Tag Archives: subsidiarity

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.

Joseph Carens on the ethics of immigration: part 2

This is a continuation of an earlier post where I began discussing The Ethics of Immigration by Joseph Carens (Oxford University Press, 2013). The item numbering continues from the previous post.

#7: Reasonable accommodations by and for migrants

Chapter 4 of Carens’ book covers an aspect of migration that is related to, but at the same time largely orthogonal to, the question of open borders. Specifically, Carens considers what reasonable accommodations migrants and non-migrants should ideally make for each other for harmonious living. Much of this discussion is not specifically related to migration policy or even to politics — though people with an expansive view of the state’s role would infer many political prescriptions from it, those of a more libertarian or voluntaryist nature could simply consider these as soft guidelines for the actions of individuals and organizations.

Importantly, Carens argues the following (the summary presented below is my own — Carens does not list these points together the way I’m doing — and therefore the act of summarizing may reflect to a large extent my own judgment of what is most important):

  • He argues that the democratic ethos goes beyond majority rule, to reasonable accommodation of people’s differences where possible. Such reasonable accommodation is not simply limited to non-violation of people’s legally guaranteed basic rights, but also to not making people unduly uncomfortable or inconveniencing them without appropriate justification. To some extent, this involves migrants accommodating the beliefs and adjusting to the conventions of the majority, even when it conflicts with their personal religious or cultural beliefs. At the same time, non-migrants also have a responsibility to make reasonable accommodations towards migrants where this does not impose huge costs.
  • Generally, Carens says, it is reasonable to expect migrants to do most of the adjusting — after all, they are the ones who chose to move. For instance, they may be expected to acquire (and provide to their children) a working familiarity with the main language of the region, follow the rules of the road, and be respectful to the dress choices and habits of natives. Carens argues that in prcatice, migrants do do most of the adjusting. At the same time, there is a nonzero level of responsibility (in the loose sense) for non-migrants to accommodate migrant preferences. For instance, he argues, natives should not be critical of migrants for talking in the non-native language when conversing among themselves in public, though they may have a reasonable expectation that migrants will attempt to converse in the native language when interacting with natives.
  • Carens argues in favor of being flexible to make exceptions to general rules. He is critical of the idea that rules must be enforced rigidly on everybody, and also opposes the ideal of formal equality. He cites the example of holidays here. In a country influenced heavily by Christianity (even if people are not devoutly Christian), Sunday is likely the day off for most businesses. This works best for Christians who attend Sunday services. For Muslims or Jews, whose religious observances are on Friday and Saturday respectively, this could pose an inconvenience. Carens rejects the option of: (a) a formal “equality” where the holiday date is shifted to a completely unrelated day, such as Tuesday, to be “fair” between religions, or (b) making all three days holidays (insofar as that might not be economically feasible). However, he argues that businesses and institutions can show some flexibility to their employees who hold the alternative religious beliefs, for instance, by giving Muslims a few hours off on Friday. There are no hard-and-fast rules here — the type of accommodation would depend on the employer and employee, but the general principle should be one of looking for possible accommodations.

Here is a quote from Carens:

The challenge for this chapter is to say something about the sort of democratic ethos that is needed in a political community if citizens of immigrant origin are to be fully included . Here a caution is in order. In public discussions of immigration, it is a recurring theme that immigrants and their descendants should accept democratic values and practice democratic virtues. Suitably qualified, that is a reasonable expectation, as we shall see. But an equally reasonable and perhaps more important expectation is that other citizens also accept democratic values and practice democratic virtues . All too often, the assumption seems to be that the majority of citizens already possess the values and virtues that are needed for a democracy to function properly. But that is frequently not the case. Democratic principles require the inclusion of immigrants, and the inclusion of immigrants requires the majority of citizens to embrace the implications of the principles and values that they profess. This will often entail developing attitudes and dispositions that many citizens do not yet exhibit, at least in the requisite degree. I will say more about these requirements as the chapter proceeds. People sometimes speak of the need for democratic states to engage in a more “muscular” assertion of their values and to demand adherence to those values from people living in their societies. If that is indeed what is called for, a lot more of the muscle should be applied to the nonimmigrant majority of citizens than is commonly acknowledged.

Carens, Joseph (2013-09-19). The Ethics of Immigration (Oxford Political Theory) (p. 64). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

#8: Communitarian versus contractarian views of citizenship

Carens makes a theoretically deep point about communitarian and contractarian views of citizenship. In most political philosophizing (cf. social contract theory), the set of people (citizens) is fixed in advance, and their relationship and mutual obligations with the state are considered in that context. Carens believes that bringing migration into the picture helps us step back. We see that citizenship is not really the fundamental source of moral or social obligation, but a consequence — a formalization of a particular level of connection with the community. Carens says that social membership precedes citizenship — that citizenship (or the right thereto) is a consequence of being a part of the community, rather than a formal grant of citizenship creating a right to such a community. Carens also emphasizes the idea that social membership matters morally.

