All posts by Michelangelo Landgrave

Michelangelo Landgrave is an economics graduate student at California State University, Long Beach.

The Use of Race As An Argumentative Tactic

Advocates of immigration reform occasionally feel tempted to use accusation of racism as an argumentative tactic. Most recently Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Attorney General Eric Holder, and other high ranking Democrats have suggested that the reason their Republican counterparts oppose immigration reform is due to the race of most migrants.

There is certainly a subset of open border opponents that could be classified as racists and oppose open grounds either due to a belief that migrants taint their superior race or that racial homogeneity is itself desirable and  migrants pose a danger to this. Even if this is the case calling out our opponents as racists is counterproductive.

Accusing opponents of racism is a poor argumentative strategy because it antagonizes them. More importantly this strategy antagonizes those who were previously sympathetic but who identify with open border opponents. In the current immigration debate in the United States it causes pro-reform Republicans to defend their peers out of political tribalism. Open border advocates in the US are reminded that several leading Republicans support immigration reform including: the Bush family, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, Governor Rick Perry, and many others. Using race as an argumentative tactic could very well cost us these allies.

In an earlier post Vipul Naik discusses similar points to these and elaborates on why accusations of racism make for poor argumentation. I agree with Naik that accusing open border opponents of racism directly is poor strategy, but leading your opponent to reveal themselves as racists might be good strategy if done properly.

In argumentation one is considered to have conceded a point to their opponent if they do not attempt to refute claims made. As such, while I do not favor directly calling our opponents racist, I do not believe we should implicitly concede to them that migrants and natives are significantly different from one another culturally.  A better tactic would be to emphasize that migrants aren’t significantly different from the native population and that it is the burden of our opponents to prove otherwise.

For example I personally advocate that the largest current migrant group to the United States, Hispanics, are ‘westerners’ and that the perceived differences between Hispanics and natives are smaller than they first appear. I use the term ‘westerner’ here to refer to a set of cultural pillars that are associated with Western Europe and those nations that have been influenced by the region through colonialism or other forms of prolonged cultural exchange. This includes the Americas, Australia, and certain regions of Africa and Asia such as South Africa and Japan respectively.

The United States views itself primarily as a ‘western’ nation, but what is considered ‘western’ and who is considered ‘western’ varies throughout time. There was a time when the Irish, Germans, and other Europeans weren’t seen as westerners and only Christian Anglo-Saxons from the United Kingdom and their American descendants fit the bill.  Jews weren’t considered westerners even if their ancestry was firmly entrenched in the US or the United Kingdom, but today they too are considered westerners.

The definition of ‘westerner’ has since changed and will continue to change but today the major prerequisites are:

As I often remind friends who are skeptical about open borders, Hispanics are primarily Christian and speak a European language (Spanish, Portuguese, or English) as a native tongue. Hispanics all come from countries where republicanism is the norm. Mexico and Brazil both experimented with monarchies in their early histories, but have long since been staunch republics. The only extant monarchies in the Americas are Canada and the Anglo Caribbean.  A Queen of Jamaica exists, but no Hispanic country recognizes a monarch over them.

United States popular culture prevails throughout Latin America. Fidel Castro once remarked that Mexican children knew Disney characters better than their own history. The comment offended Mexican officials but it was made with merit. No one in my extended family, most of whom were born and raised in Mexico, know that Mexico was ruled by Emperor Maximilian during the early 19th century. They can easily list Disney characters and keep up with the latest American fads though. In my family’s defense the 2010 Civics Report Card released by the US Department of  Education showed that US residents weren’t that well versed in civics. Arguably this shared disdain for civics with their northern cousins is another example of how Hispanics are a western people.

Hispanics are westerners  as far as religion, politics, linguistics, and popular culture are concern. I further argue that the third largest current migrant groups in the United States, Indians, are also westerners.

