An open letter to Mr. Mitt Romney on immigration
Dear Mr. Romney,
You stated many times that illegal immigrants should return to their countries of origin and get back in line. Why do we need a line to begin with? I grew up in Poland, then a socialistic country where the government ran almost everything, and we had lines for almost everything as well. Lines are a byproduct of the socialist ideal of a centralized, government-run economy. There are no lines in a free market system. The only meaningful lines that Americans have to endure on a daily basis are the lines in the U.S. Postal Service offices, the government-run quasi-monopoly.
In your generic declarations you often strongly support free market ideas and promise to help individual entrepreneurs. I have difficulty believing you because, when addressing a particular issue, you, as a typical socialist, advocate for the nationalization of the immigrant portion of the U.S. labor market. This has always been a vital section of the U.S. economy. In my book, if you wear one dirty shoe, you are walking in dirty shoes; if you are a socialist on one key issue, you are just plainly a socialist. I am addressing my letter to you as I think about giving you my vote, but I have problems with your stand on immigration. If it makes you feel any better, on the issue of immigration, all of the GOP presidential candidates are taking ideological positions closer to those of Karl Marx than those of Adam Smith, and present political concepts from Hugo Chavez not Ronald Reagan.
Whose line it is anyway?
An illegal immigrant stays here because he or she has a job. If you send this person back to the end of the line, an American employer who employed this person will be in line as well, waiting for this employee to come back. I already hear a choir of voices chanting that this employer can instead hire an unemployed American. As an entrepreneur myself, I know the answer most American employers give to this argument: “If you want to tell me whom I should hire, then pay my bills as well”. If the government wants to micromanage private business, this means nationalization and an end to private entrepreneurship. This is socialism. The bottom line is that these illegal immigrants are here first and foremost because the American economy needs them: they are important workers at some American businesses. In your statements I see that your eagerness to punish illegal immigrants prevails over your promises of promoting the free market and helping American entrepreneurs. Did I get that right?
There is no legal immigration allowed
You say that you support legal immigration. I have bad news for you. We do have some people immigrating legally, but we do not have a legal immigration system. As you seem to like high stake bets, let me put my money behind my thesis that we do not have legal immigration and let you put your money behind your statements that there is one. As our wealth levels are disproportionate, I suggest that if I lose I will donate 1% of my 2011 taxable income to your political campaign; if you lose you will donate 1% of your 2011 taxable income to my work toward establishing a reasonable immigration system in the U.S.
Let us say that a foreign national at some point decides that he or she would like to immigrate to the U.S. Please provide me with the document that this person should fill out, and the name of the U.S. agency with which this document should be filed in order to start the immigration process. If you can produce this document, you will have won the bet. Unfortunately for you, this document does not exist.
Why do we have illegal immigration?
Being so vocal against illegal immigration, did you do your homework to find out how we ended up having this mess to begin with? Can you disclose your reasoning process?
Before the Immigration Act of 1924, legal immigration was allowed for Europeans; Asians had some restrictions. Since then, legal immigration is practically banned, except for some plucked out of the air immigration quotas. As this is obviously ridiculous, we have a sophisticated bureaucratic system which ensures that some people obtain an exemption and immigrate legally; about one million foreigners do it every year. Before 1924, foreigners came to America for work. When landing on Ellis Island, they knew that they can go back and forth as many times as they wanted; and many did. Not all found jobs, not all liked it here; some returned after saving some money. Those who liked it here, and prospered, stayed. About one third returned home permanently. In plain terms, foreigners worked their way into becoming Americans.
Thanks to this unlimited access to affordable labor, at the beginning of the 20th century the U.S. emerged as a world superpower. Then, politicians decided to fix what was not broken by putting their two cents; and, in 1924 practically banned immigration entirely. Gradually, the absurdity of this approach became obvious, and politicians did what they usually do. Instead of acknowledging their mistake and revoking the 1924 law, they created more bureaucracy to handle exceptions to the nonsense of banning immigration; they voted in the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965. This Act introduced workers visas and the family reunion concept. Before 1924, becoming an American meant, at least, a few years of toil and self-sacrifice. After 1965, immigration to America became a gift provided to some by the U.S. government.
