Immigration was arguably the most prominent issue of Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign. His calls for a heavy-duty border wall coupled with controversial comments about illegal immigrants stoked the flames of the immigration debate across the political spectrum. Populists on the right decried illegal immigration as a parasitic relationship ultimately hurting the American worker. Libertarian and left-leaning commentators urged opening the borders entirely. The political quagmire that is illegal immigration will never be fixed with the extreme solutions presented, but a moderate, market-based solution exists that can improve outcomes for all parties involved.
As it exists, the state of unauthorized labor along America’s southern border is predatory. Unauthorized workers make a dangerous trek across harsh terrain only to meet long hours of manual labor, subpar compensation, and little-to-no work-related benefits. The only people to gain are employers who get discounted labor. Furthermore, the dangers of “coyotes” who specialize in human trafficking and the bureaucracy of deportation loom over the heads of any would-be laborer desiring to bring home money for their families.
The majority of these workers find their way into the field of agriculture. During the period of 2011 to 2013, approximately eighteen percent of unauthorized labor was attributed to jobs in the agricultural sphere. It is safe to say that American farmers rely on illegal labor. Luckily for those farmers who benefit most, the supply of labor is excessive. This produces value in competition among undocumented workers, but unintended consequences arise like waste in produce surpluses. That waste creates an inefficiency in the market.
Without borders, you have no nation, but when nine percent of California’s workforce consists of unauthorized labor, stopping the immigration faucet altogether too endangers the American economy. That is not to say, however, that an open border would create a massive economic windfall to the American citizen. There is a solution that marries the efficiency of the market with humanitarian improvements.
What if we formed contractual agreements between non-Americans, particularly those along the southern border, and firms in American markets? This would act very similarly to work visas. Work visas are federal and state certifications that allow an individual to stay in America provided they’re employed and that employment is sponsored by an American employer. As it is now, obtaining a work visa is simply a bureaucratic hoop through which both you and your employer have to jump, coupled with fees and the application processes.
These private contracts would make undocumented workers out to be independent contractors. Companies could recruit exactly the type of labor needed for the appropriate job duration. Do you run a construction company doing a month-long project and need an extra hand? Write a contract with the pay and contract duration and shop it to the free market of contractors. Do you run a Californian ranch that needs hands year-round? The customizability of the contract system affords you that ability.
While it is true that this idea takes out the government as a middle man, it also serves to better work conditions for unauthorized workers and fosters certainty for an employer. Furthermore, as your natural efficiency increases with job experience, you have the ability to renegotiate your contract at the end of its term. For instance, if I have contracted the same farmhand for the past decade and he is highly skilled due to his experience, I may want to pay him a higher contractual wage or provide some benefit structure for fear of losing him to a competitor.
Of course, with every proposal there comes questions. Could this system be rife with abuse? Potentially, but is the current system a bastion of impermeability even after decades of trying to make it work? As of 2019, 74% of Americans see the situation at the southern border as a “major problem.” So let’s find a reasonable path forward as opposed to extreme rhetorical pipe dreams.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.