June 10th, 2012
10:17 AM ET

A patchwork of state immigration laws

Fareed Zakaria looks at how the immigration systems work – and don't work – in Japan, Europe, Canada and the U.S. in the TV special: "Global Lessons: The GPS Roadmap for Making Immigration Work" on CNN at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 10. Watch on CNN International on Saturday, June 16, at 4 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET

Editor's note: Allie Devine is an attorney, Republican and the former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture. She currently leads the Kansas Business Coalition, an advocacy group of business organizations and the state's Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Allie Devine. Check out an opposing view

By Allie Devine, Special to CNN

According to the Ellis Island website, during the late 1800’s, “as long as an immigrant’s papers were in order and they were in reasonably good health, the Ellis Island inspection process would last approximately three to five hours.” In today’s information age, it only takes around 10 years.

Our country’s immigration policy is broken. It has long been ignored by Congress and over the past four years, states have unfortunately started taking the issue into their own hands. This new patchwork of immigration policy is troublesome for the nation as a whole. For example, a business located in Olathe, Kansas, could be in compliance for Kansas laws, but out of compliance when conducting business in Missouri. Probably the most unattractive patch on the quilt are the “law enforcement” style bills which passed first in Arizona, then last year in Georgia and Alabama.

As one organization put it, these states are now the victims of their own success. They are all are facing costs of defending these laws and won’t stop until they get to the United States Supreme Court. The costs only begin to add up during litigation. On top of all that, the economic costs have proven devastating to the states’ economies.

While fear mongering and intimidation tactics draw headlines, they don’t always result in good public policy. The Kansas Business Coalition for Immigration Reform is trying to bring attention to the complexity of the immigration issue and promote a positive alternative to the harmful bills passed in other states.

Our coalition does not want to follow down the path of Arizona, Georgia and other states with draconian measures that cost the state millions upon millions of dollars. The coalition thinks we shouldn’t go that direction and instead of saying “no,” we have brought forward a proposal which focuses on the benefit of work authorization for specific industries, instead of incarceration and deportation.

In many industries, one of the most limiting factors involved in expansion of business in the state is the lack of an adequate labor force. If you look at the county-by-county unemployment rates in December 2011 in Kansas compared to the 2010 census data regarding counties with the highest percentage of Hispanics, you will see that the counties with higher percentages of Hispanics also have low unemployment rates. In fact, most of the counties with a higher percentage of Hispanics would be consider underemployed. At the least, they are at full employment. Therefore, the argument that undocumented workers are taking jobs from unemployed Americans appears to be nothing more than a red herring argument.

Another common argument regarding the immigration issue is that industries that hire Hispanic labor should simply pay a higher wage. These attacks are generally pointed toward the agricultural sector. Therefore, as an example, let’s analyze the entry level wages for employees within the agriculture sector. The starting annual salary for most meatpacking, dairy, and feedlots is between the $25,000 and $30,000 range. For purposes of this exercise, we will use $25,000 for the entry level wage in these industries. In a rough analysis of the 2011 Kansas Wage Survey, a $25,000 entry level wage is higher than 45% of the entry level wages for all jobs categorized in the survey. Once again, this appears to be a red herring argument at best.

The Coalition’s proposal works within the confines of the federal immigration matrix. This work authorization program is limited in scope and is only available to noncriminal unauthorized aliens who are not a priority for deportation by the federal government.

Looking at the economic costs of deportation, deportation is not an option. A 2010 estimate put the price of mass deportation at $285 billion over five years. This represents over $900 in new federal taxes for every U.S. man woman and child. The Cato Institute puts the price tag at $80 billion, but that’s just deporting 30% of the workers. Additionally, according to a May 2012 USDA study, a mass deportation policy would drive down the real wages of all U.S. born and other permanent workers from 0.3 to 0.6 percent. Deportation is simply not the answer.

In summary, we now know the costs of a “detain and deport” strategy are too significant to ignore. Instead of heading down this path, we strongly believe a proactive solution which offers the chance to gain a work authorization status is the best approach for the United States and Kansas. Admittedly, the federal government is the ideal place for immigration reform to be accomplished. If the federal government will pass meaningful reform, maybe the patchwork of state immigration laws could be stored away forever.

