Friday, December 22, 2006

The National Failure on Immigration Reform

The Wall Street Journal provides some needed perspective on the recent immigration arrests at Swift meatpacking plants:

Immigration restrictionists would have us believe that harassing businesses like Swift, the world's second-largest beef and pork processor, helps make America safer. But so far the Swift raids haven't uncovered any al Qaeda cells, merely a bunch of hard-working people trying to feed their families. The operation involved more than 1,000 federal agents in six states. And of Swift's 15,000 or so employees, a grand total of 144 have been charged to date with misidentifying themselves to get hired.

Put another way, 1,000 federal agents that could have been focused on potential terrorists or other dangerous threats were instead focused on a meatpacking company that hires thousands of willing unskilled workers and pays them more than twice the minimum wage with full health benefits after six months. How's that for government efficiency?

There's a common notion that businesses seek out illegal aliens to employ. So it's also worth noting that since 1997 Swift has voluntarily participated in a government program for vetting new hires known as Basic Pilot. Under this system, the names and Social Security numbers of all job applicants are checked against a federal database. Which is to say that the presence of illegal workers at Swift is not the result of a company's indifference to the rule of law. It's the result of a flawed government system for determining who's eligible to work here. A few years ago Swift's management attempted to go even further than Basic Pilot to screen job applicants, only to be sued by the Justice Department for employment discrimination in 2001.

This is an issue that has featured much demagoguery and little constructive policy making. Illegal immigration is a problem for the United States, but the problem partly results from a failed system that does not efficiently allow for needed levels of immigration. Unfortunately, that failure has enabled a fair amount of jingoism on both left and right, with virtually no one seeking realistic solutions.


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