The Indian subcontinent was invaded and colonized extensively by European powers beginning in the 16th century. British Raj reached its peak during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Indian subcontinent was ruled by European powers for nearly half a millennium and only recently did it gain independence in the form of various polities, the largest being the Union of India. By no means should this post be taken to mean that European colonization of the Indian continent was morally right. However it cannot be denied that it changed the subcontinent and left it western character.

Politically India is the world’s largest democracy, a title that it has openly embraced. The last vestiges of India’s attachment to monarchy were severed in 1950 when a republic was proclaimed.

India today has twenty two official languages and several more with varying degrees of recognition. The working language of the Indian Union however is English with 350 million speakers, most of whom speak it as a second language. Hindi, the official language of the Union, has a larger amount of speakers at 422 million. Despite this English enjoys a preferential status as it is a neutral language that doesn’t favor any linguistic group and facilitates trade abroad.

Knowledge and use of English among Indian migrants in the US is greater still. According to the US Census’ 2012 American Community Survey approximately 80% of Indians in the US speak English ‘very well’. This is superior to the Mexican community’s 68% or Argentine’s 74%. These results shouldn’t be surprising as migrants self-select and those most likely to migrate and settle in the United States long term are those most likely to already have a deposition to become western.

The only measure by which Indians fail to qualify as westerners is in terms of religion. Arguably this is the least important qualifier as Judeo-Christianity is being challenged by secularism for dominance in the west. Linguistically English still enjoys a favorable position in India proper and among Indian migrants in the US. It is extremely doubtful that India will be trading its democracy for a new Mughal Empire anytime soon. As a matter of fact India is currently engaging in an five-week national election consisting of 814 million voters.

None of this should be misunderstood to mean that there are not differences among the world’s cultures. My point here is that we should emphasize similarities instead of differences when discussing immigration policy. As an argumentative tactic we should force our opponents to elaborate on what they mean by cultural differences and fight them for every inch. If they claim that Hispanics are different because they speak Spanish instead of English let us ask if they have similar views in regards to Germans. Germans are the United States’ largest ancestry group in no small part due to massive migration and various German languages still persist to this day, including Pennsylvania Dutch among the Amish people. If our opponents claim their concern is that Hispanics are primarily Catholics, ask them if they have similar views towards the Irish or ask them to elaborate on which sect of Christianity they believe the United States should adopt. Mormon?

It is well possible that our opponents will retort that they would have opposed both German and Irish migration. This is okay. If our opponents do this they will isolate those of German and Irish descent who might otherwise have been inclined to listen to them.  Ultimately the goal of public debate is not to convince an opponent but to persuade the minds of those yet undecided or who are on the fence.

Asking an opponent to elaborate on how migrants and natives are different culturally is a good tactic when an immigration debate moves away from economics and towards culture as it causes opponents to attempt to get specific without offending natives who fail to meet the prerequisites for being considered western. In comparison calling our opponents racist ends the conversation or isolates those who might otherwise be sympathetic to open borders.

When using this tactic one should attempt to make it clear that they don’t necessarily support basing migration policy on whether a group is western or not. Co-blogger Chris Hendrix has addressed this issue previously. The purpose of this tactic is to get your opponent to expend energy on detailing on what grounds migrants are different from natives culturally and to hopefully have him isolate himself.

Finally, when using this argumentative tactic one should not forget to make the economic case for open borders. Immigration debates tend to start off discussing the economics of immigration. If the open borders advocate makes a strong economic case then the debate will move onto more abstract reasons for opposing open borders, including the above concerns of cultural differences between migrants and natives. If the debate takes this turn then using the above tactic can be useful. However if the open border advocate fails to make a compelling economic case then he should not move onto other areas. This tactic should be used to supplement, not substitute, the economic case for open borders.

Thoughts on State-Based Immigration Reform

Yesterday the Cato Institute ran an event discussing a state-based approach reform with panelists Brandon Fuller (NYU Stern Urbanization Project), Reihan Salam (National Review Institute), Shikha Dalmia and moderated by Alex Nowrasteh (Cato Institute). The archived video can be found here. Regional based migration reform has been discussed previously on this blog including a discussion of Canada’s federal approach to immigration.