Topics: Global Lessons • Immigration

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Ugly American

    The "patchwork of laws" by the states will not cause businesses to be out of compliance in any state if they do just one thing; Don't hire unauthorized foreign nationals. All of the state "enforcement model" laws are based on Federal law and federal law forbids illegal foreigners to work, stay or raise a family in the US. It would be best if businesses in all states used the E-Verify system to screen their workers.
    The US tried giving an amnesty, with work permits and a path to citizenship in 1986 and told the people it would be the last amnesty and all illegal immigration would stop after that. 3.2 million foreign citizens took advantage of that amnesty and since then, millions upon millions more have arrived and now have the gall to not ask but demand that we declare another amnesty to suit them.
    The solution is not to give them the amnesty which will simply invite millions more to "try their luck in America". The laws such as Alabama has are quite effective in getting foreigners to leave on their own, which is one reason the Latin nations are protesting it so vociferously. If they cannot access services meant for citizens, they have little choice but to pack up and move on. There are cities and states that have chosen to be sanctuaries and illegal aliens are welcomed there. In states like Alabama, Arizona, North and South Carolina and Georgia, they are cordially invited to keep on passing through.
    Our system of immigration laws is no more broken than any other nation's except that our federal government has refused to fully enforce them. Just because people have figured out how to evade the laws doesn't mean they are wrong. Since our federal government has abdicated their responsibility the states are picking up the slack and will likely do so at a faster rate after the Supreme Court decision on SB1070.

    June 10, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  2. Mary

    Authors who state that something is "broken" without specifically identifying what that means are the ones causing confusion these days. The immigration laws are clear: people who reside within our borders illegally need to be deported and should not receive any kind of government benefits outside of emergency medical treatment. Our immigration policy is complicated but broken due to the profusion of non-immigrant visa categories created by politicians at the behest of their benefactors: businesses who would prefer to hire cheaper foreigners than US citizens and green card holders. But what is really broken is the will of our government to honor the promises of enforcement that accompanied the one-time only legalization program of 1986. There still is no effective worksite enforcement to this date despite our government's promises. E-Verify is the cost-effective solution, if made mandatory to check all jobs in the US, current and future. Consequently, over 7 milliion people residing illegally in our country have taken non-agricultural jobs that should go to US citizens and green card holders. I believe the majority of US citizens recognize that they cannot trust any enforcement promises. When so many businesses have moved jobs abroad we simply cannot afford to wait to have the promised enforcement. It is ridiculous to even entertain any kind of legalization proposals without this worksite enforcement occurring FIRST to prove that the government is finally serious about listening to what's best for US citizens. Unfortunately, our so-called representatives do not represent us.

    June 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  3. Gary Dee, Portland, Oregon

    It's interesting (and new and shocking to me) that this article and a couple of others mention that it is now a ten year process for highly qualified high tech workers (e.g., people with Ph.D.'s from top US universities working for Intel, IBM, Apple, etc.) ... when things move so fast now, that few people can stay at the same job, never mind the same company for even half that long! So I get the sense that people aren't even bothering to apply and join the reverse brain drain that the Silicon Valley Business Council has been ringing alarm bells for the past few years.

    This may also explain this odd generation gap that I have been noticing in Silicon Valley since I became a regular visitor in the past decade ... the immigrants (who get green cards before the wheels started coming off of the system, and many/most become citizens) tend to skew older and many have been in the Valley for a couple of decades, while the 'temps' who end up leaving the US are younger – usually late 20's to late 30's. It looks like the path that was open to the older tech immigrants might not even be open to the temps!

    And no, there aren't qualified Americans to fill in for those people because if there were, they would have taken the free ride but hard, hard, hard work to get those STEM doctorates in the first place. Or if they started now, the process takes 5 to 10 years.

    June 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  4. Terry Chan, Vancouver, Canada

    Fareed's comments are fairly simplistic. Yes, from a relative point of view, Canada has done a much better job of integrating immigrants than Britain, France, Germany. But one has to understand that these three European countries have had indigenous populations that are distinctly British, French and German for more than one thousand years. There is an established cultural hegemony in these countries.

    Canada however is officially only 145 years old and has historically been a nation of immigrants. There was the aboriginal population, then the English and the French and then everybody else came. Canadians are somewhat more understanding of immigration and yes, the federal government has done a good job. But there is also somewhat of an understanding that at one time, everyone or their antecedants at one time were immigrants. That is certainly not the case with Britain, France and Germany, which may explain why these countries have had failed multiculturalism policies.

