January 20, 2000
OF IMMIGRATION CONTROL
images were horrific, but what they reveal about the emptiness and
ultimately the cruelty of American policy is even worse. Authorities
inspecting a container ship in Seattle found human cargo dozens
of sick, ill-nourished Chinese, many verging on starvation.
three of them corpses. Authorities have captured illegal immigrants
brought in by smugglers before. But it hasn’t been all that often
that they’ve found dead bodies amongst the wretched human cargo.
the media explored the story, it became more and more clear that
human smuggling is not an isolated anomaly but something approaching
big business. Those on the Seattle container ship were said to have
paid as much as $50,000 apiece sometimes in installments, to be
collected from later earning or from their families back in China
for the miserable journey to the United States.
the Chinese immigrants elude the authorities and arrive at something
resembling a final destination their lives hardly turn into a vision
of sunny happiness. For the most part, they work in low-wage sweatshops
as something closely resembling indentured servants for as long
as ten years. Often these working conditions are execrable. At a
sweatshop raided about a year ago in Huntington Park, near Los Angeles,
the Chinese workers weren’t permitted to leave the grubby compound
and were charged outrageous prices for food that barely sustained
the body and high rent for conditions that would make slum dwellers
rebel. It was more like a prison camp than a workplace.
they still come.
the wake of the controversy
over Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban boy whose mother died during
an attempt to reach the United States illegally, Knight Ridder did
a series on Cubans who continue to undergo terrors and sometimes
death in desperate but continuing efforts to get out of Castro’s
small coastal village of Sagua La Chica in the northernmost tip
of Cuba, where the water is shallow far out into the ocean, is said
to be a favored pickup spot for smugglers and their clients. One
Cuban-American paid smugglers $23,000 to get three of his relatives
out of Cuba. A few smuggling rings are broken up by authorities,
but many more get in one way or another; how many nobody knows for
TRY TO STOP THEM?
know many people will disagree, including people who write for this
Web site. But I think a good deal of the responsibility for this
human misery lies less with the smugglers though many of them are
certainly unscrupulous and cruel than with the generally unthinking
and mostly conspicuously patriotic politicians who place such a
high priority on immigration control and set unrealistically low
quotas. Whenever a government artificially restricts the supply
of a good or service that is in demand, a black market develops,
the price goes through the roof and numerous criminal profiteers
cash in. It happens with drugs, it happens with cigarettes and Cuban
cigars and it happens with immigration slots.
fact that immigrant smuggling rings are able to sustain themselves
suggests strongly that the effective demand for coming to live in
the United States whether permanently or to work for a while, make
some money and return home is higher than the quotas the government
has wisely decreed. The fact that the flow hasn’t stopped suggests
that most of those who manage to get into the United States can
find work of some kind or another (otherwise the word would get
back to Mexico or Cuba or China quickly).
suggests, in turn, that the U.S. economy has enough oomph to sustain
levels of immigration considerably higher than the artificial quotas
decreed in Washington without drastically reducing job opportunities
and wage levels for those born in the country. So why set the quotas?
MOSTLY A BOON
won’t go on and on with sentimental slop about the nation of immigrants.
But I will contend that by and large immigrants are a net benefit
to the country that receives them, and that this will be increasingly
true as the world economy becomes more global in character (which
is happening and will continue to happen despite the best efforts
main reason is that the decision to emigrate to leave the place
where you were born, where your roots, family and friends are, where
you speak the same language as everybody else is seldom one that
is taken lightly. Most people will never do it; the risks and uncertainties
are too overwhelming. Those that decide to try for a better life
elsewhere are usually more adventurous, more adaptable, more inclined
to take calculated risk, more entrepreneurial, more confident of
their own ability to succeed in the right environment than the general
run of humankind.
have argued that immigrants want to come here and change the country,
so the United States will eventually come to resemble the Third
World dead-end countries from which they flee. If anything, the
opposite is true. Most immigrants still see this country overtaxed,
overregulated and deadened by the hand of overweening government
as it seems to many of us born here as a haven of opportunity and
promise. Few want to change it except insofar as they come to understand
that capitalism is not as freewheeling here as they had been led
to believe. Rather, they want to understand it, meld with it, benefit
from it and get themselves Americanized as quickly as possible.
It seems to me those are precisely the kind of people any free country
should want to have more of. And throughout its history the United
States has benefited from the dynamism of immigrants, changing them
and being changed by them in a sometimes rocky but ultimately mutually