Friday, June 14, 2013

The Nightmare built into Immigration Reform

Earlier today I received a request from Grassfire to sign a petition opposing the current immigration bill.  I refused to sign.  The petition included the following sentence:

Any proposal to reform immigration must begin with real border security, mandatory employment verification and banning of public benefits to those illegally in our country.

My response to Grassfire:

The petition you've asked me to sign calls for "mandatory employment verification." Here's why I won't sign.  Mandatory employment verification would be a catastrophe.  It would place in the hands of the federal bureaucracy the power to decide who can work and who can't.  Give this power to them and you will see it used to target libertarians, conservatives, Christian activists, and other citizens who are "accidentally" added to the "no-work" list.  The mere fear of having this happen will terrify people into silence. It would be a power far more dangerous than IRS' taxing authority -- sure, one could appeal, but how long can a citizen go without a paycheck?  This will be a tool used to control Americans, not illegal immigrants, and to silence opposition.

It makes no sense to criminalize working "without govt permission, nor for that matter to criminalize hiring illegals.  Crossing the border illegally is the crime, and that's enough.  Working isn't a crime.

The USSR had a system of work permits and internal passports; so too communist China (which still has them).  We should STRONGLY OPPOSE establishing a similar system here.

Please respond.

Charles N. Steele, Ph.D.

Immigration reform, the way it is proposed by both Democrats and Republicans, always includes some insane proposal that employers check prospective employees "work status."  Frankly, if the only thing illegal immigrants did upon coming to the U.S. was do productive work, I'd happily open the borders and bring in as many people as is humanly possible.  Working creates wealth and makes for a healthier, wealthier, happier society.  Labor contracts among consenting adults are not crimes; the right to trade one's labor and one's wealth as one sees fit are among everyone's inalienable rights.

True, there are reasonable arguments against illegal immigration.  The most obvious one is that without the screening legal immigration provides, criminals and terrorists might enter.  I agree, although every one of the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. legally.  (This says something about the low quality of screening.)  Another reason is that illegal immigrants become a burden on the taxpayer when they consume entitlements.  True enough, but this is a problem of the welfare state, not immigration, and is one more argument against the welfare state, not illegal immigration.  The remaining reasonable argument is that too many immigrants, illegal or otherwise, might overwhelm the polity and culture and change the system.  Even economist Julian Simon, a champion of all kinds of immigration, acknowledged this problem.  So, true enough.  Still, it's hardly the case that most illegal immigrants are enemies.  Most of them come to get away get away from cultures more dysfunctional than ours.  The immigration mess is, first of all, a problem of crappy third world countries that people choose to abandon, not a hostile threat to the country for which they leave.

In short, illegal immigration is a complex set of problems.  I don't have any particular insights into how to fix this mess, but cracking down on employment has nothing to do with fixing any of these.  Instead, it creates a far more dangerous threat.

If "mandatory employment verification" (MEV) such as E-verify becomes the law, two things will happen:

One, the system will trap many American citizens into a "no-work" status.  Supposedly E-verify currently has an official error rate of only 500 in 100,000 when dealing with American citizens. I'm skeptical that it's nearly this good, but if it is that would make one's chances of being put on a "no-work" list one and one half times greater than being the victim of any violent crime (368 in 100,000).  Sure, you can appeal, it's easy and fun!  OK, it's not easy and fun, it's a hellish bureaucratic nightmare as you are threatened with losing not only your current job but all future employment through no fault of your own.  While you are fighting for your very survival (how long can you go without a paycheck again?), for the bureaucrats you're dealing with you're just another case, all in a days work for them, and how it comes out is of no particular concern.  Hopefully they'll do a better job than is done with the no-flight lists.  Since you're an American citizen, it's not as though you can just leave for employment elsewhere.

But even worse...

Two, once we give government officials a tool or a power, they will exploit it to the maximum and use it in ways never intended (or at least never admitted).  MEV will be exploited for political purposes.  Targeting political opponents with false "nonconfirmations" would have chilling effect far greater than any of the IRS abuses we've seen.  The power of the taxman is fearsome, but it's nothing compared to the power of someone who can prevent you from earning a living in the first place.  "Oh, that could never happen in the U.S., where's your *credible* evidence?"  Anyone asking this is in denial.  It's a law of political economy that government officials will exploit any tool or a power given them to the maximum and use it in ways never intended.

Of course, if you really want to do MEV right, you need truly tamper proof biometric ID.  And what better way to do this than with a mandatory implantable chip?  The technology was approved by the FDA in 2004, I blogged about it in 2006, and since then has been removed from the market.  If MEV is part of a reasonable solution to illegal immigration, is there one good reason why we shouldn't use Verichip?

No one has proposed chipping (that I know of) but why even mess around with national ID's?  In fact, E-verify and MEV in general are tyrannical ideas; chipping everyone isn't necessary for this to be a nightmare. Our immigration status quo is far superior to any solution currently proposed by left or right.

Note: the planned mandatory Animal ID program mentioned in my 2006 post was cancelled, and Real ID essentially put on hold, both due to popular opposition.  These hardly made the MSM, but were important defeats for the political class.  It didn't take that many people to do this, just resolute and vocal ones.  Let this be a lesson to us.

I could not agree more on that way. And by the way, this posting is a worthy way of approaching the 8th anniversary of your blog, Charles! So congratulations! NV
Many thanks, Nat!

I will have to do something to celebrate.
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