    Futhermore Fareed tends to exaggerate the success of integrating immigrants into the labour force. Believe me, there are still plenty of Indian engineers driving cabs. Barriers of entry into professional associations like medicine, accounting, etc still greatly exist. Canadian firms will often not hire you unless you have Canadian experience. But how can you get Canadian experience unless they hire you first? In addition, many foreign degrees are not accepted and the cost of obtaining accreditation is prohibitive for many newcomers. Statistics show that immigrants are still somewhat far behind in terms of what they earn compared to the average Canadian.

    But that said, there is social mobility. The federal government has indeed done a good job with it's policies of selecting educated economic migrants and associations have increasingly relaxed their stringent and often onerous standards for recognising credentials. And that is perhaps where the difference lies. Arab, African and Turkish populations etc have been in Europe for decades and are still "ghettoized" with lack of access to education and acceptance into the local culture. Education and integration is the issue. And until that is resolved, there will be no answers in Europe.

    June 10, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  5. JAL

    I dont like Immigration anaylsis, because it is not root-cause analysis...yawn.

    June 10, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  6. j. von hettlingen

    The clichés still hold: Immigrants earn less than native Americans – people who were born in the US – and many of them are unemployed or poor. They have larger families and higher proportions of them cluster in places where people like them can be found. Many of them find it harder to vanish into the American mainstream, and indeed do not try to do so. As we're reminded once in a while, the children of immigrants do well. After heroic efforts, they survive the melting pot.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  7. melindaklewis

    Immigration itself is not a problem in Kansas. The counties with the highest concentrations of immigrant workers—especially in the largely rural southwest of the state—also have some of the lowest unemployment rates. Rising immigrant populations represent the only significant check on widespread population loss in much of Kansas—what some observers have labeled “high growth islands in a sea of decline”. New immigrant entrepreneurs provide job opportunities, especially in revitalizing areas, and immigrant consumers provide rare spark in some languishing economies. Congress’ failure to enact workable immigration laws is, however, very problematic. The hardships this has caused were evident in our state's debate this year. From Garden City, police related their efforts to build bridges and create a safer community, and their fears that those alliances would be threatened by requirements for aggressive profiling practices. From Kansas City, pastors spoke about their congregations’ heartbreak when long-time parishioners disappear in an immigration raid, leaving desperate families behind. From Lawrence, an immigrant U.S. military veteran expressed her dismay at the prospect that the country she fought for and loves might enact harsh policies aimed at people who look just like her. Around southwestern Kansas, farmers shared their frustrations with their inability to hire and retain the hard workers their agricultural businesses need. Across the state, municipalities urged legislators not to compel intrusive and expensive verification that would turn our communities into police states we barely recognize. It's not a mystery–this question of how we can ensure that immigration continues to work for our country the way it has for generations. Nor is it a surprise that anti-immigrant sentiment, and the misconceptions that come with it, continue to flourish, as they, too, have throughout our history. Armed with good public policies and a sense of collective will–and some Kansas common sense–we can be intentional about which parts of our history we want to repeat themselves.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  8. Armand

    Kansas has a big problem his name is Mr kobach His main goal is to enforce the kkk agenda , this guy has endorse supremacist groups no doubt about it. They don't care about farmers, restaurants, construction,hotels, and the most important child care and house cleaning. Younger generations has no appeal at all for theses jobs, Mexico is facing the same dilemma specially now that populations growing is going down dramatically.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  9. Muin

    What does America need? America needs a president who can get stuff done regardless of noise on both sides. Who did it successfully? In my opinion, reagan,clinton, lbj in last 50 years.

    June 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  10. Immigrant Project

    immigrant-project.com offers great information for those facing deportation proceedings.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  11. Morgan

    Some muslims move to Western democracies for a better life. But some want to follow Mohammad's example (as it says they should in the Quran) and make the governments of their adopted home eventually follow Sharia law rather than the already existing laws. We have no test to determine the political intentions of a Muslim, so it is a prudent caution to stop Muslim immigration until such a test is created.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  12. Loraine

    Canada must change its immigration policies to exclude Muslims.

