The Senseless Death Of Kathryn Steinle

WASHINGTON – The senseless killing of Kathryn Steinle by Francisco Sanchez, a Mexican illegal immigrant with a long criminal history, stunned America. 32-year-old Kathryn was simply taking a walk with her dad in San Francisco. Sanchez, for unknown reasons, shot her and killed her.

Illegal immigrants come back

Sadly, this is not just another homicide. This killing highlights the tangled mess of American immigration policies and selective enforcement. In an ideal world, Sanchez, an illegal immigrant with a long criminal record, should not have been in the USA. Or he should have been in a US jail.

Well, then how is it possible that he was freely walking around in San Francisco?

We know that many people from Mexico and Central America manage to cross the US border illegally. What is worse, many of those who are apprehended and sent back simply turn around and try again, multiple times. And this is because essentially there is no penalty for illegally crossing the border.

Sanctuary cities

If this were not enough, many US municipalities declared themselves to be “sanctuary cities”. This means that illegal immigrants who settle there are welcome. No one will ask them questions about their immigration status. The local authorities will not arrest them and turn them over to the US immigration authorities.

The original purpose of creating “sanctuary cities” was to allow illegal immigrants living there to come forward and cooperate with local law enforcement in cases of crimes affecting their communities, without fear of revealing their status, this way facing deportation.

Well, may be this was a good idea. But now sanctuary cities have become magnets for more and more illegal aliens.

So, here you have it. We have a porous border that allows illegal immigrants to get into the United States. And then you have many cities, including San Francisco, that provide safe haven to those who go there.

This is bad. America is a country of laws. The fact that the Federal Government does nothing when City Councils and Mayors enact provisions that protect and in a sense encourage illegal immigration sends a horrible message of confusion, weakness and eventually lawlessness.

Illegal immigrants with felony convictions

But wait, it gets worse, much worse. Francisco Sanchez, the man who killed Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco, has a long record of arrests and felony convictions on drug charges, here in the US. He was arrested, convicted and deported several times.

And –guess what– each time he came back.

This time, Sanchez purposely went to San Francisco in full knowledge of the sanctuary policy of the city. And then, (prior to the murder), while he was caught by the federal authorities, he fell through the cracks of unclear provisions and conflicting jurisdictions that, according to the San Francisco police, included improperly crafted instructions they received from the federal immigration authorities.

With a straight face, the San Francisco police claim that they could not hold an illegal immigrant with multiple felony convictions because they had no legal ground to do so. This looks incredible, and in fact incomprehensible. But, technically speaking, they may be right.

Unusual but not unique story

The story of Francisco Sanchez and Kathryn’s tragic death may be unusual. But it is not unique. Among the many illegal immigrants who manage to slip through and settle in a sanctuary city there are criminals. Certainly they are not a majority. But they are there. And, on occasion, they commit violent crimes.

The senseless murder of a young woman who was just taking a walk with her father encouraged emotional reactions, including new federal laws that will punish “sanctuary cities”. But this is mostly noise.

Serious immigration reform

The real issue is that America’s immigration policy is broken. It is a monumental mess that needs to be fixed. As a minimum, we need to:

1) Secure all our borders. People with no visas or other legal permits will not get through. No exceptions;

2) Prioritize the legal immigrants that we want to have, and this should include highly educated people who can contribute to our economy;

3) Create a robust guest workers visa program that will take care of seasonal workers who come to America to be employed in agriculture and other non permanent occupations;

4) Offer a realistic path to legalization to the millions of law-abiding illegal immigrants who are already here and who have not broken laws, (except for the immigration laws).

Political paralysis in Washington

This is complicated. But not impossible. Those who oppose reform (mostly conservative Republicans) affirm that all the illegal aliens should be deported –that’s about 11 to 12 million people. (This would be un unprecedented undertaking, a monumental effort that would cause national chaos).

They also maintain that any path to legalization amounts to “amnesty”. And amnesty would send the message that there will be more amnesties in the future, therefore encouraging more illegal entries, and so forth.

This political paralysis in Washington is most unfortunate. Because of outdated laws, we have unclear priorities, provisions that are not enforced, local initiatives that go against federal laws, and conflicting jurisdictions.

This is a real mess.

Kathryn’s death

The senseless death of Kathryn Steinle is a sad example of what happens and may happen again when illegal immigrants who are also criminals can take full advantage of policy confusion in America, a major, advanced country that lacks the will to pass sensible immigration reform.

Republicans Pledge To Fight Obama On Immigration – A Bad Idea

WASHINGTON – As expected, President Barack Obama just announced his plan to shield millions of illegal immigrants from prosecution and possible deportation. A fair estimate indicates that this executive order will cover 4 to 5 million illegal immigrants, almost half the total number of those who are in the US without regular papers.

Prosecutorial discretion

Without getting too technical, the President justified this unilateral move on the (widely accepted) principle of “prosecutorial discretion”.

It is indeed true that all law enforcement authorities in the US may exercise their own discretion (in certain cases) as to what kind of crimes they will prosecute with dispatch, while, for instance, not pursuing minor offences. All this is true. It is also true that past Presidents justified their own executive orders on the same principle.

It is legal

Based on all this, President Obama claims that his executive order is perfectly legal. After all, with his order he is not changing the legal status of the affected illegal immigrants. He is not granting them resident status, let alone allowing them to become citizens. All this would require a law passed by the US Congress.

With this action, Obama is simply shielding the “undocumented” from prosecution. And he justified this rather unprecedented action (in terms of scope, and number of people affected) on the ground that it is inhumane for America to force so many immigrants to live at the margin of society, with no status, no rights, and so on.

The Congress did not act

Well, this is just one of many strong arguments in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. And the President is right when he claims that he has patiently waited for the US Congress to take legislative action. Indeed, more than a year ago the Senate –with Democrats and Republicans supporting it– had passed an immigration bill. However, the House did not even bring it to the floor for debate, simply because the Republican majority is deeply divided and conflicted on this issue.

Republicans want a fight

Anyway, the President has acted. How will the Republicans respond? The initial reactions are not at all promising. As I feared, the Republican leaders in Congress, strengthened by their recent massive electoral victory on November 4, promise to fight President Obama not on the merit of his action; but on principle. They argue, (alas, too many of them are lawyers), that Obama’s unilateral action is unconstitutional, and therefore a severe threat to the very foundations of American Democracy.

I stated before and I repeat now that this legalistic approach, while it has merit, is totally wrong.

The point is that Obama has taken action. Stopping this through legal countermeasures may take a long, long time. (A law suit in US District Court, certainly to be followed by an appeal and then finally a full debate before the US Supreme Court).

In the meantime, the Republicans will appear to be the mean-spirited, anti-immigrant party (in some cases this is unfortunately the truth) resorting to legal tricks in order to stop the implementation of a policy change decreed by a brave President who is inspired by truly American principles of fairness and humanity.

Anti-immigrant party?

Look, the US Constitution is not a detail. Accepting as valid an executive order of this magnitude means creating a major precedent that amounts to a huge increase of the Executive Branch discretionary powers. And this may have unwanted consequences down the line.