This is important because Carens uses it as a basis (implicitly — he pieces the theory together after examining all the individual cases) for arguing about why people are entitled to citizenship. People such as:

  • children born to citizens, permanent residents, or temporary workers, or even to irregular migrants (his word for illegal/undocumented) who are staying long enough,
  • anybody who’s stayed for a few years as a child,
  • anybody who’s stayed long enough as an adult.

He also argues that levels of social membership aren’t in the binary category of citizen versus non-citizen. Permanent residents who have enough roots to call the place their home deserve most of the same rights as citizens, including the right to return and the right against deportation, even if they haven’t lived long enough to become citizens. He also argues (alluded to in earlier points) that most laws should be the same for temporary workers and irregular migrants. Some exceptions he makes:

  1. Temporary workers may be exempted (optionally or mandatorily) from work-related social programs, and for a limited period (maybe the first couple months) ineligible for welfare or unemployment insurance. He says that if temporary workers are required to participate in work-related social insurance programs (so as not to make them cheaper to employers than permanent employers) the non-redistributive component of the program (i.e., the part that they would in expectation get paid back were they to stay longer) should be returned to them on their departure. What he’s suggesting seems to be a lot like my co-blogger Nathan Smith’s DRITI — except he’s using existing social insurance taxes rather than adding a new set of taxes.
  2. Some restrictions on employment opportunities for irregular migrants.
  3. Non-permanent residents may be barred from government offices that involve sensitive matters of national security.

The communitarian approach followed by Carens is different in focus from Steve Sailer’s preferred foundation for citizenism. Sailer defines citizenism as the doctrine that government policy should be biased in favor of current citizens and their descendants. Now, to be clear, Sailer, like many citizenists, does consider community loyalty and ties to be an important component of citizenship — hence his proposal that prospective immigrants be required to spend 100 hours doing community service outside of their ethnic group in order to receive citizenship. But Sailer, and citizenist restrictionists at large, view community belonging as a necessary but not sufficient condition for a non-citizen to become a citizen. Carens thinks that being a part of the community for a sufficient length of time — without having done anything special (such as Sailer’s community service proposal) for it per se — entitles one to citizenship.

#9: Firewalling government services from immigration enforcement

Carens argues that for irregular migrants, all of their basic human rights (protection of life, liberty, etc.) should apply in theory and in practice. His suggestion for making sure they apply in practice: establish a firewall between all agencies tasked with protecting basic human rights or basic services, and the immigration enforcement. In other words, these agencies are required not to report any information about irregular migration status to immigration enforcement authorities, and any information that is reported via these agencies cannot be treated as evidence. He points out precedents:

  • There are restrictions on the information that the Internal Revenue Service can share with immigration enforcement agencies in the United States, though it’s unclear how strongly these restrictions apply in practice (see here).
  • Some “sanctuary cities” in the United States, such as San Francisco, have policies of the sort Carens advocates.
  • There are rules in criminal cases that evidence collected through illicit means cannot be used, and similar rules can apply in immigration cases.

Carens also says that the children of irregular migrants should have the right to a free public education, just as the children of temporary workers do (this is conditional to such a right existing for citizens, but Carens assumes that that follows from “democratic principles”).

Carens also says that after people have resided for some length of time, they become part of the society, and should be regularized. He suggests 5 years as the length of time after which people deserve to be regularized as permanent long-term residents. This applies both to temporary workers on a regular migration status and to irregular migrants.

So what can governments do to enforce the status quo? Carens says that border security would be acceptable in principle — provided it can be done in a way that doesn’t add to human tragedy (border-crossing deaths, etc.), but that often the human toll of border security makes it unacceptable. But his main proposal is the restrictionist favorite of attrition through enforcement: heavy penalties for employers who hire irregular migrants. He has an interesting twist though: if an employer has hired an irregular migrant, that particular migrant has a right to the wages for that worker and to legal recourse if the wages are denied (and the enforcement of this legal recourse channel has a firewall with immigration enforcement). Also, he says that employers should not be allowed to report their own workers’ irregular status.

Carens offers one argument in favor of blaming employers: they are part of the society, so they can be held to the standard of the laws of that society, whereas migrants aren’t part of the social contract. Nonetheless, I find his arguments unconvincing. Why single out employers as the one group to be punished, while doing the very opposite — firewalling — for all the other groups? Carens says that if immigrants aren’t able to find employment, they’re likely to leave (the attrition-through-enforcement idea) but this applies to housing, and plausibly to education for children, and other services Carens thinks should be firewalled. Carens arguably sees the right to work as somehow less fundamental than all the other rights, at least when he’s putting on his status quo hat, and this seems reminiscent of anti-market bias.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where I’ll look at the case Carens makes for family reunification and reforming the system for refugee asylum and resettlement.

