Immigration Reality Check
Immigration seems to be the topic of the moment. Jon Henke continues his usual habit of bursting bubbles on the right and left by pointing out the incentive problems of the US-Mexico immigration situation that are simply not going to go away:
Sure, we could begin a supply-side "war on illegals" — round em up, ship em back and secure the borders. But that's a fantasy. We'll never "secure" the borders. We can police it and we might reduce the flow to some extent, but humans ingenuity is a remarkable thing. So long as the incentives are there, people will find a way around any policing effort we might mount. (How's that War on Drugs working out so far?)
And unlike interdiction efforts in the War on Drugs, we just catch and release illegal immigrants to try again the next day. So, no, a supply-side program won't help much at all — and, on net, it will hurt. ...
The only possible domestic solution to illegal immigration is to deal with the demand side — i.e., to impose very significant fines and jail terms on people who employ illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, the War on Drugs again gives us some insight into the problems with demand-side enforcement. We'll end up with onerous and liberty-destroying government surveillance of employers, federally mandated IDs and background checks for US citizens, and people going to jail for hiring insufficiently-investigated immigrants. And god forbid you pay an undocumented worker to mow the yard or clean the house.
Jon also points out what I hinted at in the last sentence of my earlier post: there is a direct conflict of incentives between labour policies generally favoured by lefties and efforts to discourage off-the-books hiring of illegal immigrants. Hiring illegals carries risk for businesses, but the risks are outweighed by what they save on the costs of employing them without the regulatory burden. Liberals who want to discourage the exploitation of illegals and conservatives who want immigrants to play by the same rules as everyone else ought to be campaigning for less onerous labour market regulation. This would be much more likely to achieve the desired effect with much less cost than attacking the symptom rather than the fundamental incentive structure.
Not that I expect to see such a change of focus anytime soon, but I guess political infeasibility is the price you pay for getting to the heart of the matter.