However, I believe that the only way to make real progress here is for the Republicans to stop fighting and jump ahead. They must produce a good immigration reform plan that at least matches the reach and scope of whatever Obama ordered now.

And here is the basic premise for any decent immigration reform plan. Whatever the vociferous opponents among the Republicans may argue, it is simply inconceivable that the US Government will deport more than 11 million people. Therefore, it is time to find a decent way to allow them to stay, while providing a path to legalization. This is not easy, given the large number of people involved, but it is possible.

Secure the border

At the same time, the border needs to be secured. The US Government should make it absolutely clear through its actions that a new law aimed at fixing an old problem will not be interpreted by anybody as an invitation to get to America illegally, with the expectation that sooner or later another “amnesty “will take care of them as well.

However, if the entire Republicans Party will be held hostage by its vociferous anti-immigrant minority, then the political and moral battle is lost. If the Republicans choose to fight Obama’s executive order on immigration on constitutional grounds, then the President will be able to say that he was right about taking unilateral action, since the Republicans are so unreasonable.

E Pluribus Unum

Here is my advice to the GOP. Debate the issue; but find unity on the very simple goal of fixing the status of so many people who want to be Americans. By legalizing them, we shall give them a real stake in our society. This will reinforce the Nation. In the end, a good reform will benefit all of us, it will unite us.

Don’t forget our roots: E pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One”.


The Republicans Must Support Immigration Reform

WASHINGTON – The Republicans are in a real bind. Sure they won the November 4 elections. And by a huge margin. But now President Obama is fighting back. And he has a powerful weapon: immigration reform by “executive order”.


Of course the Republicans cry foul. “He cannot do this. It is unconstitutional. He cannot unilaterally suspend the law. This a power grab. Blah, blah, blah.” Well, the Republicans may be right. But, guess what, it does not matter. Obama is going to do this anyway. And so, what are they going to do to stop him? Try to impeach him?

Via executive order –details aside– Obama will de facto legalize millions of immigrants. And he will do so while claiming the moral high ground. Indeed, it is a fact that America needs an immigration reform package that will have to include a path to the legalization of about 11 million illegal, (“undocumented” is the polite, politically correct definition), immigrants. It is also a fact that a bipartisan compromise bill that had been passed by the Senate more than a year ago, with Democrats and some Republican supporting it, died in the House because of a vociferous minority within the Republican House majority, (mostly the Tea Party crowd), that would not even consider any path leading to the legalization of millions of people, many of whom have been here in America for years, even decades.

President has a valid argument

And so Obama can say that he waited and waited for Congress to take action. But now it is the time to do something. If the Republicans do not want to do “the right thing”, he will do so, using his executive powers, as he interprets them.

The president claims that he has the authority under the Constitution to grant a reprieve to millions of illegal immigrants.

The Republicans better watch out. They may be right on the fact that Obama with this decree may be doing something unconstitutional. But they should keep in mind that the real battle here is political and moral, not legal.

Obama will win this one

Obama will win this one in the court of public opinion. This is absolutely certain. And if the GOP continues to drag its feet invoking the Constitution, there will be only one political outcome.

The whole country, and the millions of Latino voters in particular, will see that the Democrats are on the side of reform leading to inclusiveness, while the nasty Republicans are resisting it.

Of course, ideally we should have a comprehensive immigration bill that should be balanced. A path to legalization; but no quick amnesty for all. There should be special provisions for guest workers. There should be a much larger quota for super qualified scientists. And also provisions for improved border security, as a deterrent against future would-be illegal border crossers.

Divided GOP

But Obama is rushing the process via unilateral action, this way exposing well-known divisions within the Republican Party between the practical reformers and the ideological opponents of any legalization for illegal immigrants.

Do not place the party on the wrong side of this argument

Let me say this again. The last thing that the Republicans want is to be on the wrong side of an issue that may define them for decades to come (may be for ever) as anti-immigrant and anti-Latinos. Going forward, this outcome would spell political disaster.

The Republicans will need Latino votes in future elections. If they close ranks and oppose Obama on this, it may be impossible to repair the damage of what will amount to a major political and public relations disaster.

Do the right thing

The Republican leaders in Congress should work with the President on any immigration reform plan. Even if this causes truly unpleasant frictions within their ranks.

And please forget about constitutional debates. This is about redefining the Republican Party as an inclusive, national political force that acts guided by humane values and pragmatism, welcoming with open arms all good faith, honest immigrants, (including those who broke the law in the past by entering the US or staying here without proper permits).

Let me stress that this approach towards immigration is not about being politically smart. This is the right thing to do.

Thanks to President Obama, the modality to get from here to there will be messy. And this is unfortunate. But it is still the right thing to do.

Large Scale Immigration From Poor Countries Is An Economic Weight For Europe

WASHINGTON – The headlines about illegal immigration into the European Union these days are mostly about the ordeals and unfortunately tragic deaths of would-be migrants, in African deserts or at sea, trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Italy.

Human tragedies

Most recently Pope Francis scolded European governments for doing too little to prevent these frequent human tragedies, while treating poorly the migrants who actually manage to land on European shores.

(This humanitarian approach implies that these semi-desperate individuals have a “right” to immigrate illegally; it also implies that Europe has a duty to welcome them and give them whatever aid is necessary to start a new life in a better world).

Perilous journeys

Yes, there are daily tragedies. We know the sad tales of gullible or desperate people from sub-Saharan Africa who pay small fortunes to buy safe passage into Europe and never make it. Many are cheated by traffickers who steal their money, exploit women and sell children into slavery.

Some die during dangerous trips across the Sahara Desert, way before they could reach the coast of Libya or any other North African country from which they hoped to sail to Europe. Many others die at sea. Overloaded old boats trying to reach the Island of Lampedusa, off the southern coast of Sicily, sometimes capsize. Scores, sometimes hundreds of people drown.

And the lucky ones, those who get to the “safety” of the Italian or Spanish mainland face long ordeals before they can get permission to settle somewhere within the European Union.

Europe cannot handle this wave

Yes, all this is very sad. Europe is simply not equipped to handle this slow-moving, but steady human wave of illegal immigrants seeking a new life away from African poverty or Middle Eastern conflicts.

However, beyond the debates on what a Europe-wide immigration policy should be, and what should be done to improve the capacity of coast guards, immigration offices and provisional accommodations for immigrants, it is important to focus on the long-term economic consequences of this never-ending human wave from poor countries.

Indeed, the real problem caused by this wave of immigration into  relatively better off Europe is the negative economic impact of massive, unskilled immigration on the economies of the European countries in which these immigrants settle.

Impact on already weak European economies

Let’s step back for a moment and consider the broader picture. Europe is of course part of the modern, developed “first world”, and this is the main reason why poor people from Africa want to go there.

True. But it is also true that most of Europe is stagnating. Even before the devastating impact of the global 2008 recession, Europe was not growing much. Now it has simply gotten worse. Italy’s GDP is unchanged since the year 2000. This means net zero growth for 14 years. Not to mention the deep economic damages in Greece, Spain and to a lesser extent Portugal. Even France, the EU second largest economy, is doing rather poorly.

