What Does It Mean to Secure a Border?

In more than five years of blogging, I have noticed that posts on immigration generate some of the most heated exchanges in the comment section. Last week’s short post on the new Arizona immigration law was no exception. Here are some more points I’d like to make.

First, what does the law mean? There have been different characterizations presented in the media, but what I had in mind was similar to this one presented by Roger Noriega:

The Arizona law requires the police to determine the immigration status of any person who is stopped for any “lawful” reason. Only if that person does not present valid, government-issued identification is there a “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is “unlawfully present in the United States,” after which the officer must make reasonable attempts to verify the person’s immigration status. State authorities are required to report the arrest or conviction of an illegal alien to federal immigration authorities. The law requires an illegal alien (or a lawful alien who is not carrying his green card) to pay fines and jail costs. The vast majority of the bill is dedicated to imposing stiff sanctions on those who employ or smuggle illegal aliens.

This is consistent with how I think we should begin addressing illegal immigration. (See my first post on immigration reform from March 2006.) If this is not the way the law is intended to work, then the law should be modified.

Second, I wrote the post last week as a reaction to hearing the law described by the President as “misguided” without his acknowledging the murder that precipitated the law. He was acknowledging “failure to act responsibly at the federal level.” That failure abetted a murder. If he wasn’t going to connect the dots, then I certainly was. And if the federal government isn’t going to act responsibly, the citizenry must do it for themselves, either as private individuals or through sub-federal governments. In the post, I indicated that the Arizona law was within the set of things I’d be willing to accept to keep my fellow citizens safe. Many commenters suggested that was “mighty white” of me, presumably based on their different interpretation of the law. A recent New York Times/CBS poll indicates that I am far from alone in my view. That doesn’t necessarily justify the view, but it is relevant for the political solution that will emerge.

Third, the President was back in the Rose Garden for Cinco de Mayo yesterday, and he found reason to describe the law as “misconceived.” Then he said (my emphasis added):

So I want to say it again, just in case anybody is confused. The way to fix our broken immigration system is through common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. (Applause.) That means responsibility from government to secure our borders, something we have done and will continue to do. It means responsibility from businesses that break the law by undermining American workers and exploiting undocumented workers -— they’ve got to be held accountable. It means responsibility from people who are living here illegally. They’ve got to admit that they broke the law, and pay taxes, and pay a penalty, and learn English, and get right before the law — and then get in line and earn their citizenship.

This makes his failure to acknowledge the murder even more absurd. Arizona passed the law precisely because the federal government has not secured the borders. The President has the three elements of comprehensive reform listed correctly (and, in my view, in the correct order of importance and implementation). He’s just wrong on the facts. And until the federal government can make much more progress on securing the borders, there won’t be much political will in Congress to hold businesses responsible or to offer a pathway to citizenship for those here illegally.

Fourth, you can see a good example of how immigration splits the generally right of center coalition into conservatives (including me on this issue) and libertarians in this segment featuring fellow econoblogger Don Boudreaux.

About Andrew Samwick 89 Articles

Affiliation: Dartmouth College

Andrew Samwick is a professor of economics and Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

He is most widely known for his work on the economics of retirement, and his scholarly work has covered a range of topics, including pensions, saving, taxation, portfolio choice, and executive compensation.

In July 2003, Samwick joined the staff of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, serving for a year as its chief economist and helping to direct the work of about 20 economists in support of the three Presidential appointees on the Council.

Visit: Andrew Samwick's Page

1 Comment on What Does It Mean to Secure a Border?

  1. This cluster of issues does not follow political lines. Libertarians are split, and Demoblicans are split, and Repucrats are split.

    The Reid-Schumer-Menendez outline is mostly hand-waving. “We’re going to accomplish X.” How, exactly? “Uhhhhh, we’re going to accomplish X. Just shut up and take our word for it.” How are you going to secure the border? “Uhhh, virtually, electronicule stuff. Very technical; you couldn’t possibly understand.” How are you going to track visa grantees to make sure they leave when their visas expire? “We’re going to ask them to report where they are.” How are you going to reduce the displacement of highly-skilled, creative, industrious US citizens with cheap illegal aliens, guest-workers, and green card recipients? “We’re going to lower the standards for getting visas, issue more visas, and more of them will be green cards, and we’ll encourage more chain immigration and promote the anchor baby tourism business. That will boost the economy.” Yah, sure. You sound like the kind of people who would be interested in the purchase of a slightly used bridge I happen to have for sale.

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