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All decent human beings, all people who care about both the economic health of this country and the values it stands for, should reject, resoundingly, the nativist xenophobia hawked, cynically, by the current president to a tragically receptive segment of our population. Illegal immigration is less than one fifth of what it was 20 years ago, and reached that low mark prior to Trump’s election. Our border security is quite sufficient, in reality, with crime rates by illegal immigrants being lower than crime rates by natural born citizens and crime rates by geographic locale being inversely correlated to the proportion of the population that are immigrants in that locale (i.e., more immigrants = less crime). Those are statistical facts.

There is absolutely no evidence that even a single terrorist has ever come across our southern border, according to Trump’s own justice department. The 4000 number that Sarah Huckabee Sanders used refers to people arriving at airports from countries that we consider to be countries that terrorists frequently hail from; they are not even suspected of terrorism, and they do not come across the southern border. In fact, the justice department and anti-terrorism experts in general consider the Canadian border to pose a greater danger of providing a conduit for terrorists, because there is much more radical Islamic influence in Canada than in the Latino countries south of us.

It’s also a fact that at a certain point further investment in border security costs more per person successfully prevented from crossing the border illegally than that person costs us if they do cross the border illegally. In fact, it’s extremely likely that we have already passed that point. Non-partisan analyses of the costs and benefits that illegal immigrants provide to our coffers and our economy range from net benefits on both scores at both the state and federal levels to fairly marginal net costs on both scores. No peer-review study has come to the conclusion that costs are any significant portion of GDP, or that they are anywhere near posing an economic crisis to the country.

Conversely, that which is currently illegal immigration DOES redress a critical and rapidly growing demographic imbalance between retirees drawing out of pension funds and working people paying into them. Developed countries really have little choice, if they want their pension funds to remain solvent, but to legalize and normalize fairly massive immigration of working age people.

Furthermore, the argument that the nativism and xenophobia on very prominent and obvious display by this president and his followers is just a commitment to the rule of law, not an anti-immigrant stance, is belied by both the nature of the issue and the facts. We determine what the laws are, and virtually everyone agrees that we need immigration reform, which means changes in the laws. So the real debate is over what the laws should be and how we should implement them. The divide in the debate is between those who favor a kinder and more open society and those who favor a crueler and more closed society.

That it isn’t just, or even primarily, about enforcing current laws is highlighted by the fact that when Trump proposed changes in the law to make immigration more restrictive and favor “Norwegians” over people of color, and when crueler and more restrictive choices of policy not dictated by currents law were implemented, his supporters passionately supported and defended his choices, demonstrating that the debate isn’t over enforcing the law but rather shutting out precisely the people we used to welcome.

Those who echo Trump’s narrative on immigration often compare the nation to a house, insisting that just as we use walls and locks to exclude people at will from our homes we should do so to exclude them from our country. It is redundant at this point to address the ineffectiveness of a wall (something a review of expert analyses of border security makes perfectly clear), so instead let’s focus on the errors in that analogy.

A country isn’t a house. It wasn’t legally purchased from its previous owners; it was stolen. Its property lines aren’t​ determined by developers selling lots; they’re determined by military conquest. Its walls don’t separate inhabitants from the elements, but rather secure those who managed to divert more of the Earth’s resources to themselves against those who have been violently relegated to diverting less to themselves. And it is not a refuge from the world financed by inhabitants’ labors external to it, but rather a complex economic, social, and cultural entity that thrives by means of its robust interactions with the world around it.

Let’s address the last point first, because it is the one that cuts across values and appeals directly to systemic realities. Our nation functions through an internal and external market economy, engaging in market exchanges within our borders and across borders. Classical (and conservative) economic theory maintains that the fewer barriers there are to such market exchanges, the more wealth is generated by them, the ideal being a “free market,” characterized by unhindered market activity. Advocacy for strengthening national borders and obstructing the flow of people across them is a contradiction of this ideal. Less ideologically pure understandings of market dynamics also recognize the value of allowing labor to travel to where there is demand for it. Whatever limits we feel we must place on that free flow of goods and people in service to a free market, the fact that it is a consideration is one of the principal ways in which a country differs from a house, not just on scale, but also in systemic attributes.

But a country differs from a house in other ways as well, on moral and historical dimensions. We can’t return land to all those with historical claims on it, but we can stop pretending that we have some absolute, inherent moral authority to deprive entry to those who are the descendants of the ones we stole it from seeking to work hard and provide opportunity for their children under our rule of law. Those who *have* always pass laws to protect what they have from those who don’t; one can defend that through a cynical insistence that might makes right but not through a claim to having the morally virtuous position. The morally virtuous position would be to recognize our moral debt to humanity as a result of the historical moral infractions through which we secured our privileged place in the global political economy.