Before 1924, immigration was regulated by the free market. After 1965, it is a government-run, socialist-style planned economy. So far, socialism has not worked anywhere in the world and – as in our immigration policy – it does not work here either. Everywhere it ever existed, a planned economy has always resulted in a black market. It is not different in the U.S.: we have illegal immigration.
When Ronald Reagan faced the issue, he understood that the problem is not with foreigners coming here illegally, but with the government having too much of a hand in the immigration process. After all, the famous saying, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” applies to our immigration policy as well. Realizing that illegal immigration resulted from previous errors in immigration policy, Reagan gave amnesty to most illegal immigrants. As this created uproar among fanatic opponents of immigration, Reagan promised to penalize American employers hiring undocumented immigrants. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 left many loopholes in the prosecution of an American employer caught hiring undocumented foreigners. Some claim that Reagan was unwise in overlooking this shortcoming. I suspect that he was so smart that he gave amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants by fooling anti-immigration zealots with toothless promises of penalizing illegal immigration in the future.
It would be interesting to know your take on this issue, Mr. Romney.
Legal does not mean good
Before 1924, the influx of immigrants was market regulated. If too many arrived, more would return home soon. After that the government bureaucrats decide how many immigrants America will need in the years to come. Mr. Romney, in the businesses you were involved with, did you ever knew how many employees you might need next year? Would you ever self-impose a decision of hiring or not hiring some people just to stick to the previous year's predictions, and not to today’s business needs? This is what we have in our immigration policy. It is a Soviet-style planned economy painstakingly implemented and maintained by the U.S government.
Mr. Romney, in your hiring decisions and in establishing hiring policies at the businesses in which you had an interest, did you seek the best people for the job, or did you hire the family members of your current employees, regardless of their suitability? I guess your answer is obvious, but it is not for the U.S. government. The family reunion concept gives the right to immigrate to foreigners who have family members in the U.S. About 60% of our present legal immigrants come this way. About one third of them are people 40 years old or older. Do they come here to work their way into being Americans, or do they come to cash in on the generous American welfare system?
Our immigration system allows to immigrate legally only for very few foreigners, fortunate enough to find a work visa sponsor or have family already here. Washington bureaucrats noticed this shortcoming as well. In order to overcome this inequality, they invented a visa lottery. Beginning in 1995, almost anyone can send in an application to have an immigration visa drawn in a lottery run by the U.S. government. Had Bain Capital hired people by lottery, money-wise, where would you be now, Mr. Romney?
Please look straight into my eyes and the eyes of millions of other Americans and tell us that you intend to spend our tax dollars to continue with this implementation of legal immigration.
Is this constitutional?
The political system of the United States was built on the philosophical concept that all individuals should have equal freedom to pursue happiness. The government should not implement laws that would infringe on the inalienable liberties of individuals. This is easier said than done. Let us imagine an American citizen with an entrepreneurial spirit who pursues his happiness by having his own business, and hiring other Americans who pursue their happiness by working for their entrepreneurial compatriot. Everybody is happy until a group of foreigners comes into town, ready to work for less than the American workers do. Suddenly, the entrepreneurial American wants to pursue his happiness by hiring these newcomers. Some American citizens lose their jobs, so they petition the government to ban the hiring of foreign workers. Is this constitutional?
Should an American entrepreneur have the right to hire whomever he or she pleases, irrespective of whether that new employee comes from across the street, across the ocean, or the other side of Rio Grande? Or should the government step in and require that foreigners should be hired only if all reasonable attempts to hire Americans are exhausted? This is the idea behind our current immigration policy. Practically, it means that instead of securing equal freedom to pursue happiness for all American citizens, the government goes into the business of guaranteeing happiness for less entrepreneurial citizens at the cost of limiting the freedoms of the most entrepreneurial among us. If elected, how will you fulfill your promise of supporting entrepreneurs in America on this particular issue?