Can Open Borders Save Detroit and Other Ailing Cities?

The American city of Detroit is in terrible shape.  An online piece in The New York Times by Joseph Stiglitz summarizes its ills: “… 40 percent of streetlights were not working this spring, tens of thousands of buildings are abandoned, schools have closed and the population declined 25 percent in the last decade alone. The violent crime rate last year was the highest of any big city. In 1950, when Detroit’s population was 1.85 million, there were 296,000 manufacturing jobs in the city; as of 2011, with a population of just over 700,000, there were fewer than 27,000.”  The city government filed for bankruptcy in July.

Witold Rybczynski of the University of Pennsylvania has described the negative impact of depopulation on cities:When a city loses population, it loses residents, but keeps the same amount of infrastructure. The same streets must be policed and maintained, the same streetlights repaired, the same water and sewer systems operated, the same transit systems run. It is like an (impoverished) elderly couple having to keep up a large house after all the kids have grown up and moved out.  This imbalance has several deleterious effects. Because the city has fewer taxpayers, the quality of its municipal services goes down. For example, police response time to 911 calls in Detroit is currently said to be 58 minutes. It expends scarce resources on nonproductive uses; Philadelphia pays $20 million a year just to maintain 40,000 vacant properties. Moreover, because urban vitality depends on density, without an adequate concentration of people, corner stores close, streets become empty — and dangerous — and abandoned buildings become haunts for criminal activities. According to a 1973 study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the tipping point in a community occurs when only 3 percent to 6 percent of properties are blighted; many neighborhoods of shrinking cities passed that point decades ago.”

Mr. Rybczynski, like Detroit’s outgoing mayor, advocates “planned shrinkage” of Detroit.  Declaring that “Detroit has no other realistic option,” he suppports  “consolidation,” in which people living in underpopulated areas of the city move to other parts of the city.  City services to the abandoned areas are then discontinued.  Mr. Rybczynski states that “Experience has shown that voluntary displacement of residents is unlikely to succeed, and some version of eminent domain with regard to nonviable neighborhoods is required.”

In contrast, others have offered immigration as a solution to Detroit’s problems.  Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s outgoing mayor, has stated that “if I were the federal government… Assuming you could wave a magic wand and pull everybody together, you pass a law letting immigrants come in as long as they agree to go to Detroit and live there for five or ten years, start businesses, take jobs, whatever.  You would populate Detroit overnight because half the world wants to come here… You can use something like immigration policy – at no cost to the federal government – to fix a lot of the problems that we have.”  Similarly, the Boston Globe’s Leon Neyfakh calls attention to proposals for “…‘regional visas’ that would open up additional slots for newcomers but limit them to specific destinations within the United States, while giving state and local officials a role in deciding how many immigrants—and which ones—to let in. Under this system, states that want to attract more foreign workers could do so, and perhaps even target people with the kinds of skills and training that local businesses are looking for… many parts of the country–especially depopulated cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh–would love to welcome motivated new residents.” (John Lee has noted that Canada allows its provinces to issue immigrant visas.)

In fact, in Detroit and other depopulated cities, there are currently active efforts to attract immigrants.  Organizations in Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis are seeking immigrants to help their economies.   For example, the non-profit Global Cleveland focuses “on regional economic development through actively attracting and retaining newcomers (defined as ‘immigrants and international and domestic individuals’)…”  The goal of the St. Louis Mosaic Project is to have “the fastest immigration growth of any big city in the U.S. by 2020.”  In Dayton, Ohio, the city itself “… voted to make the city “immigrant friendly,”  with programs to attract newcomers and encourage those already here, as a way to help stem job losses and a drop in population.”   (These efforts recall similar ones in 19th century America.  Maldwyn Jones, in American Immigration, notes that “After 1865… practically every northwestern state and territory from Wisconsin to Oregon embarked upon a policy of encouraging immigration.” (p. 188)  Mr. Jones explains that states sought immigrants because “… they were anxious to dispose of their unsold lands, and they recognized that increased population was essential to material growth.” (p. 187))

