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Thinking Immigration

by Fred Cederholm
Amnesty for unskilled laborers is a matter of curtailing labor wages and benefits to fluff business bottom lines – a new exploitative form of in-sourcing, if you will.
I’ve been thinking about immigration. Actually I’ve been thinking about ambivalence, history, legislation, amnesty, “in-sourcing,” and beacons. Unless you descended from American Indians, your ancestors came to the United States from somewhere else. We are a nation of immigrants – peopled from all over the globe. For most of our history, US/us effectively had an open door honor system – not any more. We find ourselves now in big mess; we honestly don’t know how to deal with it.

You see the whole issue of immigration is something I haven’t addressed in the over 3½ years I’ve been writing my weekly columns. I clearly have mixed feelings regarding this because my ancestors all arrived here between 1870 and 1895. They were all legal in the sense that they observed the laws and procedures in force at the time. All arrived in New York City as teenagers and were processed at Ellis Island (or Philadelphia) where they provided their name, country of origin, and US destination. They might have received a cursory physical, or might have been asked if they had a sponsor waiting for them at their destination before they were sent on their merry way. There were no federal, state, or local bi-lingual or financial assistance programs awaiting them. They all expected to work from the get go, to learn English on their own, and to became “Americans.” Most ancestors of the people I know share this story of repatriation to the US. But (and there is always a but...) times, procedures, and policies change.

The Federal Government assumed the task of inspecting, admitting, rejecting, and processing all immigrants seeking admission to the US in 1891. The Immigration Act of 1907 reorganized the states bordering Mexico (Arizona, New Mexico and a large part of Texas) into Mexican Border District to stem the flow of immigrants there. Various laws established the quota system and imposed passport requirements until a 1924 act reduced the number of US immigration visas allocating them on the basis of national origin. The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required all aliens (non-U.S. citizens) to register with the Government and receive the predecessor of the "green card." In 1950 immigrants with legal status had these cards replaced with Form I-151, the "green card." Requirements and paperwork rose.

The modern day US immigration system was established in 1952. It created a quota system on a per-country basis and a preference system giving priority to family members, or people with special skills. Discrimination based on race, place of birth, sex and residence was eliminated on paper by decree in 1968. It also officially abolished restrictions on Oriental US immigration. In 1976, any preferential treatment for residents of the Western Hemisphere was “eliminated.” The policy on refugees was “clarified” in 1980. While the paperwork and bureaucracy had continued to rise, enforcement had been so lax that the fix in 1986 focused on curtailing illegal US immigration “by law.” It legalized hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants. Over the past 20 years that flow of “non-complying guest workers” has escalated to a point where there are now somewhere between 12 and 20 million more of them here.

Amnesty is the attempt to spin any mess that has gotten so big because either the laws were so bad to begin with, or the enforcement of them was so shoddy. Now... the only viable “solution” is being marketed to the public by giving the non-complying parties another pass, and a chance to right (or to fix) their illegal status by a new set of rules and policies. This bi-partisan proposal only squeaked through the Senate last week. It may sound good in the media blitz of talking points and sound bites, but how will another “voluntary” proposal - with still more requirements, paperwork, and bureaucracy - be the fix? Where is any enhanced enforcement (with teeth) giving credibility to this so-called solution?

It is argued that we need to “open the system” to obtain the workers to do the tasks our own citizens will not perform. That is barely even selectively true. In a true market system, the needs of the demand will be met by the forces of supply when the financial incentives – increased wages - are provided to draw in the requisite work force. In essence, this is a matter of curtailing labor wages and benefits to fluff the bottom lines by opening our borders to a bigger pool of lower cost workers – a new exploitative form of in-sourcing, if you will. Since when did the beacon motto of Lady Liberty in New York harbor state: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses; yearning to work cheap” ?

I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.

Copyright 2007 Questions, Inc. All rights reserved. Fred Cederholm is a CPA/CFE, a forensic accountant, and writer. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.A., M.A. and M.A.S.). He can be reached at

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This story was published on May 21, 2007.