Friday, July 06, 2007

Immigration: Back to You, King 

UPDATED by Janet in light of comments, as of the morning of 7/9/2007:

King has taken issue with one of my immigration posts, saying that �laws are only enforced when they have some basis in the structure of our country�s culture.� I think that he and I agree far more than we disagree, so let me try some clarification.

First, like King, both my husband and I had immigrant grandparents who came to this country through Ellis Island. We admire and respect the courage and hard work it took for them to uproot themselves from their native lands, to learn a new language, and to make their way in this strange and wonderful new place. We are proud that they followed their dreams and ultimately became legal citizens of the United States. They, too, said, �I am an American.�

Second, legal immigration to the US has been and continues to be an enormous benefit to us. People choose to come here, to a greater extent than anywhere else on earth, because we are a beacon of liberty and opportunity. Those who choose to become legal citizens are generally courageous, ambitious, industrious and hard-working. I have been making significant new and ongoing connections with immigrants for more 30 years, including many in my most recent classes. The vast majority are grateful to be here, and play by the rules of our system. I know we are extremely lucky to have their contributions. My knowledge of various nations and cultures has expanded because of them - they share why they came, their hopes, their dreams, and for most of them, the desire to become Americans. We need to expand the opportunities for legal immigration, and to provide funding and personnel to remove the idiotic bureaucratic obstacles and processing delays in our current system.

Third, there are valid reasons, such as national security and preserving our cultural identity, for placing limits on the rate of immigration. Totally open borders are an unrealistically utopian ideal, which means that some entry into this country has been, and will continue to be, contrary to our laws.

This background provides needed context for the point I was trying to make.
US culture today routinely expects virtually every person to provide personal identification in a myriad of settings. We are all required to have identification for becoming a student in a school system, starting employment, renting an apartment, buying or renting a car, opening a bank account, cashing a check or money order, buying a cell phone, arranging for utility service, paying our taxes, getting a passport or driver�s license, buying alcohol or a gun, obtaining and using a credit card, a mortgage or other loan, and many other activities in our daily lives. In today�s world, being able to slide through the cracks without identification is almost impossible. Citizens and legal immigrants alike must routinely respond to �May I see some ID, please?�

This de facto cultural ID system is supported and reinforced by a de jure system for issuing IDs, laws requiring such IDs for many common transactions, and laws designed to protect individuals against identity theft. King cannot claim a conflict between �the structure of our country�s culture� and the expectation that we will enforce our laws regarding the integrity and use of our identification systems.

Should we exempt illegal immigrants from these ID requirements? Of course not. One of our core values as Americans is equality before the law.

Thus, one of my base points is: How can we allow continuation of a system in which the same Social Security Number can be used illegally by 42 different people? How can we allow continuation of a system in which the inspector general of the Social Security Administration reports that a single employer encountered 131,191 SSNs which the SSA could not attribute to any known legal worker in the United States? This is just crazy.

For comparison, let's look at VISA and MasterCard, which do a far better job of tracking the use of their credit cards. When they detect an unusual pattern of charges on our card, further use of the card number is suspended while they contact us to verify legitimate use. In the event of a lost, stolen or misused card, further use of that card number is canceled completely, and a replacement card is issued with a new number. Banks have put in place the same procedures with debit and ATM cards. Does it work 100% of the time? No, but it works a significant portion of the time. It is certain that no credit card number would continue to be honored after use under 5 different names, much less 42. And any merchant accepting transactions involving 131,191 invalid credit card numbers would be in serious trouble.

The issue is not the number of people involved, or the number of transactions to be processed. Our society tracks hundreds of millions of legal citizens and legal immigrants through billions of transactions every year, without �tagging them like a side of beef.� I have reread every one of my posts on immigration without seeing the word "tag," which has a far more sinister meaning than "track," the word I did use. We have the technology to track most anything. Should illegal immigrants be tracked differently than citizens and legal immigrants? No. But should illegals get a pass when they abuse the ID systems that have become an ingrained and accepted part of our culture? I don't think so. We can and should do better. That is why Arizona has just enacted a bi-partisan law requiring verification of legal immigration status for employment.

KING ADDS: I would like to know how one gets illegal aliens to accept an ID card, and with what they would be ID'd. If one holds such a card, how is this not a tag? I understand the desire not to use the word "tag", since it recalls what we did to Japanese-Americans in internment in WWII. But I don't see a real difference between a plastic card in the pocket marked "alien" to be required of someone at all times, and those tags. (I'm also quite familiar with markers like those in the Turkish population card. Had Nana not left her childhood home, she'd've carried one of those.)

Moreover, why would the government get these cards right when they can't get the Social Security numbers right? It's not "society" that would track them; MasterCard and Visa can stop me from charging dinner on my credit card, but they cannot deprive me of life and liberty. The ID system needs to have an incentive to get illegal aliens to step up and allow themselves to be counted. Either that or, as Hernando de Soto pointed out once, you have to freeze everyone in place and swarm the country with bureaucrats to ask questions and count noses and hand out cards. Beef doesn't move (after you separate it from the steer.) People do. Just another complexity?


I think you misread the Hernando de Soto interview (He is an author I admire). He says that you need an army of bureaucrats handing out ID cards if you don't have a system of individual property rights. With our current system of property rights and transactions, the incentives to produce ID are already in place.

Saying �make them carry identification cards� in my original post may have been over the top, in that anyone can leave home without ID. But as I pointed out above, we already have in place strong cultural and legal incentives for everyone, legals and illegals, to produce ID on a regular basis. I just got home from returning a small (under $10) purchase; the store required both my receipt and my driver�s license before they would issue a refund. Illegal immigrants have to produce ID, too; they just fake them.

As for stamping �alien,� do you object to the existing requirement here in our own state of Minnesota that

"A status check date that coincides with the federal lawful admission period indicated on the federal primary document presented or on the additional documentation that indicates the duration of the applicant's lawful short-term admission status shall be indicated on the driver's license, permit, or identification card issued. "

(To confirm that requirement, you can use the steps listed below this Minnesota DMV web address: 1 � click on DVS Rules; 2 � click on 7410; 3 � click on 7410-0410, Proof of Residency; 4 � Subp. 8 defines the �status check� portion of the ID)

There are many places where fake IDs can be noted and stopped by the government today. A good first step would be getting the Social Security numbers right. That�s already a matter of law. It can be done (the VISA and MasterCard systems have larger volume). The problem is lack of will and failure to appropriate the resources (money and people) to get the job done.

JANET ADDS (7/9/2007):

It seems to me that King's arguments have shifted. (A thank-you to my "recovered lawyer" husband for pointing this out.)

My post responded to his claim that "laws are only enforced when they have some basis in the culture." I cited many examples to show that there is broad cultural and legal support for enforcing our laws about the integrity and use of our ID systems.

When he asked about labeling people as "aliens," I noted that Minnesota already does the equivalent by putting on driver's licenses and other State-issued IDs the words "Status Check" and the date of expiration of the federal short-term "lawful admission period."

To the claim that we would need an army of bureaucrats to issue IDs, I said that the de Soto interview makes this claim only in a system lacking individual property rights. I said that our system of property rights and transactions already has in place large incentives to produce identification, illustrated by the many examples I have gven.

In the comments below, he offers additional arguments. I'll respond to them here:

"The poor often transact in cash, which makes their transactions difficult to track." Sure, in many (most?) transactions we are not asked for IDs. But there are MANY situations where IDs are required. That's why so many illegal immigrants have fake IDs! Going after the gross abuses of SSNs won't solve all of our problems, but I don't see any valid policy argument that we should ignore such abuses.

What about "matricula consular (for illegal Mexican aliens)?" Exempting illegal immigrants from compliance with our ID system at the whim of any foreign government is a bad idea.

The rest of King's dialog with J. Ewing deals with transition costs (abrupt implementation leads to recession) and whether the level of incentives is right. King acknowledges that "the Z-visa is too much incentive" for him.

We seem to have reached a logical place to end this discussion, for now. Although King argued against the bill that failed, he still believes that a comprehensive immigration reform package is the only way to solve the ID problem. But comprehensive reform is politically dead for the forseeable future. J. Ewing and I say that we can and should require illegal immigrants to comply with our cultural and legal requirement for vaild IDs, which are expected of all other citizens and legal immigrants. Fixing the abuses of Social Security numbers is a workable first step we can take now, even without comprehensive immigration reform.