Thursday, February 14, 2008

Making a prudential judgment based on reason: Immigration

I am very happy that we have opened a dialogue on immigration. Without a doubt it is one of the particular issues that we need to grapple with and resolve as a nation. Having a presidential election is a good way of bringing this issue to the fore. I am even happier, as I mentioned in my initial post, that all three candidates who have a shot at being our next president have reasonable, just, compassionate, and comprehensive proposals on this issue. It helps to point out that it is now mathematically impossible for Gov. Huckabee to receive enough delegates in the remaining primaries and caucuses to win the nomination. He can stop Sen. McCain from doing so and force an open convention- every political junkie's dream. I guarantee that Gov. Huckabee would not emerge from an open Republican convention as the nominee. So, in the wake of Jack's post and Fred's comments, I want to emphasize that the proposals on the table are based on reason, not sentiment. I also believe that among the many issues facing our country, immigration is one that can be resolved. I feel the same way about healthcare. Determining the biggest obstacle to resolving both issues is easy, just look at who benefits from the status quo. Hint: it is neither you nor me, nor immigrant people now living in the shadows.

I begin by pointing out that, like faith and reason, justice and compassion are complementary, not contradictory. A truly just proposal is also a compassionate proposal and, as with the inverse property of multiplication, vice-versa. Now, allow me to apply this to my take on immigration.

A nation not only has the right, but the duty to secure its borders because it is the fundamental duty of the state to protect its citizens. Nobody on either side of the debate disagrees about the need to accomplish this end. What we differ about is the most effective and just means of so doing. Deciding on the best means comes down to a prudential judgment. I disagree, both on practical and moral grounds, that building a wall is the best way to accomplish this.

I once again point out the impossibility of the logistics, not to mention the injustice, of deporting more than ten million people. However, I oppose just giving people who entered the country illegally a completely free pass. Indeed, there may be some who, for various reasons, it is desirable and even necessary to deport. People who have been here a long time, work, obey the laws, pay taxes, etc. should be allowed to stay and they should be given a path to accomplish this relatively easily and in short order. An important component to this process would be honestly acknowledging their status, paying a reasonable fine, and doing all this by a realistically established deadline. However, their safety should be guaranteed until such a time as the government can establish the process and get it up and running. In other words, no more futile, arbitrary raids on meat packing plants for political purposes! Such actions accomplish nothing, except throwing people's lives into turmoil. Given the current situation and our obligation to act morally, such arbitrary and selective enforcement is unjust. In any established process, the reunification of families should be high on the agenda. This means that separated families should be given priority.

Again, establishing a guest worker program would allow us to know who is coming into and leaving the country and why. Such a program also goes a long distance toward discouraging people from undertaking perilous border crossings and seeking the services of exploitative "coyotes". So, we kill two birds with one stone. It does not end there, we get a third bird. If people are here legally, the ability of employers to treat employees unfairly and unjustly is greatly diminished. How? Because a legal worker does not have to hesitate to bring a grievance through legal channels, be it a refusal to pay wages, provide promised or required benefits, or unsafe working conditions.

Finally, working with Mexico and Central American governments in accomplishing the necessary political and economic reforms to provide their people with more opportunities in their native countries will help address all of these issues. Granted that is a bit vague. So, more concretely, we need to revisit treaties, most particularly NAFTA, which has only benefited the rich, not workers in the U.S., Mexico, or Canada. We also need to look at the prudence and justice of our current agricultural policies, particularly as it pertains to subsidies.

This is not some sentimental screed about how we love our neighbors by aiding and abetting their breaking of the law. It is a judgment about how to bring our faith to bear on a real issue confronting our nation, on our collective circumstances. It is not ideological. These proposals also have the distinct advantage of being in accord with what our national conference of bishops has proposed. Is it a 100% solution? No, but what is? It is a workable solution that, over time, will justly, which is to say compassionately, render a big problem much smaller, a giant step in the right direction. What strikes me as an emotional, not to mention nativist, which is to say anti-Catholic, even if only by implication, position is build a wall, deport ten million people, keep current free trade agreements unamended, and deny opportunity to people looking for a better life and willing to work hard to earn it. I, for one, do not want to live in fortress America.


JACK said...


I hope it is clear that I didn't not levy the charge of sentimentalism at you, but at how many do approach this topic. You are certainly correct to suggest that sentimentalism does not know bounds; in other words, those who advocate the things you reject as unjust and without compassion may be moved by sentiment as much as those who want open borders and blanket amnesty. Sentimentalism isn't attached to a particular result; it is the manner in which one stands before reality.

In that light, I could have written a very similar set of questions in examining those who advocate building a wall and deporting everyone. I didn't for two reasons. One, on a personal level, I don't find merit in that solution and so it does nothing to advance my personal work of examining how to approach our illegal immigration problem. In fact, one might argue in the abstract sense, I maybe should just to verify whether I made too hasty of a judgment on certain things of that proposal. But the second reason why I didn't is that, in my experience and limited circles, those are not the people who get the free pass. It's the ones who advocate amnesty, guest workers programs, open borders, etc., whose proposals are not examined, whose reasons are not examined, precisely because their proposals more naturally feel in line with compassion and thus justness. That's frankly where I think ideology and sentimentalism can often be the most crippling, because its errors aren't glaring at us in some of the more obvious ways that an uncompassionate approach's errors do.

