Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Immigration: Walls, Processes and Defense in Depth

I think that Arnold Kling, with whom I generally agree with and defer to on most things economic, doesn’t quite get the point, economic or otherwise, on the illegal immigration issue. Either that or he wrote his TCS Daily article yesterday in fit of passion and untypical haste. He wrote a particularly wandering paragraph (second one):
I believe that illegal immigrants bring relatively little economic benefit and cause relatively little economic harm.

Well, to the best of my research and knowledge, we don’t have any real data (only ideas , indications, extrapolations, and suspicions), so I don’t think we have a good enough handle on the true scale and/or impact of the issue to state categorically either way. After this whiff, he then quite aptly zeroes in 'right on target' in the next few sentences:
I believe that there are substitutes readily available for the work done by illegal immigrants. Legal residents could do some of the work. Other labor could be replaced by capital or by alternative production techniques.
Which is pretty consistent with my (and others) belief that ‘doing the jobs Americans won’t’ is a canard. But he then closes the paragraph way 'out there' with:
By the same token, because there are many substitutes available for unskilled labor, the salvation of American workers does not lie in immigration restrictions.
From my perspective, there’s couple of key things wrong with this statement.

First, the economic issue isn’t about ‘the salvation of American workers’ so much as extracting maximum efficiency out of the economy, AKA that ‘labor could be replaced by capital or by alternative production techniques’ thing he mentioned earlier.

Second, characterizing control of immigration as ‘immigration restrictions’ is a very negative and oversimplified caricature of the objective: to diminish or eliminate ILLEGAL and therefore UNCONTROLLED entry of aliens into this country. No sane adherents to the ‘anti-illegals’ side of the debate that I have spoken with, read about, or even heard of, wants to eliminate or restrict LEGAL immigration, so the ‘restrictions’ in Dr. Kling’s sentence can only mean ‘illegal immigration’ (man, I hate that term – immigration by definition is a process with legal and citizenship implications, otherwise you’re just ‘traveling around’).

Of course, beside the control our borders for economic security that provides us with more economic ‘certainty’, there is an equal or superior reason to do so for national security purposes at any time. In a time of war, the security aspect of controlling the borders should be paramount.

Dr. Kling presents an argument against controlling the border by hammering on the idea of a border fence:
A strong border would provide, at best, a false sense of security. We could have a perfect fence along the border with Mexico and still suffer a major terror attack, even from legal citizensI am not saying that the security benefit of a fence would be zero. However, the benefit would be very low, and a reasonable guess is that the benefit would be far below the "opportunity cost" of deploying those resources on other security measures..

If this was all that we would do: build a wall and go home, Dr. Kling and some equally wrong bloggers would be very correct: it would be a “fixed fortifications are man’s monument….” example.

But this is not the case. Since building a ‘continuous’ wall is only one option, and since building some sort of actual wall is not the only thing we would do, Dr. Kling’s ‘fence’ (in whatever form it takes) would be part of a system of measures that would control the threat in a defense in depth. Marry the physical deterrents of a fence and related measures with those Dr. Kling proposes and others, and you are talking real security.

And the Number One Reason to Increase Control of the Borders is....
Probably the nail in the coffin for any argument against controlling the illegals coming into the country that doesn’t involve increased control of the borders is this: it’s been tried for years and it hasn’t worked so far. Let’s start immigration reform by controlling the borders, we can finish it using any tool Dr. Kling suggests.

A personal nit: Dr. Kling’s statement “We could have a perfect fence along the border with Mexico and still suffer a major terror attack, even from legal citizens” is akin to saying “I won’t get accidental death insurance because I might die from a disease”. For years, I would go ‘rounds’ with people on security measures (no questions concerning what we were protecting please, they won’t be answered) that were designed to comply with various classification requirements. Some measures were put in place to protect against inadvertent disclosures to John Q. Public. Some measures were to ensure the smallest possible dissemination of minor operational details so people working ‘near’ the activity but not briefed on the activity could not learn anything meaningful about that activity over time. Some were designed to prevent an ‘adversary’ from gaining information through direct, active, means. Dilettantes would always challenge me, “Why do we do this? It doesn’t protect against that!” To which I would have to respond with ‘Yes, but this third thing over here protects against that and this protects against that other thing.

It’s amazing how many people have a hard time grasping that in security, like a lot of other things, it takes more than one tool to do the whole job.

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