« Quote of the Day | The RCP Blog Home Page | Katherine Harris' Journey Continues »

Migrant Workers vs. Immigrants

The real problem we have today is not as simple as legal versus illegal immigration. It is instead confusing migrant labor with true immigration. Many of those coming here from Central America are overtly not coming to be immigrants; they have no intention of becoming Americans, of learning the language, of assimilating into society. They simply want a job.

I say OK, let (many of) them work here, but let the rules of the game and the perception of society reflect the fact that these are NOT immigrants. They are migrant workers. America might want to offer certain treatment or benefits to a person whose goal is truly to become an American that we might not want to offer to migrant workers. Access (not necessarily free access, however) to health care and education are obvious examples.

True immigrants want to stay here more or less forever, notwithstanding vacations, whereas migrant workers intend to return home. True immigrants take substantial steps, such as learning English, indicative of their desire to be Americans whereas migrant workers have no such interest. True immigrants want to be productive members of their new country whereas migrant workers intend a substantial part of their earnings beyond what they need to live on to be repatriated to another country.

I have no problem with either type of person. They both bring benefits to our society and our economy if their entrance into (and exit from) the country is properly structured. Our doors should be open to both, though maybe not open equally wide.

What I do have a big problem with, and what I think more and more Americans are coming to realize and disapprove of, is migrant workers who demand to be treated as well as or better than true immigrants or US-born citizens. There is simply no excuse for hospitals to be going out of business because of overuse by migrant workers. There is no excuse for migrant workers to receive any taxpayer-funded benefits. We are not "citizens of the world" with responsibility to buy TVs or even food for anyone who claims to need it.

So, what to do?

We should massively increase the number of work visas available at all skill levels so that there is no real excuse for someone to hire illegal immigrants. We should then implement substantial penalties on employers for hiring illegals. As a libertarian, I don't say that easily, but the tremendous burden put on taxpayers by the free-loading of illegals simply can not be allowed. Encouraging illegal immigration is encouraging the bankrupting of local governments and hospitals, raising the burden on taxpayers while sending much the economic benefit out of the country.

It is a situation of concentrated benefits (employer and illegal worker) and diffuse costs (taxpayers, health insurance payers, local government and law enforcement strains, etc). Normally this sort of public choice problem resolves by the sufferers of the diffuse costs just giving up, or never caring much to begin with. (Imagine 100 million Americans complaining about the 25 cent cost each for an unnecessary $25 million government program. It just doesn't happen.) This time is different. The diffuse costs are too widely spread to be ignored. They hit us all, and we are constantly reminded of them by everything from rising insurance costs to newspaper stories about 47 illegals being involved in 4 car crashes in one day.

But I digress....the key is not to get rid of "illegal immigrants" but to recognize that they are NOT immigrants. They are migrant labor...a useful tool in the economy...and no more. They are not Americans, never will be, mostly don't want to be. And that's fine. Let them be that way. It does not make them worse human beings. But let the rules of the game reflect the facts on the ground.

Our doors should be open to everyone who can contribute to our society and economy, but the door for true immigrants must lead to a very different path than the door for migrant workers.