Second, all enforcement is arbitrary. By the very nature of limited resources. I worked for both the FBI and a US Attorney's Office in my life and saw some glimpses from those two vantage points of that reality. I cannot speak to the situations you cite, nor verify the motives you suggest were behind those raids. It is certainly possible you are correct on both fronts. And I lament the consequences of what happens when it is clear that a problem is more vast than what can be addressed simply and morally through mere law enforcement. But unless you are advocating a moratorium on all enforcement activity, you will have to come to terms with the fact that arbitrariness will remain. Judgment of how to deploy efforts cannot be excised from the system.

Finally, I am uncomfortable with your assertion that your proposals are reasonable and just. Your proposal is certainly reasonable in the sense that it might have good consequences and there's a good basis from logic to think it would, but it is by no means guaranteed. Similarly, your proposal is certainly just in that it is motivated from a position of compassion and justice (so in intent) and stands a good chance of resulting in actual justice for individuals, but even there you are assuming things go your way. For example, it isn't obvious to me that the presence of an agricultural guest workers program eliminates the motivation for border crossing. It could, and maybe there's evidentiary support for why we might think it will. But if we haven't investigated that, I'd prefer a discussion that can honestly say we are hoping that a reasonable theoretical outcome is the one that will be realized. This isn't to say that the plan should be rejected just because we can't predict with certainty the actual results of following it. But it's far more honest and true, to me, if we avoid trumping up the merits of a plan with false senses of certainty. For example, I certainly hope that all you say about the legal status of a guest worker program improving the working conditions comes true. But it is hardly guaranteed by the mere existence of some legal status for these workers. We should know this; our history as a nation has had second class citizens before. Again, I'm not suggesting that the possibility of unexpected adverse consequences should preclude action. That's the height of the failure of deconstructionism. I approach it much the way I have in my law practice. Always asking the question, "Well what if undesired result A happens?" (my too many lawyers scenario, if you will) paralyzes. But failing to ask the question at all results in tremendous blunders. Particularly, when there's a reasonable basis to think the undesirable result might happen. Blame the economist and lawyer training in me, but I am simply suggesting a humility in front of how we've reached our prudential judgments. (And for absolute clarity, I am not accusing you of not bringing that. I barely know you and you have only begun to share insights into how you have arrived at your prudential judgments.)

Dcn Scott Dodge said...


I admit that my response is partly based on what I read to be your implication that my previous post was rooted in mere sentiment. I am okay with that, with explaining myself. In other words, I see it as an honest challenge, not an attack. I agree with you and with Alasdair MacIntyre that we live in an emotivist culture and it is killing us.

As to limited resources of the FBI, US Attorney, etc. I appreciate that fact, but does not really address the larger issue. Immigration raids, at least here in Utah are pointless and political. In a word, unjust. How about being cool with the status quo until our elected leaders lead?

As to the reasonableness and justness of my proposal, I do not claim absolute certitude. I am always open to discussion, clarification, and correction. So, we can certainly discuss it. As regards where we are going as a country on this issue, I am happy that we have narrowed the presidential field to three candidates whose proposals, while they differ from each other's as well as from what I have proposed, are workable. Hell, I am no fan of Pres. Bush, but I agree with on some issues, immigration is one.

Freder1ck said...

I would just chime in that guest worker programs have been tried in the past. From what I've heard the results were less than ideal for the workers...

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

I don't know that guest worker programs have ever been tried in the U.S. Now, Turkey and Germany have an arrangement, but given that German citizenship is still far too linked to "blood and soil", the Turks remain a permanent underclass.

Freder1ck said...

Dcn Scott,
See my note on the Bracero program above.

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

I am not convinced that something attempted unsuccessfully in 1942 is a reason not to establish a guest worker program now. Of course, we can learn from past experiments. Any guest worker program would have to be in compliance with U.S. laws on workers rights, including minimum wage, etc. Since the program's termination in 1964, we have made a lot of progress along those lines. Any guest workers should be allowed organize and join unions, etc.

There are risks inherent in anything, lessons to be learned, and adjustments to made. I think establishing a guest worker program is preferable to the status quo, which is the only other option. I think we'll have about as much success completing stopping illegal immigration as we have had interdicting drugs. As long as there is a demand, there will be a supply. Unlike drugs, the demand for labor is healthy. I am not trying to hammer out a detailed policy, just plot a general course.

Freder1ck said...

Any guest worker program would have to be in compliance with U.S. laws on workers rights, including minimum wage, etc.
Well, the point of a guest worker program is to recognize that seasonal aliens are looking for employment that offers value for the circumstances in their homeland. Thus, wages for guest workers would be determined not by the overall US job market but in relation to other seasonal agricultural work. A guest worker program could very well be lower than the US national minimum wage for adults. Since a guest worker program is itself a law or set of laws, it could set minimum wages (just as there are lower minimum wages for summer jobs for teenagers).

Now. The purpose of citing the Braceros Program was not as a one-line trump to calls for guest worker programs. Instead, this history should be examined so that we can learn from its successes and its failures. As you can see from the first link I posted above, one Bracero Anastasio Vargas had an overall positive take on the program: "Many people who are very poor need something like this. If I hadn't done it, I wouldn't have anything," Vargas, 67, said in a recent interview..

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

"A guest worker program could very well be lower than the US national minimum wage for adults"

It could be if two conditions were met:

1) Somebody were to propose a program without a minimum wage guarantee
2) Congress would pass such a law

Neither is the case. Guaranteeing at least minimum wage to guest workers (something no illegal worker has) is important not only for the guest workers, but for U.S. workers. Even guaranteeing minimum wage to legal guest workers would likely result in an increase in some food prices. A guest worker program would also have to make sure that we are not farming out jobs, whole industries, to minimum wage workers.

Again, it is a market driven thing. There is a demand. Therefore, there is a supply. A guest worker program merely seeks to regulate this market.