Population decline

Now, add to this downward economic trend another one, equally worrisome: slow but steady population decline. Yes, in most European countries there are negative fertility rates. When women, on average, have fewer than two children, the population starts shrinking. The lower the fertility rate, the more rapid the population decline. And since most Europeans, thanks to improved medical care, live longer, the net result is slowly shrinking populations with a larger percentage of old people. And seniors consume (rather than produce) capital resources. They do not work, while they receive pensions, free health care and other (costly) economic benefits.

Well, with the exception of France –a country that actively subsidizes larger families– most European countries are experiencing low or very low fertility rates. Wealthy Germany is at 1.43 children per woman. Poorer Italy is at 1.42. Vibrant Poland is at 1.33, much worse off Romania is at 1.32. Badly damaged Greece is at 1.41. Better off Austria is at 1.43.

As you can see, rich and poor alike, most European states are experiencing low fertility rates that inevitably lead to an older population and inevitably to a shrinking economic base. Indeed, most pensioners do not start new enterprises based on game changing technologies.

Add low skills immigrants to the mix

Well, if you throw into this mix of low growth and stagnation coupled with shrinking and older populations a large number of mostly uneducated newcomers –the immigrants from Africa and the Middle East– what is the most immediate economic impact? A lowering of average skills.

This shift is extremely important. In modern knowledge economies, future growth is mostly about the quality of human capital. Indeed, human capital is the most basic foundation of future wealth creation. In order to start the companies of the future, societies need to produce a fairly large pool of well-educated scientists, engineers and would-be entrepreneurs. These are the people who have the ability and the will to break new ground, this way opening up new economic sectors.

Sadly, uneducated and unskilled immigrants do not add to the aggregate value of human capital. Illiterate people cannot be employed by high-tech companies, let alone have the ability to start new ones.

New comers to not add to the stock of human capital

So, here is the picture. The native and supposedly better educated European population is getting smaller and older. The only net numeric additions are represented by low skills or no skills newcomers. Even assuming adequate resources and focused efforts to educate the immigrants, it would take at least a generation to get the newly arrived up to speed.

But this is not going to happen. The newcomers are behind, and (for the most part) they stay behind. The evidence is that millions of mostly illiterate immigrants cannot be easily assimilated. There are language barriers, cultural barriers and religious barriers that prevent or at least slow down their integration into European societies.

No economic benefits for Europe

In conclusion, here is the grim picture. Most of the illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and assorted other newcomers get to Europe hoping to find a better future. For many of them whatever they find in Europe may still be better than the horrible conditions they left behind.

Still, their ability to quickly integrate into their adoptive countries is modest. As a result, most immigrants live somewhat marginalized. The lucky ones find menial jobs. Very few have the opportunity to find, let alone climb the socio-economic ladder.

The net result is that Europe does not benefit economically from these new immigrants. True, their arrival may contribute to counter the net population loss due to the low birth rate among native Europeans.

But these immigrants do little to increase the size and quality of the  economies of the countries that willingly or reluctantly welcomed them.

Anti-Immigrant Political Movements Gaining Momentum In Europe

By Paolo von Schirach

February 10, 2014

WASHINGTON – In a referendum, a majority of Swiss voters (although with a very narrow margin) indicated that they want restrictions on immigration. This change would affect mostly immigration from the European Union. This vote may cause serious problems for the Swiss government, since the free movement of people across boundaries is an integral component of agreements Switzerland signed with the EU. Restricting immigration unilaterally may not be possible without reopening negotiation on the entire package of complex agreements.

Anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe

Be that as it may, the Swiss vote has been quickly noted by all conservative, right-wing political forces across Europe as an indication of a new trend favoring real restrictions on immigration. True or false, the anti-EU parties now gaining momentum in France, the Netherlands, the UK and elsewhere claim that immigrants are usually citizens of poorer countries who want to come to rich countries in order to take advantage of developed social services and other welfare advantages. In other words, immigrants are leeches who come to “take” rather than to “contribute”. Now, by a small margin, the (neutral, non EU) Swiss indicate that they agree with this contention.

Poorer neighbors not wanted

Hard to say how all this will end up. The anti-immigrant parties may not be strong enough to force major policy changes within Europe. But their emergence is a sign of very lukewarm (if not altogether hostile) feelings towards Europe.

The grand idea of a borderless Europe where all people feel citizens of an entity larger than their own country of origin is just a fantasy. The “European Idea” is indeed just an idea, embraced by some elites; but with no popular appeal. Most Europeans are preoccupied with getting by in low or zero growth economies. The notion that their financially strapped countries have an open door for their poorer neighbors is not that popular.

Washington Now Dominated By Not So Great Scandals – Too Much Focus On Benghazi and The IRS Because There Is Nothing Interesting Coming Out Of The Obama White House – No Major Initiative, No Reform Plan

By Paolo von Schirach

May 17, 2013

WASHINGTON – The most telling evidence of Obama’s weakness is that B or C category “scandals” have monopolized the attention of most media and commentators. We have the resurfacing of the once dead Benghazi terror attack story. This is something that seemed to have legs during the political campaign last year. Then Romney failed to press it and the Republicans essentially let it go. Now there are new testimonies that have exposed at least one fact: the Obama administration was less than candid in telling the real story as it was unfolding.

Benghazi, IRS stories dominate

Still, all these embarrassing details do not amount to criminal acts. And yet the Obama administration is visibly on the defensive. Add to Benghazi the more recent story of the Internal Revenue Service denying tax free privileges to conservative organizations. We still do not know how bad this is; but the IRS story is dominating the news cycles. And then there is the story of the Justice Department using a very heavy hand against the Associated Press as it investigates a leak of classified information regarding terror activities in Yemen.

Nothing else to talk about

This stuff is serious. But these are not the mega scandals that can signal political death or worse for a sitting President. So why do they dominate the news cycle? Very simple. Because there is nothing else to report. President Obama has lost the initiative. There is absolutely nothing worth talking about coming from the White House. Of course, it is not Obama’s fault that Washington is now paralyzed due to divided government. And yet Obama is the incumbent President. There is only one President. And the President is supposed to lead, even when the going is tough. In fact, he is supposed to lead especially when the going is tough.

No Big Idea

And what could Obama do? Well, he could and should articulate a most compelling plan to reform public spending (yes, that would have to include Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) and taxes. He could elaborate a national energy strategy. He could articulate a new vision of America’s role in world affairs in a multi-polar world. All this is tough, especially in this politically poisonous environment. Yet, who said that being President should be easy? We call “Great” the Presidents that accomplished difficult tasks. All the others get a foot note.

But, so far at least, the President has not even tried to be Great. He proposed nothing major. He has smallish ideas here and there. But, quite frankly, it looks as if the country tuned out. Hence the exaggerated space devoted to the “scandals”. There is excessive coverage because there is nothing else to cover.

Obama soon to become irrelevant

As things stand today, probably the only big new legislation coming out of  Washington in the next few months will be comprehensive immigration reform. And on this truly important issue President Obama is a follower rather than a leader. The whole idea was launched by a bipartisan group of Senators.

Of course, it is too early to call Obama an inconsequental President. Still, here he is, at the beginning of his second term, and it seems asd if he has already run out of gas. Unless he puts forward an ambitious, intelligently crafted agenda that will captivate and energize the Nation, as 2016 approaches, Obama will be less and less relevant.

