Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A New Strategy for Immigration Reform?

Although immigration has always been an issue, it usually finds its place on the back burner of politics until a particular incident pushes it to the front burner where it explodes with vitriol and emotion. The passage of the new Arizona immigration law has accomplished exactly that. The cry of racism and unconstitutionality fill the air in Arizona not necessarily because of the language of the bill, but because of how people believe that language will be applied. Most of the cries pertain to the potential of racial profiling against those of the Latino community. Sadly the first thing people need to understand is that the new Arizona law may seem like it is targeting those of a Latino background because it needs to. A vast majority of illegal immigrants in this country are Latino. It is simple fact. A problem is that most people are missing the simple reality that most of the time authorities rely on secondary crime to enforce illegal immigration laws (once the individual successfully enters the country illegally). Being an illegal immigrant is a passive violation of the law. However, it is still a violation of the law despite a number of people, especially Latinos in a state of blind ethnic pride, seemingly omitting this simple fact from the issue of immigration.

Therefore because just being an illegal immigrant is a passive crime this can lead people to excuse it as something that is not important, especially when the popular phrase ‘they are just doing it to make a better life for them and/or their family’ is trotted out. In reality an illegal immigrant can be equated to an embezzler. Illegal immigrants are frequent users of social services, yet do not pay taxes or any other form of reimbursement for those services, thus any value they receive from these social services is stolen. Illegal immigrants are thieves and legitimate criminals regardless of the passive nature of their crimes. Anyone that rejects this premise is wrong. Not surprisingly the embezzler analogy works also in relation to social feeling. Society rarely views embezzlement as a serious crime and generally treats those convicted of it with kid gloves.

The chief problem with the enforcement of pro-active immigration laws is that as long as the illegal immigrant remains passive in his/her violation of the law (not acting illegally beyond being an illegal immigrant) it is very difficult for law enforcement to detain these individuals outside of a probable cause raid on a place of employment. Large-scale raids against employers is accomplished through fact gathering and information processing which makes acquiring the necessary probable cause doable without undue violations to the 4th, 5th or 14th Amendments. However, the ability to generate a probable cause argument against individuals that are not committing crimes or acting in a highly suspicious manner (something which has a debatable definition) is quite difficult without violating one of the aforementioned Amendments.

This issue is why the new Arizona state law regarding illegal immigration has drawn so much controversy. It is almost impossible, if not impossible, to justify the potential violation of rights of a legal resident or citizen in the name of finding potential criminals. Unfortunately as mentioned, it is equally difficult to enforce illegal immigration laws on an individual-by-individual basis without creating large flexibility in the probable cause requirement. Clearly an impasse exists when the goal is to remove illegal immigrants from the country through direct means of identification without violating the rights of those that are here legally or are citizens. Overall if the United States is to remain true to its origin, individual rights must take precedence. Thus it may be simpler to develop an alternative measure of enforcement.

One possible way around this issue may be to limit the opportunities that illegal immigrants have to commit crimes, including embezzlement, rather than try to directly identify them. It would be difficult to apply such restrictive measures to all aspects of social services and infrastructure, but the two most costly points of service can be limited, healthcare and education. Basically one method to combat illegal immigration would require individuals to show proof of citizenship for enrollment in any educational institution at any level or to receive any form of medical care. Clearly the education limitations are appropriate as an all-encompassing standard; if you are not a citizen, legal resident or have the appropriate visa you cannot officially attend any school within the United States. However, blanket restrictions on healthcare provide points of debate. Note for future reference when mention is made of citizenship it references both citizens and legal residents or those holding appropriate visas.

There are two elements of debate within the concept of citizenship-required healthcare. First, if the illegal immigrant is somehow able to purchase private health insurance and fund the premiums, co-pay/deductibles, etc. from his/her own pocket legally then the illegal immigrant is not embezzling with regards to healthcare. One could then argue that illegal immigrants with private insurance could satisfy the requirement of paying for the social service, thus they should be allowed medical care.

Second, an immediate emergency that places eminent risk of death against the individual. Clearly if an individual arrives for medical treatment of a condition that if not treated will result in his/her death within a 24 hr period there are moral obligations for a medical institution to treat that person. However, under this new policy it could also be considered fair that if the individual cannot prove citizenship then once that person is physically able he/she will be immediately deported or imprisoned. Another immediate emergency issue would be that of the public health threat. If an individual carries a bacterial or viral infection that could spread and infect others that individual should be afforded treatment regardless of citizenship. After treatment this individual would also share the above consequence if proof of citizenship cannot be provided.

