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The debate about how to organize healthcare in the USA should not hinge on the minor issue of how it affects immigration. 

A similar situation occurred in the 1850’s after the Mexican War.  Santa Anna the then President of Mexico offered to sell the USA almost all of what is today Sonora and Baja California.  The US Senate refused because the purchase would have upset the precarious Missouri compromise about slavery.  So unresolved issues about slavery kept the US Senate from growing the nation.  In the same way unresolved issues about immigration may keep us from passing healthcare reform. 

Immigrants Your Country Needs Them


By Philippe Legrain


Almost everybody can agree that, over the long run, the world is better off because of human migration. Think about North America. And they can also agree that people should be able to leave a place without opportunity like Buffalo, NY and move to a place like San Jose, CA where they can have a better life. But the rational agreement ends when the immigration is happening now and the immigrants are foreign. At an emotional instinctive level people don’t want strangers in the neighborhood. This discordance between people’s philosophy and their politics is one of the themes of Philippe Legrain’s excellent book about Immigration. In Immigrants Your Country Needs Them he looks at immigration trend and issues around the world and systematically refutes the anti-immigrant arguments. He takes apart the standard arguments about cost, jobs, welfare and acculturation rates and shows alternative ways of looking at the same data that support the argument for more immigration.

Legrain also makes very good arguments in favor of immigration. He shows the needs of the developed world for more people, how migration helps the sending countries and the tremendous benefit it gives to migrants. He uses examples from around the world to make these powerful arguments but they are not the best part of the book. Philippe Legrain is also passionate about immigration. In almost every chapter after he makes the rational argument he also makes the emotional arguments. After taking about the border control situation in the EU and the USA he writes, “all our immigration controls have is a veneer of decency, which conveniently allows us to turn a blind eye to their terrible consequences.”

At the end of his introduction Legrain writes “If you believe that the world is an unequal place and that the rich should do more to help the poor, then freer international migration should be the next front in the battle for global economic justice.” He then makes a compelling case to show the truth of this assertion. Well done.

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to stop East Germans from leaving for more opportunity and freedom in West Germany. For the next two decades “The Wall” was a symbol of the differences between the Communists in the East and the Democracies in the West.  The process of tearing it down began with a speech by US President Reagan at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987 that concluded: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”  What followed over the next two years was a historic triumph of freedom over oppression.  Communism had begun to falter in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia and in 1988 and 1989 new exodus points were opened to East Germans who wanted to flee to the West. In September of 1989 12,000 East German “tourists” were able to enter Austria and make their way to the West.  The East Germans moved to close this gap and protests broke out all over East Berlin.  Huge crowds of people were shouting, “We want out!”  When it became clear that the Soviets were not going to intervene, like they had in Hungary in 1956, the East German authorities had no option but to capitulate.  The border was opened. East Germans had found a new way to vote with their feet and Schabowski was just acknowledging this new reality.


The November referendum in Switzerland that outlawed the construction of new minarets was disheartening to advocates of increased migration.  It shows again that the “western street” when given a choice doesn’t want to live with unassimilated foreigners.  Proposition 187 in California in 1994 taught the same lesson.  The successes of the British National Party, the Minutemen in the USA and the National Front in France reinforce the lesson.  People are instinctively tribal and conservative about change.   In the USA we are protected somewhat from these tribal instincts by the Constitution, which constrains legislative or populist ballot initiatives.  New legislation must pass a test of its “Constitutionality” before it can become law.  This was the case with prop 187.  Courts ruled that it violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution and it was effectively gutted. 


The minaret ban, however enforceable it ends up being after its test in the Swiss courts, illustrates how much the elite’s opinion on what to do about immigration has diverged from the electorates.  Voters have shown time and again that they don’t want unassimilated strangers living in their neighborhoods changing their way of life and imposing cost on there institutions.  Elites see migration as a long-term good that requires some short-term pain and since they are mostly insulated from the pain they promote getting on with it.


How can these two views be reconciled?

Here is a link to an important article by Elliott Abrams What Haiti Needs: A Haitian Diaspora  It appeared in the Washington Post this morning and has already spawned a massive outpouring of anti-immigrant bile.  The opposition is related to no jobs, lack of skills, what's in it for us and some racism.  For those who think that it is possible to reform immigration this article and the response it has engendered should give pause. 

Abrams states "One of the best ways to help Haiti is to allow some Haitians to move abroad." And yet we who have so much don't want to allow it.  Including as he points out Janet Napalitano.  I am heartened that Abrams, an intelligent, successful, conservative proposed an idea that makes so much sense.  And I'm disappointed that the knee jerk anti-immigrant comments probably show the actual mood of the country.

It will be a long struggle before we again allow reasonable levels of immigration into the United States.

 Republicans introduced two immigrant-bashing bills in the House this week.  One would change the intent of the 14thAmendment  and the other would make it difficult for undocumented residents to get lower “in-state” college tuition .  These two ill-timed and seemingly spiteful bills may insure that the Democrats maintain control of the House of Representatives in the November election.

Arizona SB 1070 was passed as a government response to the shooting of a rancher in an election year.  It was signed today by Governor Jan Brewer.


It clearly is an overreaction that violates the “unreasonable search and seizure” clause of the Constitution.  I shouldn’t have to prove to anyone that asks that I am a legal resident of the USA.  This is so unfair to anyone who doesn’t look “Anglo” that hopefully a court will hold up enforcement until after it has been reviewed in the courts.


On the other hand, every cloud has a silver lining  this might be the catalyst that will cause the Democrats in Congress to actually propose a bill that can pass.  Certainly in 2004 opposition to HR 4437 was the catalyst for the surge of Latino activism that provided the votes to get Barak Obama elected in 2008. 

Perhaps the same thing can happen again.  Active opposition to Arizona SB 1070 could motivate the Democrat Congress to act on Comprehensive Immigration Reform or risk losing the Latino vote in November.  Some Republicans could sign on because they want to solve the problem and the actual bill could include thing they want like increased visa for skilled workers and more temporary visas for farm workers.  It is possible.  But it could be just political kabuki.  See the op ed in the Washington Post of April 23, 2010 by Tamar Jacoby for a nation view. Immigration Reforms Big Moment


Rabbi Grater of the Pasadena Jewish Center and Temple a terrific sermon in the Jewish Journal commenting on the danger of Arizona SB 1070.


An exerpt:"We all should be paying attention to what is happening in our country right now, for it is not just Arizona.  There is a swelling of anger and fear which is boiling over, as we continue to suffer from a serious recession, loss of jobs, loss of homes, loss of control that thought we had over our lives.  The past history, of which we Jews know all too well, teaches us that when things start to falter in society, people look for others to blame.  And while it has been the Jews in the past"

A new organization in the UK has put together an excellent fact sheet about immigration.  You can go directly to the I Love Migrants site . Or cut and paste this link:


An exerpt:   "Migrants will look after the old: Only through migration will there be enough young people to look after the elderly." read more


In reality the presentation of facts will only work to convince those with open minds.  Most minds are made up already and dismiss facts that don't confirm their beliefs.  But this is the beauty of I Love Migrants.  Their main appeal is to the emotions.  And they claim the emotional high ground.  Love is better than hate.


Will history repeat itself?  Arizona law SB 1070 may be the start a chain of events that ends well for law abiding undocumented immigrants.  Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.  Thirty-five years ago Texas passed a bad law restricting access to education.  Eleven years later, partially as a result of that law two million people were on the path to citizenship.