Immigration Reform May Succeed – The Republicans Want Latino Votes – However, Let’s Remember That Immigration Is About Becoming Citizens, Not Just Legal Workers – America Is About Shared Values, Not About Jobs

[the-subtitle ]

By Paolo von Schirach

January 29, 2013

WASHINGTON – In perennially divided and dysfunctional Washington it seems that Republicans and Democrats may have found enough common ground to hatch a decent immigration reform plan that may actually get enough votes and a presidential signature.

Immigration as a priority

Of all the burning issues on the policy makers agenda –budget, debt ceiling, fiscal and tax reform– this is not the most urgent. But it may have risen to the top because the Republicans may have finally realized that they need to end their stupid and self-destructive opposition to legalizing an estimated 12 million people (mostly from Central America and Mexico) here in the US but without legal status.

Romney’s immigration policy

We do remember that Mitt Romney (incredibly) argued during the campaign that he favored “self-deportation” as a solution for illegal immigration. By that he meant that, if we really enforced labor laws and other provisions, illegal immigrants would have no jobs and therefore would be forced to pack and go away. Neat idea. Except that it was and is a colossal idiocy. Imagine 12 million people, some of them in the US for decades, packing and leaving. Very practical, no?

Romney’s totally insane positions on immigration contributed to his defeat in November. The GOP got less than 30% of the Hispanic vote. In some states these low numbers meant assured defeat, given the large numbers of Latino voters.

GOP learnt a lesson?

Well, may be the Republicans in Congress learnt something and therefore now are eager to to appear in favor of reform. At least some of them, (like Cuban American Florida Senator Marco Rubio) want to be in front.

Hard to say what the final product will look like. Still, there seems to be a good chance to get bipartisan consensus on a at least a broad policy goal. The shared objective (so far) is to pass legislation that will create a path to legal status for illegal immigrants. That said, the road to legalization can be made easy or extra complicated.

Easy or hard path to legal status?

If the Republicans are worried about resistance from their conservative core, they will (stupidly again) fight to create an obstacle course for illegals that will become a source of frustration and resentment. Indeed, if you make it too complicated and costly to apply for and then finally obtain legal status, creating a never ending process requiring too much documentation that needs to be checked and approved, accompanied by heavy fines and an endless waiting list, this would defy the policy goal.

I do agree with imposing restrictions for people with criminal records. But if we want to make sure that everybody paid all their taxes and what not (how do you check that, anyway?) this “reform” will soon become a bad story –with all the blame going to those (once more the wicked Republicans in the House) who insisted on making it harder rather than easy to become a legal resident.

Make it as easy as possible

I favor a quick path. We may include fines, but they have to be mostly symbolic, not punitive. As to the principled (again, mostly Republican)insistence that first we must certify that the border is secure and only then we may proceed with immigration reform, I say enough of this nonsense. The US- Mexico border is not totally sealed, but it is mostly secure. Of course, the virtual end of the South to North flow we have seen in recent years has to do mostly with the US recession that halted demand for cheap labor. But some credit should be given to improved border controls.

While in the case of this proposed legislation the devil is really in the details I am reasonably confident that most Republicans will do their best to show that they aren’t dragging their feet. They want to give the impression that they are reasonable and humane people eager to solve an old mess that is really inconsistent with a country ruled by laws.

Remember: this is about citizenship, not about working legally

In all this I really hope to see immigrants fully integrated into the American main stream. The inability to have access to legal status contributed to the creation of ethnic ghettos in which the illegals could more easily hide. As a result we have large pockets of people in America who are here only for economic reasons and who are separated by language and status from the larger society. This is bad.

Immigration reform will be a real success if and when most, if not all, of these residents with no status will be real citizens, with a genuine allegiance, not just to their communities, their families and their jobs, but to the United States of America.

American is mostly about shared values, not about jobs

The Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution –after which a legal resident becomes a US citizen–should not be viewed as a formality, something that needs to get done to compete an administrative process. It should be viewed for what it is intended to be: a reasoned and willful declaration of allegiance to the values of this country, for whose protection and enjoyment the Founding Fathers created our institutions. (The very end of the Oath places the burden of sincere allegiance on the immigrant: “…And I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion…”. This means that I take I take this step of choosing American citizenship because I really want to and mean it).

America is founded on citizens who share and uphold basic values; and not on people seeking mostly economic opportunity. If this country wishes to endure, let’s make sure that all of us, old and new citizens, remember that we are here because we share a vision and not just an economy.

If Arizona is Wrong on Immigration, then what?

WASHINGTON – The always relevant The New York Times dedicated an Editorial, “Showdown in Arizona“, July 28, 2010, to the Federal Court injunction that essentially blocks the “anti-immigrant” Arizona law just about when it was due to take effect. The paper clearly agrees with the Obama administration that challenged the legality/constitutionality of the Arizona state law dealing with a matter, immigration, traditionally reserved to federal authorities. The paper says that it is good to block states’ unwarranted activism, especially when the statutes they pass invite discrimination, racial profiling and other bad stuff. The piece’s conclusion, however, is baffling.


“Judge Bolton’s ruling reminded us all of the unacceptable price of the Arizona way: an incoherent immigration system, squandered law enforcement resources, diminished public safety, the awful sight of a nation of immigrants turning on itself. Mr. Obama took a big risk when he filed suit against the Arizona law, and deserves credit for that. We hope he goes on to make clear to all the states that the Arizona way is not the American way”.

Not the American way……

Fine. So, it is stipulated that “the Arizona way is not the American way”. State activism in a matter –immigration– that should be ruled and administered (wisely?) by Washington is not permissible. This is not the American way. And, instead, the American way is…? Well, this we are not told. Quite baffling. We are not told what that is.

Lacking other indications, then, are we to conclude that “the American way” is the continuation of this mess of de facto lawlessness within which millions of illegal immigrants every day take a chance, hoping that nothing will happen? Is the American way Federal immigration laws on the books but not seriously enforced, except here and there, almost whimsically, deporting some illegals every now and then? Is the American way the open tolerance of illegals, without taking serious steps to offer them a reasonable path to legalize their status, because such a step would be politically unpalatable? Is it the American way a porous national border that cannot be properly policed?

Let’s hope not. America is a country ruled by laws. In this area we have a mess, almost anarchy. We should fix it. If, indeed, the Arizona way is wrong, well, then let’s do it the right way. Leaving things as they are now, whatever The New York Times may think, is not smart, is not right and is not the American way, whereby important processes, such as immigration, should take place within clear and enforceable laws.

What should be done? Extreme positions will not do

So, what should be done about immigration? Let’s be clear, the hard line, conservative approach, articulated mostly by Republican members of the House of Representatives, whereby we strictly follow current law and start deporting all the illegals down to the last one is pure demagogic lunacy. It is unworkable, not to mention unjust. The notion that full enforcement of current immigration statutes is an absolute law and order imperative to protect America from all the criminals and potentially the terrorists who come as illegals is also silly. Sure enough there are criminals among the illegals. But are we saying that all or most of the estimated 12 million or more here illegally are criminals who represent a threat to society or national security? This is preposterous and everybody knows it.

Being here does not constitute a right

By the same token, the attitude of the Latino community, whereby everybody who is here, by virtue of this fact has an absolute, sacrosanct, implicit right to everything, (residency, citizenship, social services), is also preposterous. America is a country, not a charity or a hostel with an “All Welcome, No Questions Asked” sign at the door.

And let’s not confuse the acceptance of persecuted political refugees with an unregulated, open regime for all economic immigrants. Yes, America is a country of immigrants; and this is its strength. But immigration should take place within certain procedures. The notion that getting in, no matter how, creates a de facto entitlement to stay is not a good way to administer anything. All reasonable people should acknowledge this. All Latino legal residents who clamor for total acceptance of anybody, no matter what should recognize this.

Right now: deal with the emergency

Of course, right now we have a two pronged issue. We have to fix this mess, while we think about an appropriate immigration regime for the future. However, right now, today, we must resolve this huge anomaly that was allowed to fester until it became a national crisis involving millions of people. While we do not want to continue on a path that encourages illegal immigration going forward, for now, we have to resolve the problem we have. We can blame whoever we want for this.

It is clear that a relaxed attitude towards illegal immigrants compounded over many years created this problem. This anomaly needs to be corrected and soon; so that America can reclaim the right to be a country of laws and not a relaxed, informal arrangement stretched here or there by people who get here, reach critical numerical mass overtime, and then, by sheer force of numbers, manage to impose solutions

We have to offer a workable path to legalization

So, in order to deal with this situation, an equitable solution must be found, somehow. And realistically a solution will not be in finding a middle point, splitting the difference between those who want total legalization and those who want to deport all the illegals. Any realistic solution has to be biased in favor of the millions of people who are here and who have been here for many years. Most of them are law abiding. Many have children who were born here. The idea that we need to deport illegal aliens because most of them are wanted criminals is just laughable, not to mention untrue. Sure enough there are criminals among them, and they should be dealt with. But individually, on by one, each case examined on its merit, and not as part of criminalized ethnic groups.

Yes, it is “amnesty”

And yes, let’s be candid: any process aimed at allowing people to legalize their status will be, in practice, if not in name, an “amnesty”. The idea that any legalization process has to be punitive, (with fines and other penalties attached), in as much as these people are law breakers to begin with may be right in the abstract, but unworkable and unjust in practice.

Some have argued that by allowing a simple path to legalization, we would reward law breakers. Well, yes and no. While it would be nice to differentiate among various categories, can we call someone who came a here 20 years ago and who since then found a job, paid taxes and so on, a “law breaker” who needs to be punished? That is a stretch.

A punitive approach will not do

But the purists think otherwise. Some in the past had introduced a legalization scenario whereby all the illegals will go back to their country of origin, apply at a US Consulate, take a number, way at the end of the immigration line, pay a hefty fine and then patiently wait for their turn to be called in. This may look right in principle; but it is totally unworkable. If these were just a few hundred people, it might be done. But for more than 10-12 million people? Imagine administering all this. And imagine the incredible and completely unnecessary disruption for all those families. If someone is working, and most of them are, how will they deal with that? Just take a few months, or may be a few years leave and relocate elsewhere, where they have not lived for years or even decades?


So, legalization will have to be an amnesty, in fact, if not in name. And we need to do this, and do it fast, because it is intolerable in a modern society to have millions of people forced to live in the shadow, because of their status. Sure, make people pay a processing fee, whatever, as long as it is realistic, based on their ability to pay. But that will be that.

And, going forward….?

Of course, assuming success of this massive legalization process, going forward we have to create truly secure borders. Many assert that unless we militarize our borders, the draw of jobs from rich America will continue to be irresistible and soon enough we shall be faced with another wave of illegals. Besides, as we go ahead with an amnesty, other would-be illegals will take comfort on the historic rule whereby, once their numbers grow and this becomes once more a political issue, then Washington will cave in once more and will legalize everybody.

Guest workers programs

To some extent, this danger is real, and thus we have to improve border security. But I assume that it will be a lot easier to have secure borders once we have put in place a guest workers program, (more on this below), tailored for seasonal workers and those who come only for work; not because they would like to relocate. Right now, many of these people seeking only economic opportunity are forced to be illegal immigrants because they cannot move back and forth in the light of day. If we legalize and properly manage this seasonal workers flow, this would put a stop to their need to try and cross the border illegally.

Some basic stipulations: loyalty to America and learn English

If we managed to do all this, (let me dream we can), on a couple of absolutely essential issues, though, we have a right to be strict. To all who want to be legalized:

1) “If you want to be part of America, you have to know and show respect for America’s rules. You have to understand and sincerely embrace what this society is about, its core values, how it works. This is not too much to ask. Yes, people should have a minimum of proficiency in American history and civics”.

2) “And you should speak English. Yes; “English“. By default, or by whatever, the English language is the historically dominant language of the US and it is the common language that unites this country. All of those who want to make America their home should have a modicum of proficiency in English, so that they can communicate without any problem with everybody else”.

Speaking English and maintaining cultural identity are not contradictory goals

Let me be clear. All people are and should be free to keep, teach ad cultivate their native languages and use them as much as they want. If they and their kids are bilingual or trilingual, it is great. But one of the languages they speak, read and write reasonably fluently should be English. This is our American national language. It is indispensable to have it and maintain it as a vehicle for all communications and transactions, so that we have a communication medium shared by all.

The idea that millions of people can live here but only within the confines of linguistic and ethnic enclaves, because lack of English prevents them from interacting with the wider society, is really bad. It is bad for them, as it restricts opportunity, and it is bad for America because of the obvious risk of becoming a fragmented society. The strength of America is and should be that new comers can retain their linguistic, religious and cultural identity, while they fully embrace the values and language of the United States. America is a country; not just a place to stay.

More on guest workers

Alright. This should deal with all of those who want a path to citizenship. But, as mentioned above, there are many here who do not seek citizenship, but only economic opportunity. Well, all those who belong to this category should be eligible to receive perfectly legal, easy to obtain and renew guest worker visas. The only criteria for eligibility should be a match between the work they want to perform and the demand for such jobs in America. People enrolled in a future guest workers program should be free to come and go legally.

Find the courage to get this done

Tall order, right? Yes, it is. But we have to find the courage to get this done. This courageous and humane action would reestablish America’s credentials as a country that treats people fairly and that welcomes immigrants, provided they follow laws that should be easy to understand.

America: Open Doors to Foreign Innovators

WASHINGTON – There are two issues confronting America’s economic vitality. One is the disturbingly weak short term economic picture and how to improve it. The other –and indeed far bigger one– is doubts about US long term competitiveness.

Short term

The short term economic problem unfortunately gets to be intertwined, with the political need to force visible results in terms of new employment now, before the November mid-term congressional elections. So, the sluggish economy is both an economic and a political problem for the Obama administration and for the Democrats standing for re-election who have to support it.

The president’s party, no matter who is in power, usually loses seats in Congress after the mid-term elections. And the dominant issue causing voters to switch sides is usually the economy not doing as well as hoped/promised/expected. Voting against the president’s party two years after voting him into office is a way for the electorate to show buyer’s remorse. Of course, much of this happens because voters exaggerate the president’s ability to influence economic outcomes via public policy; and because those who get elected, and this includes Barack Obama, usually over promised and thus, two years later, are short on results.

