RAND: Amnesty and an End to Ambiguity

“Immigration Reform”
James P. Smith
Farsighted Leadership in a Shortsighted World
RAND
September 2012

Kids hold signs in front of Los Angeles City H...
Kids hold signs in front of Los Angeles City Hall, demanding general amnesty for all immigrants. Photos taken at the immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles, California on May Day, 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For a nation of immigrants, it is actually unsurprising that immigration should be a major political issue. Those of us who are here do not want our lifestyles and our earning power diluted by an inrush of competition. Those of us who are not here want a chance at the lifestyles and earning power available to most Americans.

The matter is not a simple battle between the selfish and the sympathetic: there is an economic case as well. James P. Smith, a University of Chicago-trained economist, writes that while both highly-skilled and unskilled immigrants make a positive contribution to the nation:

The effects of immigration on taxes are generally positive at the federal level, but they are negative at the state and local levels in places where there are lots of low-skilled immigrants.

Smith’s approach is to mix economic rationality with a dash of compassion. He believes that a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million-plus undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., along with a strict enforcement of immigration laws after that effective amnesty, would end the current ambiguous situation we have in place now. His is a workable political compromise that is likely to bridge both sides of the issue, and for that he should be commended.

However, he stops short of establishing an enduring principle on which future decisions on immigration can be made. Core questions remain unanswered. A few of the most important ones: why do we allow immigration in the first place? Under what circumstances, (i.e., a resurgence in manufacturing) would America benefit from reopening the doors to unskilled immigrants? What is likely to happen to non-grain agriculture if the flow of illegal immigrations stops? And, in the meantime, how do we propose to do an adequate job policing our border without bankrupting the nation?

Until we come to a national agreement on the principles that drive immigration policy, our solutions will never be anything more than short-term expedients.

Entitlements: Let’s Get Our Constitution Straight

English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stea...
English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stearns, Washington at Constitutional Convention of 1787, signing of U.S. Constitution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read with fascination an article in The New Civil Rights Movement decrying a law recently passed in Arizona – the Women’s Health and Safety Act – because it defines pregnancy as beginning not at conception, but with the end of the last period. I am not going to dive into the specifics of the law, because the argument over the specifics on abortion is taking place in other fora.

What caught my attention, however, was the digression in the piece where author David Badash attempts to discredit the law’s sponsor, Arizona State Representative Kimberly Yee, by belittling her advocacy of drug testing for welfare recipients.

In a strongly-worded op-ed in USAToday, Yee wrote:

States have an obligation to hold those on public assistance accountable for their actions. Receiving a public benefit is a privilege, not a right. The debate on drug testing welfare recipients is simply about the responsible use of tax dollars.

We can argue about whether this is the right answer to the problem, or whether there are some pieces missing to this approach. Rather than doing so, though, Badash takes another course:

It’s unclear where in the U.S. constitution [sic] it states that the states “have an obligation to hold those on public assistance accountable for their actions.”

Okay, he went there. I will, too.

First, Yee said nothing about a Constitutional obligation. She could have been referring to a moral obligation, a fiduciary responsibility, or a statutory obligation.

Second (and this is the key point), it is unclear where in the U.S. Constitution it says anything about any government organization being obliged to offer public assistance of any kind. Go check. I’ll wait.

Nobody is entitled to public assistance according to the founding documents of this nation. Indeed, Franklin D. Roosevelt had to fight brutal political battles during his first term in the heart of the Great Depression to make the case for any public assistance because it was an alien concept up to that time.

Where I agree with Yee is that the original idea – the Democratic idea – behind public assistance was to provide a temporary safety net to catch those who were by no fault of their own unable to provide themselves, not to create a state of permanent dependency on the government. That intent has been twisted. When we provide public assistance to habitual drug users, we not only enable a self-destructive habit that invites crime into society, we are turning public assistance into a hammock rather than a safety net.

There is no question that an individual caught in the downward spiral of dependency deserves compassion, help, and an opportunity to get clean and turn their lives around. Several, if necessary. But it is a hand up that these people need, not a hand out. We can argue what form that hand-up should take, but simply handing someone a check when all their mind can comprehend is the next drink, the next hit, or the next fix places our government in league with he pusher, not the user.

We Want Fighter Pilots, not Sky Pilots

AF Religion Memo up on Billboard Near Academy | Military.com.

As if the US Air Force didn’t have enough problems, the service continues to face challenges related to the overzealous evangelicals on the campus of the Air Force Academy.

The protestant chapel in the Air Force Academy...
The protestant chapel in the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel. This occupies most of the top floor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are all for faith in the cockpit, in the foxhole, and on the deckplates. We just don’t think anyone should have faith foisted on them, especially in an environment where they could be under the mistaken (or correct) impression that their religious views could affect their career. That’s harassment.

The leadership of the Air Force needs to make it clear to everyone, especially at the Academy: America is a nation of many creeds, and the Air Force must reflect that.

A Balanced View of Racism

A provocative thought from the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, himself a conservative:

No conservative should need to be told that terms such as racism and anti-Semitism can be abused to quash the discussion of legitimate issues, but some may need to be reminded that the evils signified by such terms are not merely figments of the fevered liberal imagination.

In view of some of the recent debates in the U.S. on immigration, Israel, and education, and on deciding where and how government budgets should be cut, we would all do well to keep these words close.