Steven Malanga, writing in the Washington Post, points out that there is more than just a problem with illegal immigration – there are also problems with the legal immigration system. Those problems need rectification but it will take a discussion over how we, as a nation, want our policies to work.
Hillary Clinton helped to elevate immigration to a central position in the Presidential election when she waffled on the question of whether she favored drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants. Yet much of the public discussion that has followed Clinton's confrontation with questioner Tim Russert has focused only on illegal immigrants. We still know very little about what the candidates would do to reform our broken system of legal immigration.
Our current system results from changes begun in the mid-1960s, when the country scrapped its old immigration policy, based on quotas determined by a person's national origin, in favor of broader hemispheric quotas and visa preferences for family members of those already here. The framers of this new system claimed that they were merely tinkering with policy. "Contrary to the charges in some quarters, [the bill] will not inundate America with immigrants," Sen. Edward Kennedy said.
But not only did legal immigration soar by 60 percent in the first 10 years after the reform legislation; the origins of immigration shifted to poorer countries around the world, and many new immigrants arrived with low levels of education and little job training, stranding them in low-paying jobs and slowing their economic mobility. A recent study by Harvard economists George Boras and Lawrence Katz of Mexican immigrants who came here in the 1970s found that after 20 years in the American workforce these workers were still earning about 40 percent less than American-born workers — a sharp contrast with earlier generations of immigrants, who after several decades here tended to be virtually at par with American workers. The economists also estimated that recently arriving young Mexican workers (and Mexicans make up the largest category of legal immigrants to the U.S.) were starting off with an even bigger wage disadvantage relative to American workers than their predecessors did in the 1970s.
I would point out that the fact that immigrants are not as upwardly mobile as in years past probably has rather a lot to do with the flood of illegal immigrants who are knocking the economic props out from under them. That is, however, beside the point of Malanga's piece. He points to Australia, which uses a very stringent skills based immigration process. That policy has ensured that immigrants to Australia are very successful and very upwardly mobile. In contrast, Canada uses a standard that does encourage better-educated immigrants but is not skills-based. That policy has led to less successful immigrants.
The mess that passes for policy that we have in this country is a disaster for immigrants and native-born citizens alike. It is past time to have a discussion on how to fix the train wreck of our immigration policy. The answer is not opening the floodgates further or leaving things in the state they are in now.