Politics and economics blended

And this November, after two extremely difficult years managing the  Big Crisis, while trying to build foundations for new prosperity, the economy, while somewhat improved, looks a lot worse than what people expected and worse than what the administration promised. So, the only question is: how big a loss is it going to be for the Democrats? Will they lose the House? (Possibly). Or may be even the Senate? (Highly unlikely). Fearing the worst, the Democrats will calibrate their actions between now and November for immediate political effect, rather than long term economic soundness. And this usually means a lot of populism and not much substance.

Spin and counter spin

More broadly, the dictates of the political calendar and the unfolding electoral fight tend to pollute the debate and impede an intelligent conversation about what is really going on. The administration wants you, the voter, to believe that the glass is half full and getting fuller as we speak. The Republicans want you to believe the opposite. But, in this exercise in spin and counter spin, we miss a dispassionate evaluation of the patient.

We shall recover from the Big Crisis, but slowly

What is ailing America short term and long term? As for the short term, we could go on reciting once more the now canonic litany of what happened “to housing, sub prime mortgages, overleveraging by consumers, the banks”, and so on. But all this has already been beaten to a pulp and so let’s dispense with it. At some point, (although probably not soon enough to benefit the Democrats this November), we shall get out of the gigantic mess that unfolded in 2008-2009. Unemployment will go down some and the housing market will stabilize a bit. Nothing great, I am afraid, but better. 

Long term issues: loss of competitiveness

Regarding the long term, however, the prognosis is bad, as there is no indication whatsoever that there will be a truly dramatic take-off. The truly worrisome fact is that, because of other systemic problems, whose onset precedes the Big Crisis, we shall not spring back from the Big Crisis, eager and fighting. We shall come back, somehow; but fatigued and wary. And why so? Let me give a short answer that may not embrace the full gamut of relevant factors; but that is nonetheless central.

In simple words: it seems that we have lost our magic touch with rapid fire innovation and our legendary ability to bring it to market, thus constantly re-generating the economy. We are still innovation players, but we are no longer the only or at least biggest game in town. While it is true that, as part of a long term growth strategy, we have to fix our fiscal picture through a serious reform of an entitlement system that, if unchecked, will lead to ruin, this would take care of the public spending side. But what about the wealth generation side? How can we generate many new viable enterprises, innovation and new value?

Andy Grove’s alarm: we can no longer “scale up”

Legendary Intel corporation leader Andy Grove lamented in a recent essay in Bloomberg BusinessWeek that US high tech enterprises will lose whatever edge they still retain, as they are no longer capable of “making” here what they invent. Grove maintains that the ability to control the “scaling up” of production, after having proven the viability of a new product, is itself a critical part of the innovation continuum. Today, critical innovation may still take place in the US, says Grove; however, not just some but all of the “scaling up” now is done in China. And this is not just because of the basic economic advantages (cheap labor) that China has; but by default, as we have lost the industrial infrastructure that would give us the domestic scaling up option if we wanted to exercise it.

Grove believes that this is now irreversible and that this inability to make anything in high tech is a huge strategic disadvantage for America. The industries that do the scaling, he contends, gain “know how” and new skills in the process. In time, mastery of the scaling process will give them the increased knowledge and the tools to become the future innovators. Innovation –he concludes– will shift to the localities where the scaling up is already taking place. This will be the new innovation ecosystem –and it will not be in the USA.

Vivek Wadhwa: the real issue is nurturing small enterprises

Others disagree, maintaining that the real strategic asset of the US economy is still the army of small entrepreneurs who create the real, new jobs, thus constantly reviving, growing and positively transforming the economic landscape. If we want new growth and net job creation, maintains Vivek Wadhwa in an essay in response to Grove, also featured in Bloomberg Businessweek, then we should enable the many would-be entrepreneurs who are all too often blocked by lack of access to capital or their lack of practical understanding of how to properly start a business.

Make full use of university based research

He also argues that the supposedly state of the art pipeline between academic research and the market place is clogged and not as good as it could be. As a result, the vaunted American genius to rapidly bring innovation to market is far less significant then legend would make us believe. Much valuable research is lost. Good ideas hatched in the lab never get to see the light of day. But if we remove these blockages, says Wadhwa, if we create a workable pathway, then we shall see a renaissance of enterprise, along with job creation, pushed forward by the many who have the genius and the will to make new things happen.

Chris Farrell: get more foreigners here

Others like Chris Farrell, himself a Bloomberg Businessweek writer, look at the innovation picture from a different perspective: the unequalled American ability to draw into America talent from abroad. He notes that America is still an incredibly powerful magnet capable of attracting scientist and entrepreneurs from other countries. The data is indeed staggering. Consider this: half of the new Silicon Valley start ups are created by foreign born entrepreneurs, mostly Indian and Chinese. One quarter of all new US patents have gone to foreign born innovators. A huge chunk of the higher degrees in science and technology awarded by the most prestigious universities go to foreigners. And many of them end up staying in the US.

Impressive contribution to America coming from foreign innovators

And why so? Because, current shortness of breath notwithstanding, America still has an incredibly “enterprise friendly” ecosystem: a unique combination of Super Universities, National Laboratories, Venture Capital, depth and liquidity of broader capital markets, and a huge domestic market that is still the envy of the world. And this is why bright people come here. Farrell’s policy recommendation is very simple. Welcome all of them. Make it easier, for all who have the desire, to come and study here. After they complete their academic work, make it easy for them to stay here legally and set up shop.

In a word: let us use the built in advantage that we have got –an environment still quite favorable for innovators– and let’s make the most of it. We have spent decades to create MIT and Caltech and so on. Let’s make them the beacon, let’s use this native advantage in the same way as the Chinese use cheap labor and tax breaks to lure capital and to attract new business to their manufacturing facilities. The proven record is that foreign born innovators help America maintain its technological edge. They create businesses and employment. If so, the more, the merrier.

Why America can no longer produce its own native talent?

Farrell makes an excellent point. But his pragmatic recommendation implicitly accepts as a given the systemic failure of the US education system and American society in general to produce a sufficient number of native scientists and entrepreneurs. By recommending that we should get as many foreigners as we can get, so that they will feed the innovation and business creation pipeline, he sidesteps the painful question as to why Americans are now in many instances minorities within the student bodies of the premier US research universities.

Of course, the fact that we can attract foreign talent is a fantastic advantage that should be used for all it is worth. But we cannot ignore the baffling shortcoming of a US society and education system incapable of nurturing a new generation of talented researchers and innovators.

Do we need American born innovators?

Oddly enough, the need to favor American native talent in science was pointed out long ago by Hungarian born physicist Edward Teller who came to the US as an immigrant and later on became the father of the H Bomb:


“If we’re not going to make a determined effort for more education in hard science and engineering, then we better stop thinking of the United States as a leading nation in the world.”

Historically America blended well native and new comers talent

So, while an immensely talented and extremely valuable immigrant himself, Teller believed that America needed to breed its own. Was he right? To a large degree, yes. The magic of America is or at least has been in the ability to blend native talent and expertise with an almost constant stream of new intellectual ingredients brought in by various waves of new comers who came to America because of its openness and because of the real opportunity that it offered to foreigners. Edward Teller was one of them. And he was not the only one.

