A National Immigration Auction, Part III: Predictably Bad Consequences

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on September 19, 2010

Rounding out the fantasy of a national immigration auction is the touted allure of having a system that, "wouldn't rely on the judgment of [government] bureaucrats." Unfortunately, the actual proposal immediately negates that likelihood. The proposal states that, "When prices rose, the government could react by increasing the number of permits, better syncing immigration with the business cycle" (emphasis added). So much for keeping government bureaucrats out of the process.

Moreover, "because these visas would be tied to employment, immigrants would have to leave the country if the economy deteriorated and they couldn't find work." And who would do that? Presumably the government. They've done so well with removing those living here who are "out of status" that it's hard to have confidence in this plan.

Notice here as well that the authors would make these new immigration auction permits "portable," meaning that immigrants could arrive in this country and be able to change jobs. This is a fair requirement. The country did away with indentured servitude eons ago.

However, this raises the issues of: (1) why employers would want to hire someone without getting a lengthy commitment from them, and (2) how the government would keep track of all the moving around and reporting that portability would require. Again, confidence here is somewhat strained by knowledge of the government's past and present performance.

There is also the very large question of the government making a yearly assessment of macro and micro national labor needs. According to this plan, "the government could react by increasing the number of permits" (emphasis added) in periods of economic expansion and presumably cut back on auction numbers when the economy contracts.

This is not a recipe for not relying on "the judgment of bureaucrats." It does precisely the opposite. It makes immigrant numbers a yearly political battle sure to further divide the country and exacerbate tensions.

Moreover, the "provisional" nature of the auction visas seems to be inconsistent with the authors' statement that these action visas should be, "the primary path to legal immigration." Legal permanent residents (green card holders) cannot now be asked to leave the country if they lose their job, but apparently in the authors' plan, "migrants would have to leave the country if the economy deteriorated and they couldn't find work."

How long would they have to be out work before that happened? As legally admitted immigrants, would they be able to apply for unemployment? Would their removal be subject to legal proceedings? What if they got some job, any job while their cases was being adjudicated? Would the government be willing to add deportation trauma to economic injury, all in the blare of the public spotlight and the cries of advocates?

Finally, there is the question of what this somewhat radical proposal means for America's view of itself – its ethos. Since the earliest settlers, America has always been an immigrant nation. It experimented once before on a substantial scale when it invited Chinese laborers to work on American railroads. That experiment, which could be characterized as "you're welcome to work, but not stay," worked out badly for all concerned.

The authors' proposals seem like a thoughtless amalgam. Immigrants will be invited to work, the auction will be America's chief vehicle for a "pathway to legalization," but only as long as you keep your job.

I appreciate that many potential immigrants will avail themselves of this opportunity given their desire for freedom, opportunity, and the reasonable expectation that the government will be unable or unwilling to enforce the "lose your job and you're gone" provisions of this proposal.

Still, it's not a plan that will allow many Americans to feel good about their government, their policies, or themselves – and that is a very critical element of finding common ground for real immigration reform, which this, on balance, is not.