Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Obama immigration plan is too tough and too lenient

This has a climate hook, by the way.

Obama's plan, summarized here, takes 13 years to give citizenship to people who have been here just short of forever.  It also legalizes and puts on the same track the people who arrive the day before the proposal would be introduced as legislation.  These are two different sets of people both as far as our ethical obligations and our self-interest are concerned.

The starting point should recognize three categories, and then argue who fits in those categories:

1. Immigrants who have been here a very long time - these people are Americans, basically, and have about as much right and reason to be citizens as the rest of us.  Once we've figured out that they qualify in this category, the wait time should be short to make them citizens.

What constitutes a "very long time" is a devilish detail that could get much debate, but that debate doesn't remove the fact that the category is legitimate.  The law by necessity draws a bright line somewhere in a gray area.  That's just life.

2. People who arrived recently - these are different people.  They aren't Americans, they are prospective immigrants who happen to be here already.  They aren't integrated into society and they haven't given significant investments of their lives into building the country.  The key here is that we owe them no more than we owe other prospective immigrants, so it's up to us to decide whether it's in our interest to give them a different status than other prospective immigrants who haven't come here illegally.

3. People in transition to becoming immigrants - just because you have to establish bright lines in gray zones doesn't mean you have to deny the existence of a gray zone.  So here they are, people who haven't just arrived but also haven't been here for so long that the only ethical and reasonable thing to do is to fast-track them to citizenship.  Some immediate legalization plus lengthy path to citizenship seems appropriate.  Obama's one-size-fits all approach is probably best just for this group.

The climate angle is this aspect (from the link above):  "The White House draft wouldn’t just affect undocumented immigrants currently in America. Spouses and children of newly legalized prospective immigrants could also apply for an LPI visa themselves from overseas if they pass a background check and pay the proper fees."

If you add triple the number of immigrants from the current 11 million, that extra 33 million people will mean a 5 to 7 percent increase our national greenhouse gas emissions.  Global GHG emissions aren't affected in exactly the same way, but it will increase as these people move from lower-carbon footprints to our own.  Even if the effect is reduced by having a total cap on emissions, the cap itself will be determined in part by how easy it is to live within the cap, and increasing the population by 5 percent will make it that much harder.  I don't think LPI visa holders or green card holders should have the right to bring in new immigrants - they should complete the citizenship process first.

Two other points - first, Obama's 13 year proposal is a classic worse-than-unethical-because-it's-a-blunder.  The significant majority of these people are going to be Democratic voters.  You don't make them wait forever to vote, and you don't start off with 13 years as your opening bid and then negotiate something worse than that with the Republicans.

Second, I think the issue underscores the need for future international greenhouse gas regulation to recognize and reward countries for accepting immigrants.  While Europe and Japan have admittedly done a far better job than the US on climate over the last 25 years, it would be an interesting exercise to estimate what their emissions would have been if they had accepted the same level of immigration.  Still far less than the US per person, but maybe not quite as stellar.


David B. Benson said...

Seven years. Two years for the green card and five more for the English and civics lessons.

Brian said...

My bids:

Six months plus a test for the long-termers, those who've been here for more than 10 years.

Transition period of 7 to 13 years for those who've been here from one to ten years.

Nothing for those who've been here less than a year. Time to leave and participate in the legal immigration process.

Jason said...

Jason hardly cares about immigration - have transport, will travel - so let's all get along. But he does wonder if average per capita emissions equate to even distribution across demographics (it doesn't) and whether that has bearing on the discussion (it does).

Anonymous said...


US per capita emissions, have, of course, fallen for forty years now.

And Japan and Europe, with basket case economies, are probably not ideal models. ( although we're working on our own basket )

Regarding immigration, you make some assumptions that immigrants have the same 'carbon footprint' as the average resident.

Many immigrants are wealthy ones that probably use a fair amount of fuel. Others are productive ones ( the ones we want, right? ) that would develop industry.

Factors people don't think about wrt to CO2 emissions

size of the nation - large areas mean more transportation within the borders.

continental climate - more in heating and cooling costs

economic development - depressed economies burn less fuel, but that's not a good model. Advanced economies become more energy efficient because they look to squeeze costs more and more.

wealth of the individuals - those with disposable income can buy more energy. Of course, they also buy more energy saving devices

age of the population - old fart populations, which more and more describes the US, tend to use less energy ( but also be less productive ).


Brian said...

"Regarding immigration, you make some assumptions that immigrants have the same 'carbon footprint' as the average resident."

Not really, but I do assume a trend in that direction though over time, and a bigger footprint than in the home country. I think both assumptions are highly defensible.

I doubt US per capita emissions are lower now than 40 years ago. Got a link?

manuel moe g said...


Doesn't look good for "US per capita emissions, have, of course, fallen for forty years now."

Would greatly appreciate the multi-decade info.

Jevons paradox also makes one skeptical:



Immigration policy: keep the good ones, ship off the bad ones. