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... monitoring the Mexican border is not an effective way to reduce American firms' use of illegals. The INS thinks that it catches about a third of those who cross the border illegally. America could catch more people by spending more on the Border Patrol, but it is not clear how much difference that would make, because those caught crossing the border illegally are simply returned to Mexico, where they are then free to try again. Even if the Border Patrol caught two thirds of those crossing illegally, most job seekers would probably get across eventually. The only effective way to close the Mexican-American border (or any other) is to punish those who get caught, and that is not politically practical. Jailing illegals would cause a major row with Mexico. Perhaps even more important, it would almost certainly be unpopular with American voters as well. Americans see work as a moral virtue. They are unlikely to favor jailing people whose only sin is that they want a job. ...
IRCA failed because it did not offer employers a simple, reliable way of determining workers' legal status. Employers caught hiring illegals could claim that they had made a good faith effort to determine applicants' legal status, and the courts generally accepted such claims. Creating a system for identifying people with a legal right to be in the United States is not technically difficult. Banks disburse billions of dollars in cash every day to customers who identify themselves with a piece of plastic and a code number. The federal government could create a similar system for identifying legal residents. The obstacle is not technical but political: employers, Latino activists, and some advocates of civil liberties all prefer a country in which employers can hire anyone they like, legal or illegal. ...
The most politically promising way around this impasse is probably to seek a compromise like the one that Congress thought it was approving in 1986. Such a compromise would offer illegals already in the United States another amnesty but only if employers and Latino activists accepted a system that made identifying illegals easy and imposed serious penalties on any firm that hired them. Such a compromise would provide substantial legal, economic, and psychological benefits to millions of illegals currently living in the United States, many of them harshly exploited and living in miserable conditions. Those concerned about improving illegal immigrants' lives would have good reason to support it. Devising an effective system for determining a worker's legal right to be here would take some ingenuity, but the challenge is not insurmountable. Senator Alan Simpson's proposal to experiment with secure drivers' licenses almost passed in 1990. Making it harder to forge a driver's license is not controversial, and indicating whether the driver is a legal resident of the United States is hard to portray as a major violation of civil liberties.
The New Americans also suggests that immigration raises profits more than it lowers wages, making America as a whole slightly richer. But as [George J.] Borjas emphasizes in Heaven's Door, the net economic gain from immigration is tiny: probably less than 0.1 percent of Gross Domestic Product. The big effects of immigration are on the distribution of income. Under America's current immigration policy, the winners are employers who get cheaper labor, skilled workers who pay less for their burgers and nannies, and immigrants themselves. The losers are unskilled American-born workers.
Borjas shows, for example, that the wage gap between high school dropouts and graduates grew from 30 percent in 1980 to 41 percent in 1995. He estimates that almost half this change was caused by the fact that American-born high school dropouts faced more competition from immigrants than any other group of American-born workers.
Sen. Barack Obama's presidential bid has transformed the way presidential candidates use the Internet to reach volunteers and donors -- particularly donors who give relatively small amounts. Now Tevis' success underscores how such online grass-roots efforts are also revolutionizing down-ticket races.
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