I must admit that I was disappointed in how the discussion developed. The panelists focused on concerns by Salam that a state-based migration system would essentially turn migrants into serfs tied to their employers. I would have preferred it if the discussion focused actions already taken by US states as it would show that Salam’s fears are unfounded.

Take for example the situation in California. Anti-migrant hysteria reached its peak in the early 90s when Proposition 187 passed and attempted to limit public services available to illegal aliens and increase domestic enforcement. Oddly enough public backlash due to the proposition lead to migrant communities, legal and illegal, to become more politically active and turn California into a sanctuary state for migrants. Last year the TRUST Act, which limits the local police forces from cooperating with federal immigration authorities unless the migrant is a violent offender or otherwise commits a major crime, was passed and signed into law by Governor Brown.  Driving licenses were also approved by the state legislature and will become available for illegal aliens in the golden state in early 2015. The California Dream Act grants state funding for those illegal aliens brought to the state as minors. At one point the state legislature even considered a bill that would grant work permits to illegal aliens working in certain sectors such as the restaurant service industry. At no point is anyone being tied to their employer.

It is true that some states have used their discretion to pass anti-migrant legislation but they’ve failed horribly. In Alabama anti-migrant state laws lead to an embarrassing incident where a Mercedes-Benz executive was locked up in jail for a minor traffic accident.  Arizona is struggling to change its public perception to appear pro-migrant after the fiasco of the Arizona Senate Bill 1070 lead to the exodus of migrants from the state and painted the copper state as bad for foreign investment. Even under the strictest state immigration policies no one is being forced into serfdom though, migrants always have the option to return home or migrate to a third country with more favorable policies. In order for Salam’s fears of serfdom to materialize migrants must be prohibited from leaving.

Some states, like Utah, have taken a middle ground by passing anti-migrant legislation similar to the Arizona bill but also passing a guest worker visa (HB 116) that would invite further migrants to the state and provide work permits for the illegal aliens already present.  The Utah bill asks that work permit holders attempt to learn English to the best of their ability, to acquire a driving license if they intend to drive in Utah, and to have health insurance unless they can prove they are not at risk of becoming a public charge. The worker permit is fully portable and can be used to work within the entire state – it even allows for permit holders to do some contract work for the state.

Salam did have a point when he brought up that some provinces in Canada were generous when it came to sponsoring migrants but failed to retain them. This is not however an argument against state based migration as it only shows that favorable immigration policies are an insufficient condition for economic prosperity if a region does not also adopt conditions favorable to growth. Easing migration policies might help cities like Detroit, but would need to be accompanied by real reforms to how they are run. In this sense pro-migrant state policies act partially as a signal that a region is serious about reforming itself.

What I truly wish the discussion would have covered is the situation in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNM). The Northern Mariana Islands are a collection of islands in the Pacific that have been held by the Spanish, Germans, and Japanese before ultimately falling in American hands following the conclusion of WW2. Instead of seeking independence the Northern Mariana islands entered into political union with the United States as a commonwealth, similar to Puerto Rico’s status. Natives of the Northern Mariana Islands possess US Citizenship and have a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. When the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands joined the US they retained some powers, including the ability to settle its own migration policy independent of federal authorities. The Northern Mariana Islands used this to create a worker program to allow migrants from neighboring regions to come and provide much needed labor for the tourism and light industry sectors. The Northern Mariana Islands proved an attractive place for business as it had access to US markets, but labor costs were cheap.

In 2008 however federal authorities decided to revoke the Northern Mariana Islands’ regional migration policy with the passage of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, which ‘federalized’ the commonwealth’s immigration system. Federal authorities and proponents of the federal take over of the commonwealth’s immigration system argued that labor conditions for migrants were poor since the CNM was exempt from the federal minimum wage. What proponents failed to realize was that migrants to the Northern Mariana Islands, which are overwhelming low skilled, were better off under such conditions than their alternatives. It is doubtful that the low-skilled workers who arrived in the CNM would have been able to migrate at all under the US’ federal immigration system.