A long list of illustrious foreigners

The list is long; and here are only a few examples. Scotland born Andrew Carnegie, steel industry leader and later on creator of one of the most remarkable philanthropies in US history. Nikola Tesla, innovator in electrical power, coming from Serbia. And of course physicist Albert Einstein. And then Hans Bethe, Felix Bloch, Enrico Fermi and Emil Konopinski, himself US born; but son of Polish immigrants. Hard to think of the “Manhattan Project” that brought about the A bomb and the end of the war with Japan without them. And impossible to think of the US space program without German born Wernher von Braun brought to the US after WWII and described by some as “the greatest rocket scientist in history”.

And, if we get closer to our times, former Intel CEO Andy Grove, referred to above, an immigrant from Hungary. And what about the top leadership of Pepsico? CEO Indra Nooyi, born in India, Massimo d’Amore, CEO of Pepsico Americas, born in Italy. And then we have IT and then energy venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, from India. And this is just a tiny bit of what would be an incredibly long list of illustrious and not so illustrious names; (this second list woud include the Indians running hundreds of motels, the Koreans operating so many tidy, immaculate grocery shops, and so on. These people did not go to MIT. But they were attracted by the possibility of “making it” in America, through hard work and personal drive. They enrich America; and they should be welcome, just as we welcome IT scientists).  

Shall we rely on foreigners alone?

Sure enough, the very talented foreign scientists and innovators came to America, as opposed to Romania, because here in America there was a truly unique breeding ground, open to scientific innovation and its commercial applications. And yet, if we admit that America has lost (for good?) its internal regenerative ability, then future success in innovation is entirely in the hands of willing foreigners that will come here and provide the brains and the managerial talent that native born Americans can no longer supply. If this is so, then we are saying that the special “US blend” has to be, not just periodically reinvigorated, but actually created and nurtured primarily by foreign talent. This would be new. Will it work this way? We do not know. But you can bet that America would a lot different.

In the meantime, let’s make it easy for those who wish to come

Be that as it may, just like Chris Farrell in his piece, I am for open borders and support for the foreign scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs who still believe that there are unique opportunities for people like them to set up shop in America.

I would like to believe that their interest in coming here and doing things here encompasses more than the dream of big bucks. In America, unhindered creativity is possible because there is Freedom. While the connection between the two may have become somewhat dim for the US native population, many who come from countries in which free inquiry (not just in science) is either thwarted or made complicated by lack of vision or capital should appreciate the real value of what they can find here.

“Land of Enterprise”

As Edward Teller said long ago, we have to nourish our own. And this may be possible if the right education and economic policies are designed and implemented. And we should vigorously work on them.

But, in the meantime, by all means let’s use the appeal that America still has, as “The Country” that holds research and enterprise in high esteem. Let’s make this our brand: “America, The Land of Enterprise“. Let everybody know about this. And let everybody who aspires to new discoveries and new businesses come here and feel welcome.

Innovators are welcome

Long term, getting here the tens of thousands who at the moment may be contemplating this step of “Coming to America”, as the song says, may do more good to stimulate the regeneration of America’s fiber than pumping more tax payers dollars into this or that subsidized sector. If we need to make it a lot easier for those would-be entrepreneurs who wish to come but still hesitate, as they think about the complexities of getting to the US and then the challenge of navigating the still forbidding immigration processes, by all means let’s do so.

Ultimately, high quality human capital is the most fundamental strategic asset. Our ability to attract it here is our strength. And so let’s use this strength!



A Sound US Plan for Immigration

WASHINGTON – The immigration issue has not been dealt with via comprehensive legislation, as it was hoped for during the summer. But it has not gone away. Unsolved, it is still out there; simmering and enticing more and more emotional reactions. “Do it yourself” measures undertaken by a host of state and local actors aimed at dealing somehow with illegal immigrants in their midst fan the flames of emotions on both sides of the divide, without providing clear and equitable long term solutions.

The US legislators who killed the comprehensive reform plan, flawed as it might have been, are guilty of political cowardice. Those who were against the proposed legislation that did not pass last summer, after rejoicing for their victory against the outrage of “amnesty”, should have proposed something better. The idea, advanced by at least some of them, that we do not need new statutes but only the serious enforcement of existing legislation is disingenuous populism. They know full well that it is materially impossible to round up and deport all the millions of illegal aliens. But it is easy to posture on this issue, claiming that, after all, “this is the law.”

At the federal level, Homeland Security most likely wanted to maintain the pressure on the issue by trying to force employers to check on potentially phony identification credentials provided by their workers. By raising the specter of criminal charges against employers who do not fully investigate potential status fraud in job applications, maybe the federal government thought that the business community would force Congress to take action and provide a comprehensive settlement formula for the millions of illegals who are employed. This move, for the time being, has been stopped by judicial action.

But there are many other initiatives aimed at “doing something” about the illegals. For instance, a few jurisdictions in Texas and elsewhere have created automatic checks on the immigration status of any person stopped for routine traffic violations who cannot provide proper identification. For the illegals, deportation may very well be the ultimate consequence of not observing a stop sign.

While all these measures and attempted measures are technically correct, as they are aimed at law breakers, they create the worst possible scenario of widespread fears of mean, racist persecution, (with intense resentment among the many legal Latino citizens who feel sympathetic towards the illegals), without really “resolving” the problem. The authorities may very well say that citizens and legal residents have nothing to worry about. But the truth is that occasional, random enforcement of the law is inherently unfair. Most of those who are caught in these dragnets, while technically law breakers, are not real hardened criminals who should be deported as they represent a threat to society. They are the unlucky scapegoats who pay the price of legislative inaction; while the larger issue of a meaningful overhaul of immigration is left unattended. Plucking a few people here and there and deporting them causes tensions, while providing no solution to this vast problem.

On the other side of the divide there are those who would like not just leniency regarding the millions of illegals, but who create a new fantastic picture whereby there is really no offense, criminal or otherwise to be concerned with. These are just “undocumented”, “indocumentados” workers. They are here because there is a need for their labor. What’s wrong with that? Being “undocumented” is looked at as a mere technicality that could be easily dealt with. But this approach is wrong. The term “undocumented” to describe an individual who entered the country illegally is an absurd euphemism that would like to do away with the problem by denying its existence. Furthermore, the fact that the term “indocumentado” is the only one used by the Spanish language US television networks when discussing these matters misleads their mostly immigrant audience and it is ultimately dangerous. As being “indocumentado” sounds like a minor bureaucratic issue, if people are rounded up, arrested or deported, then it must be about racism and disregard for basic human rights.

This scenario is bad and it could become worse because of the tension heightened by selective enforcement. Getting rid of all the illegals is impossible. Likewise, to claim that coming to the US illegally is no big deal and it should not have consequences is preposterous. It is time to get serious. Let’s stop populist demands to enforce the law as is (thus deporting millions of people); and let’s stop asking for open borders for all, as if it were the duty of the United States to make room for anybody who cares to show up.

