Monday, June 20, 2011

Ending Illegal Immigration: A Risk-Benefit Analysis

Cutting off the benefits would be a lot cheaper and more effective than building fences

Wait! Don’t build that fence along our southern border just yet. We may not really need it any more than we need one on the northern border with Canada. In order to fix the problem of illegal immigration we must first understand why we have an estimated 12 million illegals in the United States. A Risk-Benefit Analysis model provides insight into both the causes of the problem and the solution to it.

We all make risk-benefit decisions every day. “Should I have the apple or the cheeseburger for lunch?” Or, “Should I send a Tweet with a risqué photo of myself to that young coed?” Millions of people on our northern and southern borders face the decision to enter the United States illegally, but we don’t have a fence with Canada because we don’t need one. Canadians are not streaming into the USA demanding ice cold Molson beer and raising maple leaf flags in front of public schools. Why not? It’s simple: Canadians enjoy a good quality of life at home, so the perceived benefit in coming here illegally is not worth the risk.

But the same is not true for our southern neighbors. Life in Central and South America is…well…bleak. America sits like a shimmering jewel on the horizon where benefits abound: healthcare, education, citizenship, and jobs, to name a few. The risk in coming here is perceived to be low in comparison to the benefits to be had. So they come. Politicians puff out their chests, call it an outrage, and demand fences be built. Unfortunately, fences have never worked in the past. But we’re ignoring the obvious solution: end the benefits, ratchet up the risk, and we won’t need a fence for the same reason we have none with Canada.

Let’s look at some of the benefits we provide to non-U.S. citizens and consider some solutions:

Healthcare: By one estimate, as much as 40% of the healthcare that goes unpaid for in the U.S. goes to people here illegally. That’s a nice benefit. Medical providers should continue to provide care to anyone who needs it, but they should also be required to inquire about a patient’s citizenship. Those who are suspected of being here illegally ought to be turned over to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement following care.

Education: Current law requires that children of illegal parents receive a public education, and there are good arguments for providing it. But the practice only keeps a benefit in place, one that costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. It may be time to rethink the law, and if faced with the prospect of no education in America, perhaps fewer non-citizens would risk coming here.

Citizenship: Long-term we need to repeal or change the 14th Amendment that gives citizenship to people born in the United States. Its original purpose has long-since ceased to be relevant, and the problems it sought to fix have been fixed. In the near term, we need to consider changing the 1965 Immigration Act which facilitates the permanent residency status of illegals who bear children in the U.S. Anchor babies have created an unintended humanitarian hostage situation, one that is a costly burden on taxpayers.

Jobs: It’s illegal to hire illegals, yet getting a job in America remains one of the biggest benefits to be had in coming here. We need to shift the focus away from rounding up illegals in the workplace to clamping down on those who employ them. By increasing the risk to employers (stiff fines and even jail time), they will be less likely to hire non-citizens. Surprisingly, the Obama administration appears to have started doing just that. It’s a good start.

If we were to eliminate the benefits to be gained by illegally entering the United States, while increasing the risk in coming here, we could solve the illegal immigration problem without a fence. These benefits are the causes of the problem, and their removal is the solution. Building the fence would only slow down the departure. We welcome legal immigrants, and we should reserve the benefits of citizenship for those willing to get in line and knock politely on the front door.


Even Iceland has immigrants

Mostly hard-working Poles

Although their numbers have been halved by the recent economic meltdown, Poles - who now number an estimated 10,000 - continue to be Iceland's largest ethnic minority.

"Na zdrowje," says Michal, lifting his beer glass high. "Na zdrowje," answers his friend Marek. The two men are on their second beer, but in a bit of a hurry since their wives are waiting for them at home with dinner. They will order their third drink soon.

"What else are we supposed to do here?" asks Michal rhetorically. In the small town of Akranes, just an hour's drive north of Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, there are really just two ways to spend an evening: either at home or at the "Mömmueldhus" (Mother's Kitchen) restaurant at 8 Kirkjubraut Street.

The restaurant is run by Gabriela and her husband Dariusz, who, like Michal and Marek, are not Icelanders, but Polish. They belong to Iceland's 9,496-strong community of ethnic Poles. Although this is an official count (made earlier this year), it is hard to be sure of its accuracy, since Poles require neither work nor residence permits to live in Iceland. In order to stay here, Polish citizens just need to obtain a valid kennitala, the Icelandic version of a social security number.

Before the financial crisis started in October 2008, there were more than 20,000 Poles in Iceland. And although their numbers have declined significantly over the past three years, Poles remain the largest minority on the island.