Americans losing their jobs to foreigners have at their disposal all the great opportunities this country offers: they can retrain, move to another area, or open their own business. Instead, they want the government to secure for them the job they feel comfortable with. In my view the Constitution does not give the government the right to do so. What is your take on this issue, Mr. Romney? It would be interesting to get Ron Paul's answer, as well.
Not 99%, yet
Now, as it was in 1924, many Americans are against immigration, as they feel that immigrants take away from them jobs that they could have, at better pay than immigrants, if immigrants were stopped at the border. This approach mirrors the anger of workers at the beginning of industrialization, when they used to destroy weaving machines for taking their jobs. One may understand the frustration of people losing their jobs, but it takes a leader to explain that nations build their wealth not by preserving jobs but quite the opposite: by stimulating change. Civilization progresses the fastest and the wealth of nations grows the most where entrepreneurs have the most freedom in innovation. Innovation can also mean the ability to find a cheaper worker to do a job. We need a leader who can tell Americans, straight to their face, this basic economic truth. Can you do it, Mr. Romney?
Most immigrants, legal or illegal, do plain low-wage labor. By chasing undocumented immigrants away, some of those low-wage jobs are offered back to Americans. Is this the way to rebuild the middle class?
Ironically, for every 100 low pay manufacturing jobs we need at least several well-paid jobs in maintenance and management. With low immigration and the squeezing of illegal immigrants out of the labor market, we had shortages of low paid labor and many of these manufacturing jobs went abroad. As a result, many Americans lost their middle class income. Now they compe for whatever low-paying jobs they can get by kicking out illegal immigrants. Mr. Romney, how far down this spiral do you want to go?
Thanks to our current immigration policy, for too long too many Americans felt secure in their jobs. With the recent turn in the economy, many of them lost their jobs and we have millions of frustrated Americans with obsolete qualifications. They still have middle class aspirations but with practically minimum-wage qualifications. Depending on ideological inclinations, some of these frustrations materialize in the growing ranks of the Tea Party, and some manifest in the Occupy Wall Street movement. They claim that they are the 99%. They are not quite that populous. However, they are many, and they vote. Do you want to get elected by fostering their illusions that we can go back to nativism and that we can go back to splendid isolation? Or, do you have the courage to tell them boldly that there is no return to a middle class living with a minimum-wage skill set? Someone needs to make it official that splendid isolation is over. Someone needs to announce to Americans that they need to compete for jobs on the worldwide labor market. Can it be you?
If the U.S. government really wants to be in the business of protecting American jobs from competition abroad, it should focus on where those jobs are disappearing to: it should prevent job exodus. The simplest way to do this would be by cutting off foreign trade. Banning imports from China would be a good start. All travel abroad should be eliminated, with the government issuing travel permits for special instances. All international phone lines and all international internet connections should be disconnected as well. This is the only effective way to protect Americans from competing with workers worldwide.
Are you a leader who can talk frankly about these issues?
Chasing illegal immigrants
We can effectively seal the borders. The Soviet Union did it, so it is doable, likely with the same outcome. We can easily identify most of the illegal immigrants here simply by compiling records already available to the government: social security, tax numbers issued to illegal immigrants by the IRS, bank records, and school registries. Then, get them deported on short notice. Stalin was able to arrange forced relocations of millions of people, so we know that it can be done. We do not do it because: first, it would turn the country into a Soviet-style totalitarian police state. Second, it would hurt the economy. Therefore, the federal Government is almost literally bipolar in its acts on immigration enforcement. On one end it tries to follow the law; on the other, it knows that doing this truly is inhuman, is un-American, and that it hurts the economy.
Most Americans do not see this internal contradiction of our immigration laws. They see illegal immigrants still having jobs when they are already unemployed. Illegal immigrants became scapegoats for all the frustrations of people with middle class aspirations and minimum wage skills. Many high-pitched demagogues spread the illusion that as soon as illegal immigrants are kicked out, wealth and happiness will spread over the land. These grassroots pressures on local governments resulted in many state or community laws pointed against illegal immigrants. There is a lot of lofty talk around all these local anti-immigration laws. The bottom line is that illegal immigrants did not vote in our immigration laws, which contradict our best economic interest, which are against our fundamental values, and which cannot be enforced without scarifying both of the above.