And it’s a pretty easy form of “generosity” to let hard working people come here and do our dirtiest, most difficult jobs for the lowest wages, contributing to our economy, to our coffers, and to our culture. The fact is that most analyses show net gains to our economy, many show net gains to our state and federal coffers, and all show a net gain in our demographic distribution of workers to retirees, a critical imbalance at present that massive immigration redresses.

You people who think we should wall out the less fortunate because you feel threatened by them are the least fortunate of all, coveting material wealth that isn’t being threatened by inflicting passive and active brutalities on those most in need. You’re not Christians; you’re what Christians exhort us not to be.

This entire nativist, xenophobic narrative is a fabrication, refuted by fact, by reason, by our own national interests, and by basic human decency. And it is one that an opportunistic con-artist has leveraged, as he’s leveraged other similarly dishonest scams before, to stoke up the bigotries of a certain segment of our national population in order to serve his own personal self-aggrandizement.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Many of the most pressing social problems we face are embedded in the loss of community, in dysfunctional families, in unaddressed behavioral and situational problems of children. Some consider these spheres of life to be beyond the purview of public policy, and too expensive to address even if government could or should be used to address them. I think this is mistaken on all counts, and more profoundly than immediately apparent.

First, the unaddressed (or under addressed) behavioral and mental health problems of children, and the unstable or unsafe family environments in which many find themselves, end up being extremely costly to society in the long run, both monetarily and socially. These under addressed problems are implicated in poor educational performance, delinquent and future criminal behavior, and a myriad of related problems that reduce individual productivity, increase economic and social burdens on society, and reproduce themselves generationally.

Second, our current programs tend to be piecemeal, reactive, and both fiscally inefficient and of more limited effectiveness than necessary. This is not a set of defects that we cannot substantially improve upon, and, in fact, there are many advances taking place right now which are doing just that. By placing ever-increasing emphasis on coordination among services and agencies that perform interrelated services for children and families in need, we reduce the costs of fractured and redundant services performed by seperate agencies with unconsolidated administrative costs. Those costs are far greater than providing oversight boards which help to coordinate and consolidate these overlapping services. By doing so, not only is the fiscal efficiency of providing services greatly increased, but also the outcome efficacy of these services, for when schools and juvenile justice agencies and mental health providers and child welfare counselors and others involved in addressing individual children’s needs are engaged in those efforts in better coordinated ways, all do their jobs more effectively, and contribute to a more effective regime of service provision.

Providing such proactive services more effectively, addressing the behavioral health challenges that so many of our youth face, helping to ensure that each child has a safe and nurturing permanent family environment in which to grow up in, and coordinating these efforts with both juvenile justice agencies and public schools, not only increases the present and future welfare of those children, but also reduces both the costs of reactive solutions to the problems thus avoided, and the costs to society of the problems themselves.

The costs of the relative failure of our educational system, for instance, are enormous, on many levels, costs that can be dramatically reduced through improvements in the effectiveness of our schools. And the enormnous costs of having the dubious distinction of being the nation, of all nations on Earth, with both the highest absolute number, and highest percentage of our population incarcerated, are perhaps directly tracable to our failure to address the childhood problems that lay the foundation for that unfortunate statistic.

Improving our proactive services to children and families is an up-front investment in our future, cultivating productive and well-adjusted members of society who contribute more to our collective welfare and less to our collective suffering. And even marginal gains on that dimension promise enormous future fiscal savings. It’s an investment we can’t afford not to make.

But the potential to improve the quality of our lives, and the prospects for our children, do not stop there. Increased community involvement provides one more pillar to the structure of improved support to children and families, increasing the vigilance with which problems are identified, the informal neighborly assistance and interventions with which they are avoided or mitigated, and the positive human capital with which child development is cultivated. Implementing robust community volunteer tutoring and mentoring programs is one easy step we can take to increase the strength of our communities, improve the quality of education our children receive, and provide our youth with a greater number of positive role models to emulate. In addition to such benefits are the benefits of increased informal mutual support in times of need, and just as an ordinary part of life, each of us helping one another out just a little bit more, because we have spent more time working together as members of a cohesive community.

There are no panaceas, and I do not mean to imply that the policy agenda I am outlining would solve all of our problems, would magically make all children well-behaved and studious, and all neighbors helpful. I am suggesting that, as always, we can do better or worse, we can improve on our current social institutional framework or not, and we can strive to increase the opportunities available to our children for their future success, and our improved shared quality of life.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

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