Militarizing the border not the answer

Editor’s note: The following letter is in response to the Oct. 23-29 guest column “Immigration Reform Bill all ‘smoke and mirrors’” by John Kight. The column appeared online only at

Like a physician arguing that poor blood circulation in the feet is the diabetic’s sole problem, Mr. Kight contends that the only broken part of our immigration system is our southern border. Both diagnoses are factually wrong. Both problems are symptoms of complex systemic dysfunction. Militarizing our southern border will not solve the underlying systemic problems any more than amputating the feet will cure the diabetes.

Our immigration system is broken because in 1965 Congress embedded the labor market assumptions of the post-war, baby-boom period into the legal immigration system. Congress assumed (contrary to our nation’s historical experience) that from 1965 on, we would always have sufficient, low-skilled workers to meet our economy’s need for farm workers, construction workers, restaurant workers, dairy workers, health aides, nannies, elder care workers, and every other form of entry-level and basic skilled employment that does not require a university degree. To protect our native-born, low-skilled workers, Congress created a restrictive and expensive system for bringing in temporary workers and an extremely restrictive quota for employers wishing to permanently hire low-skilled immigrant workers. At the same time, the 1960s-era changes to U.S. immigration law reduced the legal visas available for Mexican migrant workers by more than 90 percent, from nearly 500,000 yearly to less than 50,000.

That drastic reduction in legal visas for Mexicans, the flawed labor market assumptions of the 1965 Act, and the simple human desire for opportunity and economic improvement are the forces that have nearly broken our current expensive and dysfunctional immigration system. Without comprehensive reform of that legal framework, militarizing the border and incarcerating immigrants for the crimes of working and seeking reunification with their families will only increase our tax burden and the bottom lines of private government contractors.

Marti L. Jones
Normal, Ill.

From the Dec. 11-17, 2013, issue

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