When stripped from all of the demagoguery, local laws against illegal immigrants boil down to having police chasing people for willing to work harder and for less than others. In my book, if more people are willing to work for less, more wealth is created. What is wrong with this? Mr. Romney, as a capitalist, please correct me if I am wrong.
We have not one documented incident of national security being endangered due to Mexicans crossing the border illegally, but everyone seems to be eager to spend my tax money to militarize the border with Mexico. A much larger danger to national security would be due to too many high tech jobs leaving the country. In particular, many major U.S. corporations have recently moved R&D jobs to China and other Asian countries. In the past, the U.S. became a superpower precisely because it was technologically ahead of everyone else in the world. This might not be the case anymore with major R&D centers in Asia. Furthermore, the technological superiority of American industry was the backbone of the technological advantages of our military. This will be over if we lose too many scientists and engineers.
Americans are eager to give extra power to the government in order to stop foreigners trying to cross the border illegally. In other words, Americans are giving their government the power to control the migration of people. One can easily imagine that, as a result of our restrictive immigration policies, our economic crisis will deepen, prompting even more scientists and engineers to leave the country. It will be only a matter of time before this outflow of engineers and scientists will endanger national security. The government will react the way it does now: it will make it illegal for scientists and engineers to move out of the U.S. without government permission.
A government that is powerful enough to stop people from immigrating to the U.S., can, if needed, use this power to stop Americans from leaving the country. Only then, the militarized wall on the Mexican border will come in handy, catching scientists and engineers trying to escape from Silicon Valley.
Am I fantasizing, or I am envisioning the worst case scenario, as every good businessman should?
Killing the American dream
The attitude toward the children of illegal immigrants reveals the real motives of most vocal illegal immigration critics. These children, by virtue of being born in the U.S., are automatically U.S. citizens. These children are the most precious gift America is getting. We can raise them anyway we want so they will be exactly like us. The more of them we have today, the fewer immigrants we will need somewhere down the road. We have to be aware that most vocal supporters of reversing the 14th Amendment do so because, in their view, most children of illegal immigrants do not look like an American should look.
Many illegal immigrants arrived here with young children. These kids spent their formative years in the U.S., and for all practical purposes, they became Americans like the rest of us. Many of them took advantage of the opportunities America offers, but as young adults they struggle with being rejected by the only country they really know and identify with. The Dream Act was intended to help these young people assimilate in America. Vicious opponents of any immigration derailed the Dream Act many times. Mr. Romney, you have voiced strong opposition to the Dream Act as well. Your argument is that some of these young Americans, after legalizing their status, could qualify for government help in getting better education. What is wrong with chipping off some tax dollars to have more Americans better educated?
For your reference, please watch a video presenting an exchange about immigration between the elder George Bush and Ronald Reagan in 1980 . It is sad to see how low we have fallen since then. Hence, on the Dream Act issue, I have an old question for you Mr. Romney: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
Why do we have 11 million illegal immigrants and what do we do with them?
Why do we have as many illegal immigrants as we have, not five times less or five times more? Our borders are so porous that almost anybody who wants to come could come. Why have only 11 million immigrants (or whatever the real number is) arrived and stayed illegally? Why was it not 1 million or 21 million? We have as many illegal immigrants as we have because this is the number of workers that the economy needed. If we had no quotas limiting legal immigration, if we just registered and ran a background check on every foreigner who found employment in the U.S., we would have the same number of foreigners working here as we have now, but all of them would be here legally. We would be in control; we would know who they are and what they are doing.
Americans have passed immigration laws that are in clear conflict with the rules of the free market and are against the basic economic interests of all parties concerned. In their spirit, our immigration laws are un-American. No wonder, then, that Americans have not enforced these laws methodically. Americans are the only ones responsible for illegal immigration and all the mess it has caused. However, Americans blame illegal immigrants, Mexico, globalization, politicians, and the greed of big corporations – but not themselves.