Michal was born in 1981 in Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland, and came to Iceland in 2007. He had previously worked in a factory, and had “always dreamed of experiencing Iceland.” Within three weeks of his arrival in Akranes, Michal had already found a job as a welder in a machine factory. But in 2009, the factory went bankrupt. Among those laid off were at least a dozen Poles, Michal included.

Michal used this time to take classes in business and Icelandic. Since March, he has been working in an aluminum factory in Walfjord. His wife, whom he met in Poland, works in a canning factory in Akranes. Six months ago, Michal, along with five (unemployed) friends, created a website for Poles living in Iceland:

The website is well-designed and offers a lot of information on current events, job offers and discount shopping. According to Michal, the website also tries to foster "a sense of togetherness" among Poles living in Iceland. He hopes that the site, which receives 9,000 visitors each day, will break even within the next two years.

Marek was born in 1969 in Tomaszow, Poland, and he came to Iceland out of love for a Polish woman he met in 2005 on the Internet. He divorced his wife, sold everything, and bought a one-way ticket to Reykjavik to be with her.

Their fling did not last long, but Marek found a job as a welder in the aluminum factory and met another woman, Patricia. A former flute student at the Music Academy in Krakow, she did not hesitate one moment when she was offered a teaching job at an orchestral school in Akranes.

"In Poland, I had to work 60 hours or more a week just to make ends meet. Here, I work 20,” Patricia explains. She works less, earns more, and has time to care for her family: Marek, her second husband; Peter, a son from her first marriage; and Stefan, who was born two years ago. They have a spacious condominium, a Japanese family car, and a satellite dish that gives them access to over 300 TV channels, including Polish ones in case they get homesick.

But Patricia and Marek have no intention of leaving Iceland.
Only their 17-year-old son Peter, who is fluent in Icelandic and plays drums in a rock band called "Made In The Time Of Crisis,” says he will return to Poland after his graduation. He plans to enroll in a Polish police academy. "I want to be a private detective,” he explains, adding that he finds Iceland, especially the small town of Akranes, to be “simply boring.”

No crime, no corruption

His parents don't necessarily disagree, but they also see a lot of advantages to living in Iceland. “It's a safe country. There is no crime, no corruption. You don't have to worry that you'll go broke in the middle of the month.” Their living room window overlooks the sea, and during the dark season, they can see the northern lights from the garden.

Gabriela, the owner of the Mömmueldhus restaurant, has no time for such frivolous pleasures. She works from early morning until late in the evening, and has done so all her working life. Born in 1975 in Gdynia in Poland, she married at 18 and had three children soon afterwards. She has worked as a telegraph operator, a cook, and a baker. Her husband, Dariusz, has been both a silversmith and a driver for an emergency medical service.

In the summer of 2005, he heard that workers were needed to build a new dam in Iceland. Two weeks later, he was working on a construction site in Karahnjukar, in the eastern part of the island. His family followed him the next spring, when he was working in a factory in Borgarnes, 30 km north of Akranes. The children were enrolled in local schools – all three of them now speak fluent Icelandic.

Gabriela found a job in a hotel in Borgarnes, but she explains that “I always wanted to run my own establishment.” Last February, she took out all her savings and bought Mömmueldhus. She renovated it, added a few Polish dishes to the menu, and now is looking forward to a tourist-filled summer.

"We live like Poles, but with an Icelandic twist," she says. Every weekend, the restaurant organizes a disco or karaoke evening. Once a month, a priest comes from Reykjavik to hold a Catholic mass.

Iceland’s 10,000 Poles live in a true "parallel society,” only they don't know it. They speak Polish, marry each other, watch Polish TV, and cling to their own culture. One can hear and see them everywhere – on the bus, on the street, in the supermarket, and in cafés. The fact that they are not as visible as one might expect is only partly explained by the extraordinary tolerance of the native Icelanders.

The reason why Poles blend in so well into their new country is that they understand the principle of Icelandic society: work.

People who do not work here are severely frowned upon. Until recently, there was virtually no unemployment on the island. The current figure of 8% is largely due to the financial crisis, and it is considered an astronomical number for the country. Economic difficulties have forced many Polish people to go back to Europe, but if the Icelandic economy recovers in the coming years, more Poles will certainly decide to come back.

In the town of Breiðholt, on the outskirts of Reykjavik, a supermarket offers Polish specialties. Piotr, the owner, a former bricklayer from Kashubia, came to Iceland 10 years ago at the age of 20 to work in construction. For the past six years, he has been providing the Polish community in and around Reykjavik with food "Made in Poland." He also hosts an annual "Polish Day" and organizes a Polish "Saturday


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