One takeaway from last night's presidential debate was that unskilled Mexican workers—you know, the ones who mow your lawns, build your homes, bring you X-mas trees and raise your children for wages barely enough to have lawns, homes, trees or children of their own—are the new untouchables of American society. They have a lower status than gays, the unborn, submissive women—and white males! Not a single candidate stood up for them.
Every question evoked some disagreement from some candidate—whether it was allowing civil unions, keeping abortion legal, going to war in Afghanistan or imposing sanctions on Iran. But on two questions there was so much unanimity on stage that you could almost hear the strains of kumbaya over the woofing between Michelle Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty: One, all of them said they would have walked away from any debt-ceiling deal that included any tax increases whatsoever, even one that offered $10 or so in spending cuts for $1 in tax increases. But one or more candidate was almost certainly lying about this (I'm looking at you Mitt Romney and John Huntsman). Two, they all agreed that illegal immigration was the bane of America and "securing our border" has to precede comprehensive immigration reform. And about this, unfortunately, I don't think anyone was lying.
Herman Cain said that we have to secure our borders "by any means necessary" although, apparently, he was only joking when he said that the means ought to include a 20-foot-barbed-wire-electrified fence in addition to a moat with alligators. (Ha, ha. Funny. ROTFL. Hey, I can take a joke, America!) Mitt Romney basically agreed although, to his credit, he tried to change the subject to skilled immigration, saying that it would behoove America to staple a green card to the degree of a foreign student who, say, got a Ph.D. in Physics from an American university. But most disappointing was Ron Paul. He likes to talk in fundamentals about every other issue, but betrayed absolutely no grasp of the fundamental reasons driving illegal immigration.
So here it is for future reference, Dr. Paul et al. What's driving this "problem" is our insane, irrational, and cruel immigration system.
The way this system works right now is that the American government has imposed a blanket ban on immigration. But then it selectively relaxes this ban for certain categories of favored people among whom "unskilled" Third World workers are not included. Indeed, as this Reason Foundation chart shows, there are virtually no legal avenues for "unskilled" aliens to work and permanently live in this country.
For starters, it is literally impossible for poor aliens to get temporary work visas such as the H-2A or H-2B to lawfully enter. That's because Uncle Sam hands out only a few thousand such visas annually when the demand—before the American economy went down the tube, that is— was in the millions.
And that's the best part of the system. The worst is that in order to get a visa, poor people have to effectively prove they are not poor. Indeed, they have to show that they have enough assets and connections that they would return home once their job in the U.S. is done. But if they had all that, they wouldn't really need to come to the U.S. and work for scraps in the first place, would they?
But even if they somehow manage to get the visa, they can't apply for a green card or permanent residency while working in the Unites States legally. "So what," one might say. What's so wrong about having them go back to their country and applying for a green card? Nothing at all, except that Uncle Sam won't accept green card applications from people abroad (other than in the rare instance when they have family members already in the United States willing to sponsor them)!
To recap, then, the United States hands out very few work visas to poor, unskilled aliens. When it does, it requires them to jump through hoops that are virtually impossible for them to jump through. If they somehow manage to jump through them, they are barred from actually applying for permanent residency.
Is there any surprise then that there are 11 million people illegally living in the country?
But what do our venerable candidates suggest we do to fix this system? Erect more walls and fences and barriers.
So here is my question for the candidates for the next debate: "If you were a poor, Third World immigrant, what would you need to do to legally work and live in the United States? You have one minute."
I'll cook dinner or mow the lawn—but only up to one acre—of any candidate who answers that correctly.