The federal take over of the CNM’s migration system lead to a legal nightmare where many migrant workers found themselves in a limbo where they had fallen out of status through no fault of their own. At the same time economic conditions deteriorated as the islands felt the impact of the US recession.  The harm that federalization of the CNM’s migration system can be seen in its population alone. At its height the islands had a population of 70,000 but has slumped down to 50,000 (a reduction of 28.6%) after many of its workers left due to the reverse in migration policy and an economic recession worsened by the decrease in labor.

The Northern Mariana Islands are trying to do their best to handle the situation, but unfortunately are unable to do so without federal changes to the migration system.  Some pro-migrant groups are calling for a day of action on March 27 to urge temporary protected status (a status that allows migrants, regardless of current status, to remain and work in the US) to be extended to the estimated 200,000 pacific islanders residing in the United States, including those in the Northern Mariana Islands, who find themselves in this legal limbo.

The Northern Mariana Islands provide a prime example that a regional migration system can work if not hindered by federal policies but has thus far been largely ignored. With any luck further thought is put onto the issue of state-based immigration reform.

Start-Up Cities Along the Border

Open border advocates have long sought to promote open border policies in immigrant recipient countries but success has been mixed at best. Occasionally immigration policies are relaxed and sometimes they are restricted. Despite the countless energy and effort expanded, it is unclear whether the world is moving towards open borders. It may be time to consider directing efforts  towards the governments of migrant sending countries. Specifically, it may be time to lobby for the creation of start-up cities along the borders of the first world in places such as Mexico, Turkey, and Morocco.

Start-up cities are regions which remain under the jurisdiction of their host country but which are allowed a large degree of autonomy in domestic affairs and have their own independent legal and economic institutions. Start-up cities may even be allowed to operate under a different legal system than their host nation. Leading the development of start-up cities is the central American country of Honduras, which is currently setting up the framework for the creation of several start-up cities. The details of the Honduran start-up cities are still to be decided but once completed they will give Honduran citizens the opportunity to decide under which set of institutions they wish to live under.

Start-up cities are related to but distinct from charter cities, which have been discussed on the site before. Paul Romer, a Stanford Economist, first showcased his idea of charter cities on a TED talk in 2009. Romer’s charter cities though relied on help from the first world to get started up and in some variations the charter cities were administered by foreign governments. One of his examples was Canadian administration of a charter city in Cuba. Start-up cities (I take the term from Chapman University Law Professor Tom Bell), on the other hand, are initiated by and remain fully under the control of the host country. I suspect many migrants from and residents of the third world prefer the latter option. It is difficult to explain to a first world audience, but colonialism is still very much in the collective memory of the third world and anything with the trappings of colonialism will be met with heavy resistance. It is for this reason why I believe that, if they are to succeed, start-up cities will have to rely on existing overseas populations to help provide the expertise needed. This is not to say that expertise cannot be drawn from elsewhere, but it would be of great political aide nonetheless if it were perceived that start-up cities were under the control of natives.

Mexico, and other traditional emigrant countries, could pass legislation to create start-up cities that allowed its citizens to live in institutions similar to its northern neighbor, the United States, whilst still remaining in Mexican soil. Indeed countries like Mexico have a comparative advantage when it comes to creating start-up cities; they already have a large population of overseas citizens who are used to living under such institutions and therefore better able to re-create them elsewhere.

The creation of start-up cities should be favorable to all stake holders, including traditional opponents of open borders.

Migrants do not leave their homelands without reluctance. Migrants do not pack up and move their lives thousand of miles away out of whim or as a rite of passage. Migrants leave their countries of birth out of economic necessity or in order to escape  dangers to their safety. If a viable option allowed for them to continue residing in their homeland but under better institutions, many would prefer this option than migration to a foreign land.