    Islam is both a religion and a political ideology, and its politics are supremacist. That is, the doctrines of mainstream Islam command the followers of this faith to work toward the dominance of their religion over all other religions and the subjugation of all other political systems beneath the Islamic political system (Shari'a).

    This does not refer to some "extreme" or "radical" form of Islam. Shari'a is a fundamental part of the mainstream Islamic faith. It is the duty of every Muslim to work toward establishing Shari'a wherever possible. This means an Canadian who practices the Islamic faith fully must necessarily commit acts of sedition.

    Furthermore, one of the basic tenets of the faith is that loyalty to Islam comes before loyalty to any government or country.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  13. Loraine

    Source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100309/dq100309a-eng.htm

    At the moment many Muslim immigrants are using marriage to bring in other family members. Some may be marrying and then divorcing one family member after the other so that they may be admitted to Canada and some may be practicing polygamy.

    Many Muslims reject these basic principles of Islamic doctrine, but we have no way to determine who does and who doesn't. We could ask them on their immigration application, but another Islamic principle (known as "taqiyya") allows Muslims to deceive non-Muslims if it helps the spread or dominance of Islam.

    Until we find some way to determine who genuinely rejects the political goals of Islam and who does not, we should stop all immigration into the Canada by Muslims.

    Does this seem extreme? It's not as unreasonable as it might seem. We already choose who can immigrate and who cannot. We make the rules. This is our country, after all. We are not under any obligation to allow anyone to immigrate just because they want to. They do it with our blessing or they don't do it.

    So this policy is simply adding to the already-existing filter.

    The first criticism of this policy will probably be, "It is racist." But Islam is not a race; it's an ideology. The policy would be nothing more than informed, reasonable self-preservation. If there is a group of any kind (religious or not) who has an established doctrine and intent to undermine our laws or overthrow our government, it would be self-destructive to grant entry to their members.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  14. jskdn

    "Check out an opposing view" says the link, but you'll have to go someplace else to actually have that experience.

    June 16, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  15. Susan - Montreal

    First of all, thank you for bringing attention to our country, Canada. We share the world's longest undefended border, yet most Americans are ignorant about us. The bad weather comes from Canada (although nothing appears on the map north of the 49th parallel during CNN weather reports), the terrorists entered the U.S. through Canada, it is very cold in Canada, Canadians all say 'eh' and 'aboot' and speak French, there are Mounties in red uniforms in Canada and on and on........

    Yes, our immigration laws are much more liberal than in the U.S. It is very common to sit in a coffee shop and hear a tableful of teenagers switch from English to French to Italian (or any other language) all in one sentence. I live in a middle class neighbourhood with people from every corner of the world, visible minorities and not. I meet my neighbours in the elevator of my condo; some are wearing hijabs, some are wearing saris, some are from the Far East, some are from the Middle East. Everyone has come from somewhere.

    I work with Americans on a daily basis. Most are extremely friendly, but also extremely ignorant about their neighbour to the north. I can name the 50 states. How many Americans know how many provinces there are (only 10) and name some or all of them? Who is the Canadian Prime Minister? What is the capital of Canada (no, it's not Toronto)? Canadian addresses do not have a ZIP code. We have a postal code made up of letters and numbers. Horrors, the U.S. computer systems won't accept anything but a 5- or 9-digit zip code! A letter addressed to Canada requires an 85-cent stamp; a fact that I have to put on all commercial invoices sent to our American business clients. When will the U.S. join the rest of the civilized world and switch to the metric system? When will Americans attempt to speak another language? Most Europeans speak at least 5 or 6 with ease.

    You may have the Ivy League universities, but your education system is greatly lacking in the basics – world geography, history, math, reading & writing, literature.

    Catch up before it's too late. Contrary to what most Americans think, the U.S.A. is NOT the center of the Universe.

    June 16, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  16. Kelly

    If the US would just implement a national ID card, and enforce existing laws about hiring illegal immigrants, the problem would solve itself. If they cannot get jobs,or welfare, they will self deport..

    July 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • rvastag

      Agreed. Amazing how simple the solution is.

      October 15, 2012 at 5:12 am |
    • Rex Remes

      That really really makes sense.

      October 16, 2012 at 4:23 am |
  17. icon pack

    I consider, that you have deceived.

    October 9, 2012 at 5:21 pm |

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.