Here's a Puzzler — Drenched in Irony — about Amnesties

By David North on January 16, 2013

Here's a puzzling, immigration-related, political and philosophical question, one that may call for the diagramming of the sentence below:

If we are going to have an amnesty for illegal aliens, which is not a good idea, should it be designed to make it relatively harder for more-useful potential residents of the United States to cheat the system than for less-useful potential residents to do so?

My sense is that both the IRCA (Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986) legalization program, and the current DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) administrative amnesty were designed in such a way that ineligible applicants with high human capital (such as the ability to speak English and the possession of some substantial amounts of education) were much less likely to be able to cheat the system than were equally ineligible applicants with low human capital.

Of course, no one should cheat government systems, but we know from our experience with IRCA that fraud is inevitable, as is shown in my recent report on that program.

My suspicion is that this situation (tilting toward the less-skilled) results from an unthinking design flaw, not a conscious plot on the part of the decision-makers.

Let's examine the rules for DACA, and forget for a moment that the whole thing is a bad idea.

To be eligible you must be under 31, must have been in the United States illegally for more than five years, and must have arrived illegal before your 16th birthday.

So, let's look at two different (hypothetical) illegals. Lisa is a 24-year-old, multilingual Estonian woman with an advanced degree in microbiology. Leon is a 24-year-old construction laborer from Mexico who dropped out of grammar school. Both of them became illegal aliens in the United States four years ago, making them both ineligible for DACA status.

Clearly, in this case, she is a more valuable member of the labor force than he is — we have, to say the least, an over-abundance of lightly-educated people in the country, competing for a diminishing number of low-level jobs, jobs that would best be filled by legal residents of the country. Highly trained microbiologists are not so numerous.

The design of DACA, and of IRCA before it, is such that it is far easier for the illegal from Mexico to cheat the system, than it is for the illegal from Estonia to do so. Why is that the case?

It all revolves around how they got here in the first place.

Leon could say — and how do you disprove this? — "I swam the Rio Grande nine years ago and have been in the United States ever since." He did not do so; in fact, he was smuggled through a port-of-entry in the back of a van, hidden under a pile of blankets, four years ago.

But Lisa, who let her F-1 visa lapse four years ago, always entered the country with a passport and a visa — always a documented alien — and thus cannot apply under her real name. Further, she would have trouble concocting a new identity and a story about flying from Tallinn, as a 15-year-old, to London and on to Montreal, and then crossing illegally into Vermont, complete with the documents that would show those flights. I am not saying that with really skilled help that line of deception could not work, but it would be much, much harder for her to fool the authorities (assuming that they were paying attention) than it would be for him to do so.

Lisa is a visa abuser, and visa abusers, as a group, have more education than those who have entered without inspection (EWIs), like Leon. Lisa's lesser ability to cheat the system is typical of those who are visa abusers. Perhaps 40-45 percent of the illegal alien population consists of visa abusers, and the rest are EWIs.

Both the Estonian and Mexican nationals are equally ineligible for DACA; Lisa would be a more valuable asset to the country than Leon is likely to be, but he is much more likely to try, and to succeed, in fooling the system than she is. What to do?

The best answer is to not have an amnesty at all.