Even migrants who have already migrated would be tempted by the lure of start-up cities in their countries of origin. Many migrants live as second or third class citizens with reduced civil liberties and limits on the economic activities they can undertake. Start up cities would enable migrants an opportunity to exert rights as fully fledged citizens and enter their elected profession with minimized legal obstacles.

Host countries should be favorable of start up-cities as it would create a wealthy region to draw tax revenues from. Start-up cities should be created in regions with low levels of populations or require that populated regions opt into them through referendum. This will ensure that minimal land disputes arise from the creation of start-up cities.

Traditional opponents of immigration should favor start-up cities as it allows them a method to rid themselves of migrants. Opponents of migration who recognize the economic value of immigration but who oppose migration out of cultural concern should favor start-up cities as a method that lets them to do business with migrants without having to live among them. Start-up cities could be created along the the border of the first world, but would be located on the third world side of the border and should therefore qualm fears by traditional opponents of migration that migration will lead to territorial losses.

Mexico is a prime candidate for the creation of start-up cities. Maquiladoras, special economic zones where Mexican labor works using capital from the United States, already litter the US-Mexican border. Maquiladoras already allow Mexicans to partially enjoy US economic institutions. Start-up cities would be a natural evolution and allow Mexicans not only to work under US institutions full time, but to live under them. Mexico also has the benefit of having a large overseas population whose expertise living under better institutions could be used to create start-up cities. Using expertise from fellow Mexicans should reduce the potential of a start-up city being mistakenly identified as an attempt to colonize the country. Mexicans would enjoy the benefits of US institutions but without reliance on US authorities to provide them. Mexico is also a prime candidate because its overseas population retains voting rights in Mexican politics and can therefore exert political pressure for the establishment of start-up cities.

Mexico is not the sole country in a favorable position for start-up cities. Turkey, with its large established overseas population in Germany and its favorable location next to the European Union is also a prime candidate as well. As is Morocco. Morocco actually presents a unique case in that it has two Spanish enclave cities, Cueta and Melilla, on its end of the sea. Both cities have high rates of illegal immigrants crossing over to enjoy Spanish institutions. The Moroccan government would do well to create start-up cities to provide better institutions for its people.

Start-up cities needn’t be located along the border of the first world. I propose this only because I believe those regions closest to the first world have a comparative advantage in regards to having overseas citizens with the knowledge necessary to recreate the desired institutions and due to geographic proximity that should favor trade.

Start-up cities are not without their flaws. Countries such as Mexico may be willing to allow start-up cities to adopt economic institutions different from the rest of country, but they may grow concerned about allowing such cities to have different political systems. Residents of start up cities may enjoy greater freedom than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, but they will still have to make certain concessions in order to appease current political elites. The current situation in Hong Kong (an example we’ve discussed before) provides us a case example of this. Hong Kong was an British settlement in China and was only transferred to Chinese authorities in 1997. British institutions allowed Hong Kong to flourish rapidly and in recognition of this the mainland government has allowed Hong Kong to retain a high degree of autonomy in its economic institutions. It has also tried to mimick the institutions that allowed Hong Kong to grow elsewhere in China through the creation of special economic zones. However it has also attempted to exert greater power over Hong Kong’s political  institutions. This suggests that the citizens of start-up cities will have to actively fight off attempts to curb their autonomy.

Start-up cities may also fail to provide the necessary institutions to all would-be migrants. Mexican nationals would benefit from the creation of start-up cities along the US border, but the Mexican government may be reluctant to allow Honduran or Guatemalans to reside in Mexico. It would be preferable if start-up cities were granted the freedom to set their own migration policies, but its unclear if this is politically possible. Hopefully the advent of start-up cities in some countries would exert pressure on other countries to follow suit.

Despite these flaws I believe that start-up cities are worth further attention by open border advocates. Efforts to convince the first world of the benefits of open borders should be continued, but it may be time to see if we can gain greater returns on our efforts by directing resources towards third world governments.

