On September 14, the latest partisan battle raging over illegal immigration escalated when Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis sent two planeloads of undocumented Venezuelan immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a left-leaning enclave situated off the coast of Massachusetts.
This followed Governors Greg Abbot (R-TX) and Doug Ducey (R-AZ), who’ve bussed thousands of illegal immigrants in their respective states to New York, Chicago, and other “sanctuary” cities.
DeSantis’ communications director Taryn Fenske argued that, “states like Massachusetts, New York, and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as 'sanctuary states.’”
Left-leaning immigration advocates countered by calling DeSantis and his fellow governors’ actions cruel and appalling political stunts that preyed upon the misfortunate to garner support among nationalists in their base.
To be certain, the battle over immigration has festered for decades. And there are fundamental philosophical differences across party lines. Nonetheless, both Democrats and Republicans share in the blame for what has become an untenable hodgepodge of bizarre rules and regulations that do little but confuse all stakeholders.
To call this regrettable would be an understatement. Immigration will be an increasingly important driver in determining whether our demographics remain conducive to economic vibrancy. Sensible reform is long overdue and desperately needed. Unfortunately, like most hot button issues before us, lawmakers have strong opinions on immigration but a weak understanding of the overly granular rules and regulations that underpin an unsustainable status quo many of them helped create. To that end, let us first (try) and clarify some of them.
There are three ways to enter the United States, legally, illegally, and via birthright.
To lawfully immigrate to America, a subject can obtain an immigrant visa, commonly referred to as a “green card”. A green card can be renewed forever, allows for unrestricted permanent employment, and provides a legal pathway to become an American citizen.
There are six main categories of green cards. Most green cards issued by the U.S government are family-based. The rules are convoluted but in short, if you are a relative of a family member who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you could be eligible for a family based green card.
The second most granted green card is employment based. There are five sub-categories of employment based green cards. Four of them (EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, and EB-4) pertain to specific skill sets of the applicant; their employer may need to sponsor their application. An EB-5 employment based green card can potentially be obtained subject to certain limitations if a foreign investor is willing to inject $500,000 - $1,000,000 into a job creating business or venture. Worth nothing, an employment based green card is different from an Employment Authorization Document, commonly known as a “work permit”. Work permits are not green cards. They are typically granted to foreign spouses of American citizens so they can work in the United States while their family based green card applications are being processed.
The other types of green cards are, Humanitarian, Diversity lottery, Longtime-resident and Other. Humanitarian green cards are issued to refugees and people seeking political asylum, victims of human-trafficking, or other related crimes. Diversity lottery green cards are granted to winners of a randomly selected lottery of 50,000 people per year from qualified nations with low immigration rates to America. Longtime-resident green cards may be granted to individuals who entered the United States – legally or illegally - prior to 1972 and have not left since. Other green cards can be issued for various reasons including but not limited to foreign nationals who assist the U.S. government, members of the media, and religious workers.
In lieu of a green card or immigrant visa, a subject can obtain a temporary visa or “nonimmigrant visa.” A temporary visa can typically be renewed subject to various restrictions and allows the subject to work, study, and live in the United States for several years. The most common temporary visa is the F-1 student visa. These are relatively easy to obtain but are not valid in perpetuity.
In theory, it appears from the information above that if a subject wants a green card, all they must do is discern which one to get, go through the application process, and wait for one to be issued. In practice, this is not the case. Green cards are not easy to procure. Discerning which one to apply for usually requires the help of an immigration attorney or specialist. Furthermore, many people are ineligible for a green card. Some reasons for ineligibility make good sense, others make no sense. Finally, if somebody qualifies for a green card, obtaining one is a long, complicated, and expensive undertaking that has no assurance of success.
Another way to (legally) enter America is in a pregnant woman’s belly and be born in the United States. Regardless if the mother is a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen - tourist or illegal immigrant - if her offspring is born in the United States, her baby is automatically granted U.S. citizenship. The simple reason for this is because it is the law: “Pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment and the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) a person born within and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States automatically acquires U.S. citizenship, known as jus soli ("right of the soil").”
Supporters of birthright argue the issue is settled as a matter of law. Detractors argue the law is grossly outdated and encourages illegal immigration and birth tourism.
The scope of data and interlocking themes pertaining to illegal immigration are enormous. Here are but a few key facts:
Historically, Mexicans comprised the largest percentage of migrants trying to enter America. However, their numbers have markedly decreased. Over the last few years, the number of Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and El Salvadorian migrants have significantly increased, in large part to escape violence and instability in those respective nations. There has also been a marked uptick in the number of Venezuelans trying to enter America illegally, courtesy of their president Nick Maduros' ruinous socialist and oppressive policies.
