PT talks to Ray Haynes, vice-chair of California's House Human Services Committee and chairman of last year's California Border Police Initiative, about the social and economic implications of U.S. immigration policy.
PT: When you're looking at the immigration policies in front of us today—both nationally and locally—what are the most pressing problems?
Haynes: In my opinion, the most pressing problem with our current policy is that we don't enforce it at any level. We don't know whether it works economically, we don't know whether or not the job dislocation caused by illegal immigrants is beneficial or not—quite frankly, we do absolutely nothing besides scattering a few cops across our border to enforce our laws. We simply have no idea if our policy works.
PT: What are some better ways to ensure enforcement then?
Haynes: There are several things we need to do. We need to enforce every aspect of our policy. That means we need to patrol along the border better, but we also need a comprehensive interior enforcement system as well. Right now, if illegals can get past the border, they can essentially go anywhere in the country undisturbed because nobody is looking for them. We need to start looking for them. Finally we need to have a policy that enforces employer sanctions on a rational and regular basis.
PT: That's an important point. We hear a lot about border enforcement, but very little about citing employers who abuse the law for economic gain.
Haynes: Right. One of the arguments I often hear is, "Who's going to do those jobs if we start enforcing the policy at the employer level?" The answer is that we don't know, because we don't enforce the law. You literally cannot say that we won't have Americans to do those jobs if we start enforcing the law with employers, because we don't know. We don't try to know.
Perhaps if we started enforcing the law we would find that we didn't have the necessary workers
to fill those positions. Then the case could be made for changing the law and establishing a guest worker program or something else. But right now, you can't make the case for it.
PT: If there's no grain of truth to it, then why have people been so content to operate under the assumption that we need the low-skilled labor?
Haynes: Because a lot of people benefit from the current system. When you think about it, those who enter the country illegally can be exploited at every level and they can't do anything about it because they're afraid of being deported. They're exploited by employers, their neighbors, criminal gangs and human smugglers. Everybody makes money off of them, including the federal government. There are a lot of people who are making money off of the system, and the only ones hurt by it are those who are here illegally, because they never get to enjoy the safety and protection of our laws and Constitution. And they don't vote.
PT: Enforcement is one thing, but aren't there certain contradictions between our own policies when you consider long-established social and economic principles? Could some of these be ironed out to help the situation?
Haynes: I think that on the one hand, you can't make something illegal, and then on the other give those people breaking the law free stuff—money, medical care, free food, etc. I think that's a basic inconsistency right there, because it offers incentives for people to break the law. If you don't offer them an incentive to break the law, they won't do it. It's a similar story with employers.
PT: If you're going to begin strict enforcement, wouldn't it have to be phased in somehow—perhaps with an amnesty program—to avoid a major economic shock to the current system when this labor pool is no longer available?
Haynes: I don't think you can do that. I think you have to start the enforcement first. Again, amnesty might become necessary if you started enforcing the law and then you found out that you didn't have enough people to do the work. But we've done amnesty twice, and we haven't changed our policy on enforcement. This way, you're not dealing with the economic and social dislocations that occur as a result of illegal immigration.
A society can only assimilate so many people, and that's not a function of race or nationality or anything, it's just a social fact. The linguistic, economic and cultural barriers that rise in societies without adequate assimilation can be significant. People just clash.
PT: What makes the California case unique besides the numbers involved?
Haynes: One of my friends in Texas once told me, "In Texas, we've always had a sort of pact with those people who were here illegally: you come here, you work and you go home, and we'll let you do it and we won't complain about it." Here in California, the tendency is that they come here and stay. Once they get here, they start accessing all of the various government benefits, so you get a lot more anger from taxpayers who are tired of subsidizing illegals.
Over the past 15 years—except for the huge explosion of revenue between 1999 and 2001—California has had a consistent budget deficit, and we spend it on stuff for illegals. If you take a look at what we spend on illegals, you'll see that it is the source of our deficit. This only makes taxpayers more and more upset.
Ray Haynes serves California's 66th Assembly District. He is vice-chair of the Human Services Committee and also serves on the Appropriations and Judiciary Committees.