Friday, May 19, 2006

It's been 3 days since Bush gave his little speech on immigration, so I guess it's a good time to share my thoughts on the issue.

First of all, there's the purely practical side. How much are you willing to pay for chicken? Or the food in your favorite restaurant? Because prices will go up if we eliminate illegal immigration. Personally, I think it's worth paying a little more to know that the people doing the work are making a living wage, but our country is full of people just barely getting by, and chicken going up by, say, $0.50 a pound could be a real problem for them. On the bright side, most of what we're paying for is the processing, and it might be a good thing if more people learned how to cut up a chicken.

Then there's the cultural side. Once upon a time, immigration from Asia was the bogeyman under the bed, and before that it was the Italians, and before them, the Irish. In all cases, American culture has been richer for the infusion of fresh ideas, flavors, words, etc. Well, okay, Irish cuisine was kind of a non-starter, but hey, Guinness! Maybe it's shallow to judge immigration purely by it's effect on local restaurants, but the last 5 years have brought an influx of kick-ass Mexican restaurants into Columbia, and it's a very good thing.

What about language? Will our grandkids be speaking Spanish? First of all, so what if they do? In a whole lot of ways, the language my generation speaks is completely different from the one my grandparents spoke. Most of the words are the same, but the meaning has often completely shifted. That's what languages do. But Yglesias is kind enough to point out that second generation immigrants almost always have English as their first language, and the data shows that Hispanic immigrants are no different from previous waves in this respect.

I think about my friends whose grandparents speak little to no English, not to mention all the wonderful writers and artists I know of in the same situation. Would America be better off or worse if they'd been kicked out or kept out of the country back in their day? No.

And then there are the small towns. Missouri is filled with tiny little towns that have been dying slow deaths for decades as the money and the kids fled to the big cities. Now they're filling up with agricultural workers who are finding that life is better for them there than in the big cities where gangs are waiting to recruit their kids. There's a viable small town economy in Missouri now thanks to immigration from Mexico.

Obviously, I come down on the "immigration is good" side of the fence, but it's worth looking at Bush's proposal on the merits. Luckily,
Yglesias has already done it. If you're too lazy to click the link, consider this the takeaway: Like everything else Bush has done, his immigration proposal is all politics and no policy, and we'll be lucky if it doesn't actually make things worse. It'd be a miracle if it actually did any good.

But is that really a surprise at this point?

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