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Central America Immigration - A Classic Prisoner's Dilemma Situation?


Regarding immigration reform, I believe that only an honest, non-threatening discussion of the issues devoid of politics will have any hope of reaching the types of compromises needed to: (1) meet labor demands for low wage labor in agriculture, hospitality, construction, and domestic service sectors; (2) ensure that we gain control of our Southwest border; and (3) promote the type of social and economic development needed in Central America to relieve the pressure for out migration.


 Discussions with different groups in Washington DC are helping me understand various points of view regarding the "hot buttons" for the immigration debate.  My objective is to help both extremes of the political spectrum understand that there will be no winners without compromise.  This is a classic Prisoner's Dilemma situation in which although there is more to be gained through cooperation there are also strong incentives for a person to choose a "win" for themselves in such a way that it causes a "loss" for the others. 


This is how I see the situation playing out over time if there is no compromise to gain control of our immigration system:

Continued Undocumented Immigration to Meet Job Demand in US and Escape Insecurity and Poverty in Central America - The US private sector has labor needs that are best met by immigrant labor -- without action to address those needs we will continue to have undocumented immigrants coming across the border.  Response: This demand creates a "pull" effect that will provide an economic incentive for undocumented workers to come to the US.  Policy makers must start a dialogue with the business sector to understand their needs, develop labor mechanisms to address those needs, and enact enforceable "hard" rules to govern how these labor needs are met.


Impact of Undocumented Immigration Will Cause Local Backlash and Short-term Political Consequences - The continued illegal immigration will, at some point, cause local backlash that will threaten the proponents of comprehensive immigration reform.  This could result in the election of nativist candidates that will enact laws that create a parallel economy based on the labor of undocumented immigrants, aggravate the social and economic problems in Central America, and harm innocent children caught in this situation.  Response:  Explain to proponents of comprehensive immigration reform of the need to make hard compromises to address illegal immigration including  (i)a zero tolerance for hiring of undocumented workers except under an official guest worker program, (ii) more support for border enforcement, (iii) more Federal assistance for "border" communities (and that is not just for communities that are geographically close to the border but rather for all communities that are impacted by illegal immigration), and (iv) a change in deportation proceedings to allow a more expeditious review of refugee and immigration status.


Continued Undocumented Immigration Will Cause Long-term Change in Both Local and National Elections - With no change in current situation, undocumented immigrants will continue to come to the US and, overtime the Hispanic voting population, will become more and more powerful with the result that anti-immigrant candidates will suffer politically.  This will essentially the swing of the political pendulum in the opposite direction from local community backlash.  Response:  Notwithstanding national polling data that indicates Hispanics are socially conservative, their voting pattern in Presidential elections tends to support more liberal but pro-immigrant politicians. 


Taking the immigration issue off the table would be beneficial politically to conservatives.  For liberal politicians, the focus should be on preventing immigration from becoming a divisive issue in local elections.  There is room for both sides to win by making immigration less political.


There is a way forward that could work for everyone and that is finding sensible solutions to immigration reform that addresses labor needs with an effective guest worker program (like the "Bracero" program that worked for over 20 years), secures the border to the extent that it can be secured (remember the failure of the Berlin Wall and the fact that there were still thousands of "escapes" from the East to the West even in the face of death), and provides a politically neutral outcome for the immigration issue.


I prepared a presentation on potential local impact of immigration using the Washington DC Metropolitan area as the focus and specifically focused on Congressional District 11 of Virginia (this is my home district).





Jeb Stuart High School Case Study

Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia


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