Now one could argue that the threat of deportation would prevent individuals from coming into the emergency room to receive treatment. The strength of this argument is largely dependent on the general line of thought regarding the ability of self-recognition of emergency conditions. Can an individual tell when they are really sick versus if they just have a head cold? If they can then the above policy is legitimate because only a crazy person would prefer death to deportation. However it is rational to conclude that this is not the case. Most people do not have the requisite intelligence or experience to effectively differentiate between benign annoyances and serious detrimental afflictions. The inability of the average person to differentiate between the different distinctions of illness could create a problem with the above policy.

Originally the mindset of the above policy anticipated the behavior of the typical illegal immigrant to accept deportation over death for serious conditions including viral or bacterial infections, but to avoid licensed medical care for less serious conditions. However, such a mindset fails if the individual cannot accurately differentiate between the two with a significant level of precision. Therefore, one of two possibilities will arise: the individual seeking treatment for any condition with a sufficient level of seriousness or the individual not seeking treatment for any condition favoring the rationality that the odds favor a less serious condition every time. Initially without any empirical evidence it is difficult to conclude which possibility would be selected more often. Without firm predictability regarding this issue it may be too dangerous to conduct such a policy with the threat of illegal immigrants foregoing critical medical treatments for conditions that may result in a public health threat.

One possibility to correct the above problem is to allow physicians to conduct initial diagnostic evaluations to determine what may be afflicting the individual and its seriousness. If the condition is not serious enough to fall into one of the two above exceptions, then the individual would be required to prove citizenship before treatment could commence. If the individual declines to provide such proof then the individual could leave without treatment, but without consequence of deportation. Some may argue that restriction of medical attention/care in such a way is immoral. On the contrary a country has no moral or social obligation to provide non-emergency medical treatment to a non-citizen.

Another concern that may arise from this policy is the development of black market medical treatment for illegal immigrants. It is typical when something, a service or item, is illegal but money can be made from it for some to attempt to provide that service or item. One could fear that the development of black market medical services may further endanger public health due to shoddy treatments and improper diagnosis. However, the ability of these black market institutions to function successfully is questionable. Running a profitable medical practice without deep private coffers, a privately insured clientele or the support of the government is rather difficult because of the high cost of medical supplies and testing equipment. Most illegal immigrants do not make large amounts of money and thus could not afford to pay the prices that these black market medical institutions would require to make a profit. Without reasonable expectation of profit few individuals will attempt to set up any type of business whether it is legal or not. Some may still attempt to establish black market medical practices, but they will generally be isolated, not part of an underground network, which will further increase supply prices making profit prospects even less attractive.

An additional issue that must be addressed with respect to immigration reform, regardless of whether or not the idea presented above is applied, is improved throughput of legalization procedures. One of the reasons that so many attempt to enter the country illegally vs. legally is the long and sometimes capricious methodology behind gaining legal residency or a visa. Note that improvement of legalization methods cannot standalone in the field of immigration reform. Although in the end the idea presented above may not be viewed as suitable, greater penalties must be placed against illegal immigrants to reduce the attractiveness of entering and remaining in the country illegally. The reason these penalties must exist is demonstrated by the general failure of work visa programs for unskilled labor. Their lack of success comes from the less regimented lifestyle afforded to the illegal immigrant over the work visa individual. Basically the illegal immigrant has more freedom and even opportunities than the work visa individual. This opportunity and freedom must be further restricted or similar work visa programs, which some believe to be a critical component to immigration reform, will face similar failure.

The issue of what to do with the illegal immigrants that are already here is rather easy. Either they leave and apply for legal entry through the proper channels or live with whatever new restrictions are applied. The ethnic national cry of ‘look at all illegal immigrant A has built here, it would be wrong to force him/her to leave and come back just to become a legal resident, thus they need a path to citizenship that does not required leaving…’ promotes an illogical and immoral message. Such a policy can be regarded as amnesty and any form of amnesty would be akin to giving individuals a reward for their willing, conscious and continual violation of the law. Anything illegal immigrant A ‘built’ was on false pretenses and there exists no moral obligation to allow him/her to keep it. In fact the moral obligation lies with not granting amnesty due to a matter of fairness. What about those individuals that had the opportunity to come to the United States illegally, yet refrained from doing so because it was illegal? These are the individuals that deserve a place at the front of the ‘proverbial’ citizenship line not those that took little to no consideration of the law for their own personal gain. Overall it is rather sad that there is a large contingency of individuals that oppose any level of immigration reform, which does not placate to illegal immigrants. Maybe the wheels of immigration reform would accelerate if these individuals tried to come up with solutions that did not begin with the letter A.

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