There is evidence to support the efforts of these local entities and those who propose regional visas. The key findings of the recently released report “Immigration and the Revival of American Cities” are that immigrants create and preserve manufacturing jobs, increase housing wealth, and make the areas they populate more attractive to U.S. citizens, who follow in response. (pp. 2-3)  The study “shows that immigrants are more than just our neighbors; they’re a key part of the way local areas grow and thrive.” (p. 3)  Likewise, in his report “The Economic Impact of Immigration on St. Louis,” Jack Strauss of St. Louis University concludes that “there is one clear and specific way to simultaneously redress the region’s population stagnation, output slump, tepid employment growth, housing weakness and deficit in entrepreneurship – Immigration. This report provides considerable economic evidence and statistical analysis using U.S. Census data that increasing immigration will significantly raise employment and income growth as well as boost real wages in the St. Louis region. An influx of foreign-born could reverse the region’s housing prices declines and lower unemployment rates for both whites and African Americans in our region.” (p. 3)   (In a previous post of mine, Mr. Strauss’s research showing the positive impact of Latino immigration on African Americans was noted)  In Dayton, immigrants have “have started restaurants and shops, as well as trucking companies to ferry equipment for a nearby Air Force base. And they have used their savings to refurbish houses in north Dayton, where Turkish leaders estimated that they had invested $30 million so far, including real estate, materials purchases and the value of their labor.”

Adding a regional visa category to the current immigration system would allow additional people to legally immigrate to the United States.  Moreover, they would enter communities where many would welcome them.  However, from an open borders advocate’s perspective, there are downsides to a regional visa category.  First, it would be limited numerically.  Second, it would limit the freedom of immigrants to live where they want during the period of regional residency that probably would be required under the visas.

But would open borders provide the immigrants Detroit and other depopulated cities need for revival?  It is conceivable that even with increased immigration flows under an open borders policy, newcomers would go to areas of the country which are thriving, bypassing Detroit and similar cities; open borders doesn’t offer the control over immigrants‘ destinations as a regional visa program would.  However, there are factors that would lead at least some of the flow to Detroit and similar cities.  First, of course, is the increased flow itself.  If only a small portion of new immigrants went to these cities, their immigrant populations could be boosted substantially.  Second, there are the aforementioned functioning compaigns to attract immigrants to these localities.  Third, these areas may attract immigrants by offering a lower cost of living than more successful cities.

If needy cities didn’t receive enough immigrants under open borders, the federal government could provide additional incentives.  These might include an accelerated path to citizenship (based on an idea from Mr. Bloomberg) for immigrants who live in these cities for a certain number of years and, should an open borders system be established involving surtaxes on immigrants’ wages, relief from these taxes for immigrants while they reside in these areas.  (Unlike  under a regional visa system, failure to comply with residency requirements would mean not deportation but a longer path to citizenship and/or higher taxes.  Immigrants would be free to move to a different part of the country at any time.)  Local, state, and/or federal governments could also arrange for newcomers, whether immigrants or American-born, to take possession of abandoned housing on the condition that they restore such housing.

Another consideration is that, by supplying a larger supply of immigrants, an open borders policy would prevent a situation in which localities compete with each other to attract people from relatively small pool of immigrants (those already in the U.S., the limited number of immigrants allowed in through the current system, and, potentially, a number of regional visa immigrants).  There would be enough immigrants to revive ailing communities throughout the country.

With open borders Detroit and other cities can be revitalized without having to compromise the freedom of immigrants to choose where they want to live, without localities having to compete over a small number of immigrants, and without adding a new layer of rules for regional visas on the current labyrinthine immigration legal system.  At the same time, the enthusiasm in these cities for attracting immigrants as a tool for urban renewal aids the open borders cause.  Open borders will be attained not only through rigorous ethical arguments but also through a recognition by the native-born population that immigration is not a threat but an opportunity.

Canadian federalism applied to immigration

Bloomberg has an interesting piece today arguing that Canada shows the US a way forward on immigration policy: states should be allowed to sponsor any immigrant they like. Obviously there are reasonable bounds: the Canadian federal government performs basic health and criminal background checks on prospective immigrants. But beyond that, any province of Canada can invite anyone it likes to settle in it, up to a federally-determined quota.

The appeal of this is that states which don’t want immigrants don’t have to use their quotas. An interesting question is whether immigrants might settle in another state and later on internally migrate to more restrictive states, and the piece doesn’t address this. But given that people tend not to want to immigrate to areas that demonstrate they don’t welcome immigrants, I see no reason to believe this would be a major problem.

The other main point made is that this presents a tidy solution to the problem of determining how to handle skilled versus unskilled labour: there are no guest worker visas, and rather each province invites immigrants based on its own needs. In the US case, I take this to mean that New York would probably invite plenty of high-skilled finance workers, while Idaho might invite potato farmers.

A problem I see with this is that this doesn’t consider the fact that “guest worker” situations might apply reasonably well to some people. It’s quite common to want to work in another country for a few years, without actually desiring to settle there. One could just as easily make provision for states to sponsor easily-renewable work visas, in addition to regular immigrant visas.

In spite of this, it seems to me that Canada is on the right track: giving provinces a stake in immigration policy gives their governments additional levers to pull to support their economic and social progress. While the federal model may not work for all countries, those organised under a federal system of government should at least consider adoption of the Canadian model of state-sponsored immigration.