There are unfortunately many drivers behind this mess. But we can say that there are two fundamental dimensions. First: How to regulate future immigration, so that we create a credible, rational process that serves America’s interests; distinguishing carefully, though, between those who are just interested to work in the US and those who are interested in becoming part of the US society. Second: how to deal with the illegals who are already here.

On the first issue, Mexico, the country of origin of most of the illegals, has a huge responsibility. Mexico is a middle income developing nation  with significant income disparities and millions in permanent poverty. Lacking the ability to improve the conditions of its poor, Mexico regards the encouragement of illegal emigration to the US as a key component of its social policies. “You are poor? You cannot find employment? Go north to the US and good luck to you. If this means breaking the law of a neighboring country, this is their problem.” If Mexico were a more mature society, we could expect more cooperation from their end aimed at blocking would be illegal emigrants. But, as long as illegal emigration to the US is viewed as a convenient tool to alleviate the social pressures caused by the vasy army of the very poor, we cannot hope on this, for the time being. So, no serious barrier to stop the outgoing flow.

On the US side, it is quite clear that the flow of illegals is fueled by manpower demand from within America. And here we have an extremely complicated picture. The enemies of immigration accuse cynical US businesses of encouraging the inward flow of illegals so that they can pay them less; or, at the very least, so that, by relying on an inflated labor pool of legal and illegal workers, they can keep wages depressed for all. Businesses reply that this is not so. They need labor. The  immigrants, legal or otherwise, are the only ones willing to do certain jobs. The truth must be somewhere in the middle.

It is quite obvious that various social and economic factors, on both sides of the border, tend to feed the pipeline of illegal immigration. One day, assuming a developed Mexico, Mexicans would not try their luck by illegally crossing the border seeking opportunity, as they would have sufficient income at home. But we are not there.

This is why we need new credible policies and actions aimed at creating a secure border, as people without jobs at home have and will continue to have the incentive to cross it illegally. By the same token, The US official posture of stating that illegal immigration is a crime but at the same time relying on an insufficiently guarded, porous border to enforce the law, is an indirect nod to the illegals and to those who push them out and pull them in. “Look, it is illegal, of course. But, since the chances of not being caught are relatively good, you can give it a try”.

The United States, the country that can afford to spend billions of dollars every month for a controversial Iraq war, could spend a few more billions to create a credible border that can be crossed only legally through official checks. I have no idea as to whether a border fence is the best technical means to achieve the goal. But the twin notions that somehow it would be technically impossible to construct a fence or that, if successful, this barrier would be shameful and inhumane since it would prevent interaction between societies, are both ridiculous. Technically it is feasible. And it is certainly politically and morally justifiable for a sovereign country to do its utmost to prevent illegal border crossings.

And let us put an end to the silly comparisons with the Berlin Wall. Once and for all let us remember that until the Berlin Wall existed its only purpose was to keep very unhappy people who wanted to go elsewhere in; not unwelcome invaders out. In East Berlin, the machine guns on the fortified Wall were trained inside the border, to kill if necessary the East Germans who might have tried to escape from their workers paradise. What is at issue regarding the US border with Mexico is something entirely different: how to keep unwanted trespassers out. How can this be bad? Does anybody question the right of any individual to have a door in their home? A door that they will open only to welcome visitors? Is having a door in the house a manifestation of hostility towards outsiders?

As for the issue of lack of sufficient numbers of US workers in many key sectors, including some characterized by seasonal demand, the simple answer is to create a well crafted and carefully monitored guest workers program. Many Mexicans or other people who come through Mexico do not necessarily want to stay in the US forever. They need income. Assuming the validity of the basic premise: namely not enough US citizens willing to perform certain tasks, then it should be relatively simple to create guest workers programs aimed at attracting foreigners willing to perform those activities for the same wages offered to US nationals with the same skills. These work permits would not be considered paths to eventual residency and citizenship. This program would be about creating an official, transparent channel aimed at providing the needed labor supply.

As for the other immigrants, aside from political asylum seekers, there are the skilled ones and those who would come on the basis of close family relations with legal immigrants. A solution for both categories does exist. As for skilled people, it is clearly in the US interest to attract more educated, talented people. Individuals willing to come to America in order to engage in research, business and enterprise should be encouraged. However, for them as well as for all other would be new citizens, an induction process should be created whereby they will understand that America is not just a place to do business. America is a country that upholds certain basic values enshrined in the Constitution. Those who do not share them, or, worse, who openly proclaim views that are inimical to the fundamental principles of liberal democracy, regardless of their talent or capital, do not belong.

The immigration of close family relations of newly minted citizens or permanent residents should not be an opportunity to create an endless chain whereby the legalized new immigrant has a right to sponsor relatives who, upon being legalized, sponsor other relatives etc. Restricting this process without causing the break up of basic family units should not be an impossible task.

Assuming a credible solution that would stop the flow of illegals, while regulating in an intelligent way the flow of new legal immigrants, skilled and unskilled, then the hard part of dealing with the millions of illegals settled in the US could begin. We know that the specter of a gigantic amnesty offered to all created the wave of indignation eventually leading to the defeat of the immigration bill last summer. Yet, it is clear that any serious attempt at resolving the issue of the illegals, many of them having been living in the US for decades, will have to entail some kind of broad legalization process eventually resulting for all practiacl purposes in amnesty. It is hard to think of any other approach to the illegals that would not cause the painful dislocation of millions, with inordinate injury to them and many others.

However, before legalizing everybody, a choice should be offered to the many who are here only for economic reasons and who aspire to eventually go back to their countries; or who would be perfectly willing to come and go according to the seasonal needs of the economic sectors; assuming that they could do so legally, without fear of being apprehended each time they cross the border. They are the perfect target for a guest worker program that would allow them to do what they are already doing but with full transparency for them and for their employers.

For all the others, a path to ultimate legalization should be created. It is preposterous to think that we are going to send back people who have been living here for a decade or more, in the same fashion in which we would deal with someone caught by the border patrol an hour ago. It would be totally impractical, if not equally preposterous, to mandate that these illegals go back to their country of origin, file an application and wait for  afew years at the back of the line. These are people with established lives, homes and jobs here in the US. To deny this fact is absurd.

Having said that, we should recognize that the most compelling argument against any form of legalization is that it would be viewed as a green light for more illegal immigration to come. Amnesty now would encourage others to keep coming illegally, based on the fact that eventually an amnesty will come for them as well. This is a very valid point against amnesty/legalization. This is why securing the borders and creating a credible process to regulate future legal immigration is an absolutely necessary precondition to any serious plan aimed at settling the problem of the illegals. If we did this right, we would not have to face again this kind of immigration issue ten or twenty years from now.

At a different level, and only with hoped for effects in the long term, it would be in the strategic interest on the United States to strongly support in a meaningful way economic development south of the border. The Mexicans and others encourage people to emigrate because their societies cannot create sufficient opportunity at home. If such opportunity existed, people would stay in their countries and we would not be having this need to create barriers aimed at preventing the unlawful entry of millions driven by economic hardships. After all, we are not talking about a fence on our northern border with Canada, simply because the Canadians are doing well at home and, by and large, intense business and cultural relations with the US notwithstanding, they are happy to stay there.