NAFTA’s Labor Agreement

Last November President Obama was heckled by pro-migrant activists demanding that his administration take action to halt deportations. The President responded that he was unable to take further steps and that this was an issue Congress had to tackle.

One wonders if the President has considered using administrative changes to ease use of the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) labor agreement.

NAFTA dealt primarily with reducing barriers in goods and services, but it also provided for a minor reduction in barriers to labor as well. Canadian and Mexican professionals may acquire the non-immigrant TN status to work and live in the United States in renewable increments of three years. The relevant text can be found in Chapter 16 of the NAFTA treaty. Only a handful of professions are covered by the status and most of them require bachelor degrees, which means that expanding the TN status would not provide much aid to lower skilled migrant-hopefuls but it would nonetheless be a move towards more open borders.

At minimum the President’s administration could seek to ease the application process for the TN status. Currently most TN status holders leave the United States in order to renew their TN status in an US consulate or embassy in their home countries. This is costly to do and many would benefit from being able to apply from within the United States. A process to apply does exist within the United States, but it is rarely exercised due to the difficulty of doing so.

The President’s administration could also seek to allow those eligible for TN status to self-apply to renew the status without the need for cooperation from their employer. The TN status is quasi-portable; when first applying a TN holder must prove that they have a job offer in the United States but can change employers in the interluding time provided they file out some paperwork. Unfortunately the need to have their employers  help them renew their status limits the portability of the status. Allowing self-petition would remove this and make the status fully portable.

TN status is currently valid for increments of three years. The President’s administration could expand this to five or ten years. During the Bush administration the status was changed from one to three years, so Obama would merely be following in his predecessors’ action.

If the President was especially ambitious he could seek to expand the list of professions covered by the TN status. Unlike other proposals here the President would have to negotiate the terms of expansion with Mexico, Canada, and Congress. President Obama is down in Mexico discuss the future of NAFTA, could it be he is already toying with the idea of using NAFTA for a broader labor agreement?

Expansion of the TN status should be an attractive route and it is surprising that both successive Presidents and open border advocates have ignored it. The TN status  is already part of the US code (Title 8 Section 214.6) and no further enabling legislation from Congress would be necessary. The President’s administration would not be creating a new status using executive order, it would merely be easing the administration process of a well established aspect of US immigration law.

Regular opponents of increased immigration would be hard pressed to argue against expanding NAFTA’s labor provisions. The President could potentially increase the list of eligible professions, but the TN status would ultimately only benefit skilled workers. There is plenty of rhetoric against unskilled migrants, but it is rare to find the same passion against skilled migrants. The TN status does not provide a pathway to citizenship to its holder and therefore denies its holder the possibility of benefiting from most US welfare programs or voting. The types of migrants that come under the TN status are the most favorable ones; well educated middle income professionals who are here to do business.

Easing use of the NAFTA’s labor agreement could not easily be portrayed as misuse either. NAFTA was meant to reduce trade barriers between the US, Canada and Mexico. Both the letter and spirit of NAFTA would be carried out by easing the application process for the TN status. Is it fateful that the trade treaty celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

The TN status has no numerical caps. Mexican applicants were numerically capped at its inception, but said cap was removed in 2004. Increasing the number of TN status holders would not reduce the number of visas available elsewhere and should not cause any significant backlogging of other visa applications.

In 2012 733,692 individuals were admitted into the US under TN status, mostly for short periods. Only a relative few reside in the United States for significant portions of time.

Source: DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2012

No labor certification process is required for those applying for the TN status.  The low number of TN status holders relative to the supply of potential applicants suggests that the administration is being stringent in who it grants the TN status to. It also implies that many more individuals could TN status if the President’s administration eased its application procedures.

If done properly an extension of NAFTA’s labor provisions could lead to the the three member nations agreeing to reform the treaty to include lower skilled labor as well or possibly extending NAFTA membership to the Caribbean and Central America countries. These would all be marginal moves, but they may wet  things enough for a slippery slope towards open borders in the long run.