Immigration: "Round 'em up and send 'em home"?

As you were forewarned, more on the immigration issue. In comments to the original post, one reader suggested the possibility of solving the problem by deporting the estimated 8 – 12 million illegal workers already here. This is an often-encountered argument among the “enforcement first” or “enforcement only” advocates. It relies on multiple false presumptions, though.

Now, even most of those with this view realize it is impossible to “round ’em up” with law enforcement. For example, we currently have about three million people incarcerated in this country. They are serving an average sentence of three years, but their actual average time served is eighteen months. This means that we catch and convict about 2 million serious criminals per year – that includes ALL levels of law enforcement, though: federal, state, and local. So in order to capture and deport 12 million illegals beyond the current law enforcement efforts in, say, three years, would require increasing the total number of law enforcement officers in this country by 200%. Where would these people come from, who would train them, how would they operate? Will we have checkpoints? “Papers, please.”

Of course, this is only a nightmare, so the proponents of such fantasies suggest businesses who employ illegals might be forced to stop, and turn them in, with the threat of draconian penalties if they fail to comply.

Leaving aside for the moment the concept of government requiring private citizens, untrained and unarmed, to enforce the laws the government itself, with its virtually unlimited resources, cannot, may we recall this has already been attempted?

One feature of the Simpson-Mazzoli bill was to require employers to submit a form, the “I-9,” verifying each new hire, which would include photocopies of three forms of ID, at least one of which must have a picture. Employers who failed to comply would be subject to drastic penalties, so we all did – religiously. Now, if an ID is faked well enough to pass a layman’s inspection, it might be good enough for a photocopy to even pass an expert’s examination. Not that it had to – so many of these forms were being received, they overwhelmed the ability to examine them, so they simply didn’t examine them. And this did . . . exactly what good?

Even if it were possible to somehow detect and deport 12 million illegal workers immediately, who would replace them? I warned before that math would be involved:

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Our current labor force is roughly 158 million people, and the unemployment rate at 4.6% equals 7.28 million people currently unemployed – but most of them aren’t really available for employment. Economists agree there is a level of unemployment which cannot long be breached, because some people are always going to be technically unemployed as they go back to school, start a business, have a baby, or even are just “between jobs.” What this “full employment” level is remains a matter of debate, but nearly all agree it lies somewhere between 3.0% and 4.0%. Taking the lower figure to calculate the number of “unavailable” unemployed workers, we see that about 4.75 million of the 7.28 million total of unemployed are simply not presently part of the active labor pool, leaving only 2.5 million unemployed and actually available to work to replace 12 million workers you just deported.

But that number includes all job categories. Among the 2.5 million are unemployed teachers, dental assistants, librarians, secretaries, and engineers – not likely candidates to take openings in roofing or other construction labor trades, or to pick cantaloupes.

So with fewer than 2.5 million eligible to replace 12 million booted out . . . um, do we have anything but a labor shortage which would ignite a wage-price spiral, endangering the economy?

Before some wag brings up “discouraged” workers, let me note their numbers have never ranged, since the stats were first compiled in the ’80s in an effort to find a way to discredit the Reagan Recovery, beyond that of 1.3% to 1.9%, and currently reside in the upper-middle range of 1.7%, or about another 2.7 million workers. But these are usually older workers who couldn’t find work in their salary range and have managed to figure out how to survive until retirement kicks in, not people who will come out of “unemployment” to cut your grass.

The numbers tell the tale: you can’t replace 12 million workers with 2.5 million or even 5.2 million or 7.28 million. Do the math.

It’s not a question of “jobs Americans won’t do,” it’s a matter of “jobs there are no Americans TO do.” Any realistic approach to the issue requires the facts of the situation be considered, and there is no majority in the Congress to expel the bulk of people who are here illegally, but working and not engaging in criminal activities, even if it were economically feasible to do so.

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