Border Surge Isn't Going to Work

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
June 21 2013 10:35 AM

Border Surge for Amnesty Deal Is Going to End in Disappointment

Defending our country agains the threat of illegal fruits and vegetables
Defending our country agains the threat of illegal fruits and vegetables

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The recent Senate compromise to increase the amount of federal spending on border security by an even larger amount is good news for the overall bill's odds of passing and thus good news for America. But it really makes very little sense and is setting people up for disappointment.

Here's the problem. The Gang of 8 bill sets up a new W Visa program that will give employers a legal pathway for the importation of lower-skilled immigrants. This is a perfectly fine idea. And in principle, a guest-worker program is one of the best things we can do to reduce unauthorized labor migration. Workers would prefer legal status to life in the shadows, and employers would prefer to import workers with legal authorization to work than to hire people off the books. But for this to work, the scale of the W Visa program needs to be roughly equal to the demand for immigrant labor. But while the terms of the W Visa program are designed to ensure that the number of W Visa workers is sharply constrained at times of low labor demand, the commission that's supposed to determine how many W Visas to issue is also required to keep the number below an arbitrary cap that's been determined a priori.

The upshot of this is that if demand for immigrant labor substantially exceeds the number of W Visas the government is allowed to issue, people are going to overstay their visas and work off the books.

Advertisement

Visa overstayers are already a large share of the unauthorized population, and creating a guest-worker program is going to increase the possibility of visa overstaying. You could build the Berlin Wall all across the U.S.–Mexico border and you're not going to solve anything. What you need to do is either increase the number of W Visas (my preference) or increase behind-the-border security or some combination of the two. Personally, I don't really care that a border surge is going to be ineffective. But it can get corrosive in the long term if you promise the voters something your legislation can't deliver. If this bill passes, the immigration-enforcement problem won't be at the border.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 22 2014 2:27 PM Facebook Made $595 Million in the U.K. Last Year. It Paid $0 in Taxes
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 22 2014 1:01 PM The Surprisingly Xenophobic Origins of Wonder Bread
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 10:39 PM Avengers: Age of Ultron Looks Like a Fun, Sprawling, and Extremely Satisfying Sequel
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 2:59 PM Netizen Report: Twitter Users Under Fire in Mexico, Venezuela, Turkey
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.