Illegal immigration is not the problem. Our current policy of government-controlled limited legal immigration is the problem. We have to recognize that our immigration laws are flawed in their very concept of Washington bureaucrats managing a big section of the labor market. Politicians in Washington need to acknowledge that they caused illegal immigration by voting in ridiculous laws. The solution should not be in adding more regulations, in militarizing the border, in chasing illegal immigrants or punishing their employers. The solution is in repealing our immigration laws. We need to repeal laws that infringe upon basic human activities, violate basic freedoms of individuals, and disregard basic rules of economics. In particular, we need to repeal those provisions of our immigration laws that require government permission to come and work in the U.S. By doing so, we would resolve the problem of amnesty, as we would not need to grant amnesty to people breaking laws that should have been declared invalid from their very creation. The only amnesty we might consider should be for our lawmakers who created the laws that brought this immigration havoc on us.
Listening to your statements about immigration, I am under the impression that you are not aware about the issues I am bringing up. Did you actually never hear about the facts I am discussing? Or, are trying to get elected by avoiding an open discussion of real issues?
To lead or not to lead?
The immigration issue is about America defining itself at the beginning of the 21st century. Is America a place where people born here are entitled to cutting coupons from the wealth accumulated by previous generations? And, should they guard this wealth from being accessed by immigrants? Or, does America embody the concept of individual freedom? The concept that the well-being of the nation would be best achieved when individuals will be guaranteed the freedoms to pursue their best economic interests? We have to revisit the fundamental question of what we want our government to do. Should it guarantee an equal right to pursue happiness for everyone, or should it provide at least a little bit of happiness for as many Americans as possible?
Conservatism was mentioned in almost every presidential debate. Professor Milton Friedman was a conservative. So was Father Charles E. Coughlin. Could you define your conservatism Mr. Romney? Sometimes, I am under impression that the more parochial and narrow-minded a view is, the more conservative you see it. How much more conservative along this path do you want to be? Did you use the same approach when working at Bain Capital?
Since 1924, we have had a malfunctioning immigration policy. We stick to the concept of closed borders with government controlling the inflow of immigrants. So far you seem to be following the prevailing mantra that we should not take responsibility for our failure in enforcing our own policy. You echo the voices from the street that our failure should be blamed on others, and that instead of correcting our action, we should do with greater determination the same thing that has not been working so far. Did you use the same approach when resolving problems at Bain Capital?
In the media, the immigration agenda has been besieged by a small group of fast-talking commentators that represent narrow-minded anti-immigration sentiment, originating from nativist concepts, empowered by the social nationalistic strand among conservatives. They are full of lofty patriotic phraseology but are short on facts and logic. The arguments are sometimes laughable; however, in the mouths of influential political commentators and politicians, they are simply dangerous. We observe a very peculiar cycle: intellectually shallow political commentators spread anti-immigrant demagogy, the disoriented public seems to go for it, and the politicians follow the public, giving extra momentum to the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the commentators. Individuals that might have doubts suppress their thoughts, being overwhelmed by high-pitched patriotic demagogy about protecting borders, terrorists, illegal aliens, and preserving American values. This self-propelling nonsense gets momentum all the way to the hallways in Washington.
If you are as skillful and talented a businessman as you claim, do not you see the nonsense of our current immigration policy? Do not you see the shallowness of the anti-immigration rhetoric? You claim that you will support entrepreneurship in America, and out of the other side of your mouth you promise to chase out illegal immigrants instead of assimilating them. You cannot do both. Could you clarify for me when you lie and when you tell the truth? I am puzzled that instead of finding a creative way to resolve our almost one hundred year old problem, in your political declarations you mindlessly follow an angry mob which is almost literally craving for the blood of illegal immigrants. Are you afraid that you have no chance of being elected by telling Americans as it is? Or, do you actually not know our problems and have no original ideas for what to do? I mean, besides following the mob mindlessly.
My inquiry amounts to the Shakespearian dilemma you face: to lead, or not to lead, that is the question.
Henryk A. Kowalczyk
Henryk A. Kowalczyk authored the Freedom of Migration Act concept: