here.

All this benefits the U.S. economy — to the tune of about $10 billion a year. In part, this is because immigrants, legal and illegal, keep wages lower than they otherwise would be. Economics forces you to be honest. If immigration doesn't depress wages, prices can't fall, and there is no economic benefit to that.

Immigrants also benefit federal taxpayers over the long term. They are young, they pay taxes, and the most expensive federal programs are for the elderly. Immigrants will not come close to solving our impending budget shortfalls caused by an aging population, but they help on the margin.

Only in California are the taxpayer effects of immigration a net liability, and this is mostly because of the public cost of educating immigrant children. According to a 1997 National Academy of Science study, state taxpayers paid $1,178 more in taxes than they received in benefits linked to immigration. These California numbers are surely higher today.

When Latin American countries raise their living standards closer to ours, illegal immigration will decline. But that's decades off. Meanwhile, reform starts with amnesty. Many of the undocumented in the U.S. are long-settled and are our friends and neighbors. They should be allowed to come out from the shadows. We are not the kind of country that would insist they leave — a nightmare scenario.

Reform should also better reflect economic and past immigration realities by allowing more migrants from countries south of us to enter legally. But, more important, it must include a commitment to enforce immigration laws not just on the borders but also in the cities and towns where illegal immigrants work and live. Opponents of immigration correctly argue that past reforms, such as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, did little to stem the tide of illegal immigrants. If new reforms lack the bite of stronger law enforcement in the country's interior, we'll repeat that experience. The new bargain must be: After the next amnesty, anyone caught here illegally should be immediately sent home.

Some have contended that because of language, a common border or unwillingness to assimilate, U.S.-born children and grandchildren of Latino immigrants will not enjoy the spectacular generational successes achieved earlier by European migrants. That's simply not true. The education advances of Latino immigrants across generations are larger than they were for Europeans.

Getting history right doesn't justify complacency. The successes of previous immigrant generations happened in large part because schools worked for both immigrant children and their native-born classmates. If schools don't similarly work for today's immigrants — and there are ample reasons for concern — the success of future generations will be imperiled.

The strong emotions swirling around immigration are more cultural than economic. In the New York City neighborhoods of my youth, it was a major family crisis when an Irish Catholic boy invited his Italian Catholic girlfriend home for dinner. Mothers on both sides feverishly fingered their rosary beads. When I tell this story to my always-L.A. daughters, they stare at me in disbelief. But the story is true and says a lot about our future.

Despite similar concerns their parents might have today, many Latino and Asian children and grandchildren of immigrants will leave home, fall in love and marry across ethnic and racial lines. In so doing, they will create another new American blend in which the sharp ethnic boundaries cherished by their parents will disappear. We can embrace or fear this future, but past immigration alone ensures that it is our demographic future.

Born in Countries Other Than the U.S.A.

Born in Countries Other Than the U.S.A.

By Celeste Fremon, Celeste Fremon is a Border Justice fellow at USC Annenberg's Institute for Justice and Journalism and the author of "G-Dog and the Homeboys."

If our nation's conscience has a soundtrack, it's by Bruce Springsteen. From his Asbury Park days forward, Springsteen has written with conviction (and a notable lack of irony) about thorny issues. In his last two acoustic albums, "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and the newly released "Devils & Dust," Bruce takes on the trickiest issue of all: U.S. immigration policy.

Although the singer famously stumped for John Kerry, these immigration tunes aren't bleeding-heart harangues. To the contrary, the songs weave subtle narratives to explore the issue's complexities andcontradictions. In "Sinaloa Cowboys" from the "Tom Joad" album, two teenage brothers slip across the border to pick fruit in the orchards of the San Joaquin Valley — "doing the work the g├╝eros [white folks] wouldn't…. " They ignore their father's warning: "For everything the north gives / it exacts a price in return … " and succumb to the temptation of quick money offered by Sinaloa drug dealers recruiting migrants to cook meth in the desert near Fresno.

By song's end, one brother has the duty of burying the other.

In "Galveston Bay," Springsteen sings about a second-generation Texas fisherman who hates the Southeast Asian immigrants encroaching on his already tenuous existence. Before long, protagonist and friends decide to take matters into their own hands: "Soon in the bars around the harbor / it was talk of America for Americans. Someone said, 'You want 'em out, you got to burn 'em out / And brought in the Texas Klan.' "

Two deaths later, the fisherman comes to the hazy realization that the immigrants he despises are a mirror of his own hard work, fragility and longing.

The New Jersey songwriter is a rich white rock star who has little experience with border issues. Yet the Boss has always possessed a gift for uncovering the shared human thread in any situation.

"Devils & Dust" closes with a haunting ballad called "Matamoros Banks." The song's central character makes his way along the Rio Grande in "sandals of twine and tire thread, my pockets full of dust" while dreaming of his wife or lover who waits for his return. As he gazes at the lights of Brownsville in the distance, "a shout rings out," the migrant dives into the river to escape capture … and drowns.

"Your clothes give way to the current and river stone / Till every trace of who you ever were is gone," Springsteen sings.

It's a tale of one of the 300 or so immigrants who die, often anonymously, each year along our southern borders, and Springsteen manages to memorialize all of these deaths with dignity and humanity. Because humanity is what usually vanishes first when politicians bring up immigration, I recommend we outfit every senator and House member and the president with an iPod, preprogrammed with the proper mix of Bruce songs. It couldn't hurt.

America's Wild West

America's Wild West
America's Wild West can't afford Europe's wimpy xenophobia, this young Muslim says.

By Irshad Manji, Toronto-based journalist Irshad Manji is author of "The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith." She is also host of "Big Ideas" on Canadian television.

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared that Washington should "close the borders," he wasn't just choosing the wrong word (he says he meant "secure" the borders against illegal immigrants). Schwarzenegger was also choosing the wrong side of the Atlantic to inform his views on immigration.


What he said is more the attitude of Western Europe than of the American West. On many matters, from healthcare to women's rights, the United States can learn from Europe. But on immigration, it's the other way around.

Today, countries such as France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are scrambling to catch up with the changes wrought by migrants. Particularly Muslim migrants from North Africa and Turkey. As they flood in seeking jobs and education, the old social contract — our home is your home as long as you consider it your home too — looks downright naive.

"They want to immigrate," say non-Muslims about the newcomers, "but they don't want to integrate."

In other words, too many Muslim immigrants insist on having their own language, their own family law, their own schools, their own neighborhoods — and their own ways of dealing with those who defy Islam.

Non-Muslim Europeans wonder: When filmmaker Theo van Gogh can be killed in the streets of Amsterdam, targeted because he criticized Islam, and when a Muslim woman who has abandoned her arranged marriage can be shot dead by her brothers in Berlin, what's next? And who's next?

If they don't wish to be among us, goes the common complaint, why come here at all?

To which the immigrants respond: We want to integrate, but not assimilate. And the way to integrate is to secure jobs, pay our taxes, finance unemployment insurance, hospital beds, pensions — all the things you Europeans desperately need because of your own low birthrates, aging populations and expectation of material comforts. In short, our contract with you is to keep the welfare state intact without losing our sense of self. If you recognized all that we can contribute, then we wouldn't need to express rage at a society that demonizes us. Now give us work instead of flak.

With identities threatened on both sides, the most frantic voices have gained traction. Some politicians in the Netherlands want a moratorium on immigration, proclaiming their country "full up." It's a small piece of land (unlike California), so I can see why so many Dutch feel saturated and frustrated by people who put the fear of God into their otherwise happily humanist souls.

Meanwhile, Muslim leaders cry racism and plead to journalists like me, "Do you see why we feel driven into the arms of fundamentalists?"

It doesn't take long before I hear something else from European Muslims: This wouldn't happen in America. We would belong in the United States.

As incredible as that sounds in the era of the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay, dozens of Muslims in Western Europe have told me that the U.S. has a genius for inclusion because of how it treats social status. To the question, "Can you earn status rather than be born into it?" America still answers "yes."

Given their hunger to achieve, Americans are disposed to jostling with the "other," and they expect the "other" to jostle right back. What makes someone a real American is not so much his color or faith as his willingness to compete. Just ask the South Asian and Chinese immigrants who made up one-third of Silicon Valley's scientists and engineers during the dot-com craze.

In Western Europe, by contrast, heredity, hierarchy and entitlement trump achievement.

One's past remains far more important than one's future. No wonder countless Muslim laborers who have been living in Europe for two or three generations continue to be referred to as immigrants, even when they're bona fide citizens. This difference between the United States and Europe feeds into the perception that immigrant communities have about whether they can ever be good enough for their host societies. That, in turn, can only influence how hard (or not) they try to integrate in each place.

Thus, the Islamic Center of Beverly Hills sends out e-bulletins declaring "God bless America." A recent one requested that everyone pray for President Bush, whether they agree or disagree with his policies. I've never heard such patriotism trumpeted by a mosque in Western Europe. Nor have Muslims there confided to me that they appreciate their precious freedoms. In the U.S., I get this assurance regularly — unprompted.

Which brings me back to Schwarzenegger. When he calls for a clamping of the borders, he's giving up the ghost of the frontier mentality — the one that screams: "We too can do, and we'll show you!" He's hinting that California no longer has the entrepreneurial spirit to figure out how to invest in immigrants, including the illegal ones. He's implying that the nation is bankrupt of its most precious resource: imagination.

If he's right, all the more reason to welcome immigrants. Because history shows that diversity breeds pluralism of ideas, and ideas will be needed to reinvent the American dream in a century when technology, money and people are moving faster.

On this score, both the United States and Western Europe can take pointers from the old Islamic empire. Between the 8th and 14th centuries, Muslim civilization led the world in innovation precisely because it let all manner of outsiders in — despite the threats they posed to order. The result? Several hundred years of creativity in agriculture, astronomy, chemistry, medicine, commerce, math, even fashion. It's when the empire became insular to "protect" itself that the motivation to remain robust, and the talent to do so, disappeared.

Memo to Gov. Schwarzenegger: If you're going to flirt with the fortress mentality, please avoid the mistakes of your European siblings and my Muslim forefathers.