Sunday, March 21, 2010

Next Up: Immigration Reform

With health reform all but passed, many are now advocating that Obama and Congress turn to immigration reform. Immigration reform was something discussed under the previous administration mostly as a way to drum up fears among their xenophobic base. Little to no substantive action was taken, other than the ill-conceived border fence. As I have discussed previously on this blog, immigration reform is necessary and long past due. Until we have a more coherent and humane immigration policy, we will continue to have undocumented workers toil in the shadows, exploited and neglected. These estimated 11 million people do many jobs we could not live without. While none of the proposed solutions are perfect, weighing the pros and cons of each of them and carrying out the best available one should be our focus now. Some sort of amnesty program that sets a cut-off date in the past and provides documentation seems to be one of the most reasonable approaches. Critics argue that a problem with this approach is that it neglects those who tried to immigrate legally. However, this can be rectified by granting visas to these people as well.

In order to properly address immigration reform, trade reform also has to be discussed. Many of the forces driving undocumented workers to the U.S. are a result of trade practices that allow subsidized American industries to dump products on countries at prices that unsubsidized local industries cannot compete with. This hurts the importing country in the long run by making it impossible to keep up the infrastructure that is required to run these industries. Grievances filed by these countries with the WTO, even if won, are often ignored by the United States. Also, the series of bilateral trade agreements negotiated in the past two decades have put most of our smaller trading partners at a significant disadvantage. U.S. negotiators were able to impose their influence on smaller countries that lacked the ability to push for more fair provisions. Often specific industries were given special benefits, while the overall agreement hurt far more producers in that country.