March 15, 2006
By Tim Kane, Ph.D. and Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D.
There's a difference between having an "open door" policy and
having no doors at all.
The U.S. economy has been strengthened perpetually via its open
doors. Free flows of immigration, trade and capital have fueled the
wealthiest economy in history. But the continued success of this
policy hinges on us knowing who is attempting to come through those
doors -- that is, on fostering community as well as growth.
Today America's exceptional status as a nation of immigrants
is being challenged by globalization, a phenomenon that makes both
migration and terrorism much easier. The favored approach of recent
years -- a policy of benign neglect regarding the immigration
problem -- is no longer tenable.
Successful immigration reform must be comprehensive. A lopsided,
ideological approach is bound to fail, whether it focuses
exclusively on border security while ignoring migrant workers or
Just think through the numbers. Illegal immigration has reached
massive proportions. The U.S. currently hosts more than 10
million undocumented aliens. When three out of every 100 people in
America are undocumented (or documented with faked papers), we
have a profound security problem.
And that's the point Congress should focus on. The real problem
presented by illegal immigration is security, not a supposed threat
to the economy.
Today the percentage of Americans who are foreign-born (12 percent)
is the highest in decades. At the same time, the economy is strong,
with higher total gross domestic product, higher GDP per person,
higher productivity per worker and more Americans working than ever
before. Immigration may not have caused this economic boom, but it
is folly to blame immigrants for hurting the economy at a time
when the economy simply isn't hurting.
Ironically, efforts to curtail the economic influx of
migrants actually worsen the security dilemma by driving many
migrant workers further underground, thereby encouraging the
culture of illegality.
The real problem with accommodating a flood of undocumented workers
is that it makes flouting the law the norm. And that makes the job
of terrorists and drug traffickers infinitely easier. To solve that
problem, we must develop a nationwide system that identifies all
foreigners present within the U.S. A non-citizen guest-worker
program is critical and would involve three steps.
First, all guest workers should be identified biometrically. A
nationwide system of identification, such as fingerprints and
retina scans, already has been developed for the US-VISIT
A sister "WORKER-VISIT" program is essential for enforcement
efforts and would help American companies. Employers who want to
hire guest workers would be required to verify electronically that
the particular worker has registered with WORKER-VISIT and is
eligible to work in the United States.
Second, a guest-worker program must not be amnesty. Potential guest
workers should apply from outside the U.S. and be required
to have a sponsoring employer. Documented migrant workers would
enter with a new status: not citizen, not illegal, but rather
And third, the guest-worker program shouldn't be used as an excuse
to create another large federal bureaucracy. Government should
never micromanage migrant labor -- or any labor, for that
matter. Instead, the private sector ought to run the guest-worker
Incentives for employers and workers to comply should be written
into the law, along with strict penalties for non-compliance.
Guest-worker status should not be a path to citizenship or convey
rights to U.S. social benefits. The guiding rule: Treat migrant
workers with neither preference nor prejudice.
This century of globalization will see America either descend into
timid isolation or affirm its openness. We can't afford to wait.
Already China's economic power is ascending with openness, while
western Europe declines into isolation.
Too many voices are saying that immigration reform is politically
untenable. That supposes a false choice between openness and law.
And it misreads the populist demand for a simple solution that's
both obvious and true to our American heritage.
Tim Kane, Ph.D.,
and Kirk Johnson,
Ph.D., are economists in the Center for Data Analysis
at The Heritage Foundation.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire
There's a difference between having an "open door" policy and having no doors at all.
Tim Kane, Ph.D.
Read More >>
Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D.
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