The U.S. has over 300 official ports of entry; migrants do not typically enter through them. A tiny minority of illegal immigrants cross into America via Canada and the coasts; essentially, all the rest arrive via the southern border. Exactly how many people cross illegally into the U.S. is a subject of intense debate; many migrants successfully evade authorities. Regarding official data, the U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s (USCBP) fiscal year (FY) ends in September, timely for comparative purposes.
In 2022, there were over 2,000,000 recorded apprehensions along the border, the most ever recorded. In FY ’21 there were ~1.65 million. FY ’20 (~450,000) was heavily skewed because of COVID. In FY ’19, there were ~859,000 apprehensions, ~400,00 in FY ’18, and 310,000 in FY ’17. As mentioned above, some migrants slip into America and avoid apprehension. The Biden administration estimates that in FY ‘21, ~400,000 migrants avoided detection. Critics contend that is a massive undercount.
Often, migrants actively seek out and surrender to Border Patrol. Sometimes border patrol agents will allow migrants to walk across pedestrian bridges from Mexico to the U.S to facilitate a non-confrontational passage. Officials separate migrants, often by nationality, to manage the process more efficiently.
Children without a parent or guardian are sent to special designated areas. Currently, adult migrants from Mexico and other nations in Central America can be expelled under Title 42, a rule implemented during COVID that allows for “removals by the U.S. government of persons who have recently been in a country where a communicable disease was present.”
Many other migrants are allowed to enter the United States while their cases are processed.
Immigration advocates argue that Title 42 should be lifted because Covid has morphed from pandemic to endemic. Critics argue that if and when Title 42 is ended, it will embolden yet even more migrants to attempt to enter the U.S. illegally.
There is a dearth of resources from lawyers, judges, and support staff to deal with record numbers of migrants trying to enter America. The result is a massive backlog of cases. Removal proceedings / asylum hearings can and often take years. Some migrants are now “living” in tent-cities under highways and bridges in Texas. The hundreds of thousands of migrants that evade authorities almost never have their cases adjudicated.
Dreamers are illegal immigrants who were brought to America as children. There are ~3.6 million dreamers currently residing in the U.S. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was a policy implemented by the Obama administration that protected dreamers from deportation and allowed them to seek formal employment.
Currently, ~616,000 dreamers are protected under DACA. DACA’s legality has been challenged in court multiple times. In 2021, a district judge ruled that DACA is illegal. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was barred from accepting any more DACA applications. The 2021 ruling is currently under appeal. A decision is expected later this year. In the interim, millions of dreamers are caught in legal limbo for no fault of their own.
Immigration hawks argue that the Biden administration’s passive – some would say incoherent – policies at America’s southern border have encouraged a record number of migrants to try their hand at illegally immigrating. Doves counter that the primary drivers are rapidly deteriorating socio-economic factors, especially in central America. In our view, both factors matter.
At TQC, we are strong proponents of legal immigration. This nation was founded on immigration and inter-state mobility of human capital. Furthermore, the fertility rate in the United States is now < what it needs to be to keep our population stable (2.1 babies per woman) and ensure we have enough young, working citizens to support a growing proportion of retirees. Immigrants can, have always, and should continue to fill an important void.
We agree with almost all liberals and many moderates who argue that we must carve out and establish a pathway for citizenship for dreamers who are law-abiding contributors to society. They were brought to America as children and had no choice in the matter. To deny them the right to citizenship keeps them from realizing their dreams, maximizing their skillsets, and helping to make America a better place for everybody. To deport them would be inhumane and serve no good purpose.
(For dreamers who commit certain crimes and or egregious offenses, deportation should be an option.)
We are aligned with many on the right who argue that jus soli ("right of the soil") encourages tourist babies, chain migration, and is outdated in a world of relatively cheap travel and mobility of people. We acknowledge and respect the current rule of law but think sensible reform is long overdue and desperately needed.
We agree with many on the left who make the compelling – and legal - argument that migrants have the right to claim political asylum. Furthermore, if a family is willing to walk ~3,000 miles from Honduras or El Salvador, nations plagued with gang violence, kidnappings, rampant corruption and general lawlessness - we must ask ourselves, things have to be pretty oppressive if migrants would risk being robbed, raped, killed or having their children snatched from their arms to get away from their reality and for the chance to claim political asylum in the United States.
Some conservatives rightfully point out that regardless of how one feels about it, fleeing drug cartels, corrupt governments, violence, and poverty are not typically grounds for being granted political asylum. And we agree with many right-of-center folks that argue we cannot simply open our borders and allow undocumented migrants to flow in unchecked. Doing so creates a never-ending cascade of people trying to enter our country; many with dubious asylum claims, a few of them dangerous criminals.
Not surprisingly, the reaction to Ron DeSantis sending undocumented Venezuelans on a charter flight to Martha’s Vineyard was split among political lines, even amongst Venezuelans themselves.
In an article posted on nbcnews.com, Patricia Andrade, founder of Raices Venezolanas, a nonprofit in Miami that helps Venezuelan refugees, said she sympathizes with the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard but thought DeSantis’ action highlighted an issue “the Biden administration does not want to take on.”
Jose Colina, a former Venezuelan army officer who now runs a Miami-based organization called Veppex that helps Venezuelans, called DeSantis’s action a “political stunt.” To be fair, he conceded that prior to the flights he and many others were trying to get the DHS more involved in the plights of Venezuelan migrants, but his inquiries fell on deaf ears.
We agree with the arguments made by many Dems, that what Ron DeSantis and the governors of Texas and Arizona did were indeed political stunts and might very well have been inhumane if the migrants were forced onto buses and planes against their will. And while it probably will not lead to much, we do not take issue with Dems calling for the Justice Department to investigate the flights to Martha’s Vineyard.
However, we think the responses from many on the left were disproportionate and hypocritical, to say the least. Indeed, if 50 migrants on a plane to Martha’s Vineyard constitutes a “humanitarian crisis,” what about thousands of migrants living in filthy, disease infested tent cities under highways and bridges in Texas? And if that also constitutes a humanitarian crisis, why are so few Dems tweeting about it?
Authorities in GOP lead states in the south have tried to marshal federal resources because they are completely overwhelmed by record numbers of illegal immigrants. Democrats were quick to highlight the actions of DeSantis, Abbot, Ducey as inhumane – and perhaps they were - but are slow to criticize a Democratic lead federal government for not providing affected states with adequate resources to deal with migrants living in inhumane conditions.
Additionally, we find it ironic that calls are being made to investigate the flights to Martha’s Vineyard, but not the flights the Biden administration coordinated to send undocumented migrants to “sanctuary locations.” Should those flights not be investigated by the Justice Department too?
Supply Chain Shortages
What to do about illegal immigration is an extremely sensitive balancing act that requires malleable policies with checks and balances and the safety and benefits of migrants and most of all American citizens in mind. This is much easier said than done. That said, a plethora of foolish policies are exacerbating a difficult situation.
In the United States it is far too difficult to immigrate legally. However, if one manages to do so, a legal immigrant can easily establish him or herself, find work, pay taxes, and make positive contributions to society that are mutually beneficial to everybody. In the United States it is far too easy to immigrate illegally. However, once here, regardless of one’s intention, it is exceedingly difficult for an illegal immigrant to enter the formal economy. This is a recipe for dysfunction and a gross misallocation of human capital.
First or second-generation immigrants founded ~half of the companies in the Fortune 500. These include Google, eBay, Tesla, Intel, McDonalds, Merck, and many more recognizable brands. Furthermore, almost 30% of small businesses were started by immigrants. Unfortunately, legally immigrating to America has become so problematic that it discourages some of the brightest, job-creating minds in the world – the people who will start the next Google or Intel – to pick America as their destination of choice.
Simultaneously, the United States is desperately short of labor. Demographic projections suggest this issue will become even more acute in the future. According to Goldman Sachs, ~50% of small businesses said finding workers was their biggest problem. In fact, ~33% of small businesses said finding employees has gotten more difficult in just the last few months.
A few days ago, the WSJ penned an article highlighting the challenges many small businesses are having finding employees. The Journal pointed out that ~60% of small business owners say that “worker shortages are affecting their ability to operate at full capacity.” The article underscored the issues of Boudreau Pipeline Corporation in California.
Boudreau Pipeline installs underground utility and related equipment. Recently Boudreau had to turn down 13 million dollars of work because it does not have enough staff. Its CEO Alan Boudreau said he could easily hire 50 more people. In other examples, Vladimir Gendelman, CEO of Company Folders in Michigan said he eliminated the need for a college degree for employment at his firm and still cannot fill all his openings. Lindsay Goodson of McDonald Plumbing in Massachusetts is short of plumbers.
It is not just small companies that are short of labor. TQC recently spoke to a CEO of a publicly traded heavy manufacturer situated in the Midwest. He emphasized that he is desperately short of welders: middle income jobs with good benefits and potential for promotions.
In America, we have millions of open jobs. Many are well paying jobs that do not require a formal education. In America, we also have millions of illegal immigrants who are willing and able to work but are essentially prohibited from legally doing so. They exist in a cash only, unbanked, underground economy where they cannot legally be hired, cannot pay into the system, and nobody fully benefits.
In short, we must streamline the process and make it easier and encourage people who want to come to America legally. We must make it more difficult, discourage, and have severe consequences for people who come to America illegally. However, for the migrants that are already here illegally, we must make it easier for them to enter the formal economy while their cases are being processed so they can more easily contribute to, and integrate into, society (most want too). Right now, we do the exact opposite.