immigration crisis, referring to the United States and particularly to the southern border, has been in use for a couple of decades. This tells us that the perception of crisis is ingrained in American political and social discourse, and it also illustrates that however one defines "crisis," little has been done to resolve it. Immigration is frequently cast as a political issue, but the politicization of immigration has done little to bring about a consensus resolution, leaving different layers of government to deal with immigration in an ad hoc manner. Solutions and proposed solutions have ranged from amnesty to detention (Welch, 1996). This paper will examine the immigration crisis and propose that reframing the crisis might be a more effective pathway to resolution.
Humans have always migrated, and they tend to migrate for the same reasons. Either the old location is in a state of poverty, or war, and the new location promises them either peace or economic opportunity or both. Advances in medical technology have allowed for burgeoning populations in most countries around the world. Developing world nations with rapid population growth rates are in a poor position to provide opportunity for their citizens. This creates strong demand for migration, which in Mexico and Central America typically means that people fleeing violence and poverty look to the United States for save haven (Herz, 2014).
In strictly economic terms, the demand for residence in the United States outstrips supply. As with most countries, the U.S. exerts control over its borders via immigration quotas, which are embedded in the legal pathways. That so many more people want in than are allowed in has encouraged many migrants to simply sneak in. It is estimated that 1/3 of migrants are from Mexico, but that 60% of Mexican migrants are undocumented. The smaller countries of Central America also contribute to the immigration crisis, but Mexico is the most significant contributor, given its large population and long land border with the U.S. (Massey, 2007). Undocumented workers, once in the United States, blend into established Hispanic communities, and typically work illegally to support themselves. The crisis component of this comes from the perception that there is a runaway problem with immigration, wherein Massey (2007) demonstrates that the perception of the problem is greater than the problem actually is. People think that there are more illegal immigrants than there really are, and overstate the opinion that immigrants are a threat to American values. This seems to be because they have little knowledge about immigration patterns, where first-generation immigrants struggle with language and cultural issues, but by the third or fourth generation assimilation is total.
Thus, the influx of illegal immigrants reflects high demand and low supply, and is thus a market failure. The crisis, then, is in the fact that there is persistent market failure, meaning that the policies in place are not having the intended effect. This needs to be decoupled from the "crisis" as defined by the perception of immigrants ruining American values. That is a false crisis, in terms of not being related to the nature of the immigration system -- legal immigrants could just as easily be contributing to such perceptions, and that is assuming the perceptions are even grounded in reality at all.
Reframing the Problem
The crisis in immigration lies with the fact that the immigration system cannot handle the demand for the ability to immigrate to the U.S. There are a few underlying assumptions. The first is that the U.S. has no obligation to take any immigrants -- as a sovereign nation it has right of refusal for any and all immigration requests. The second is that the U.S. wants to have new immigrants, but requires documentation same as the country does for all of its citizens. The challenge is to align the interests of the country with the interests of prospective immigrants. Migration is a natural part of human social activity. We move around a lot. Sometimes it creates problems for existing nations or communities and sometimes it does not. This is not an American situation, but a universal situation. Human beings do not have an inherent right to such movement, but a humane society will grant others the right to pursue peace and prosperity, if it can afford to do so. Many activists working with immigrants see the immigration issue as a humanitarian one, rather than economic (Weiner, 1995). But the interests of the nation are in managing the supply of workers in the economy so that there are jobs, and where possible minimizing the financial burden on government resources. It is worth noting that estimates of the cost to the economy of illegal immigrants can vary wildly depending on the survey, and the number will tend to reflect the political position of the group conducting the estimate (Fahmy, 2010).
In this situation, it is not apparent that these interests can be aligned. Bearing in mind the massive gains in population in the developing world, there is simply not enough capacity in the developed world to handle all prospective immigrants. The U.S. can temporarily increase capacity, but unfettered immigration over the long run would be impossible. The solution therefore has to strike a balance between the humanitarian approach and the right of the nation to govern itself, including setting of citizenship and residency rights.
Massey (2007) offered a number of different policy prescriptions to better manage the immigration crisis. The first step is to accept that immigration rates should be higher, because there is capacity to accept more people, and because demand is not going to wane. Tighter border controls, detentions and other tactics are not solving the problem. The approach, therefore, must accept that it is easier to manage immigration when people are in the system, through bureaucratic means, than it is to manage immigration as a law enforcement issue. A program whereby an immigrant is able to gain employment, but not be tied to a specific job, has been proposed by Massey, and would succeed in ensuring flexibility for immigrants to find the right jobs in the right locations. This is more economically efficient than either tying workers to a specific job or having the work only in underground sectors of the economy.
Many illegal immigrants are economic migrants, rather than those fleeing violence. A system of temporary work visas would allow for a greater number of workers to arrive temporarily. If these visas provided a strict pathway to permanent residency at a later date, that would be effective, but such temporary visas would not necessarily have to create a pathway. They could, instead, offer only temporary residence. Economic migrants could come, earn, and then return home after a period of earning. This would negate the need for illegal immigration, would align with how many illegal immigrants current behave, and would not increase the population. The number of such visas could be high, but could also be tied to the unemployment rate, if that is deemed politically necessary. Massey also recommends that the temporary migrants pay a fee -- his number is $300 -- but many have little money initially but could pay a fee from later wages as a condition to staying.
The other side to the solution is that immigration is tied to economic progress and personal security. Ending the war on drugs would reduce violence in Central America and parts of Mexico. Encouraging infrastructure development in these countries, combined with freer trade, would create better economic opportunity domestically, something that will over time reduce demand for immigration from Latin America. There is relatively low demand for immigration from Europe, compared historical averages, in large part because Europe is economically and politically stable. Building the same economic and political stability in Latin America would go a long way to reducing…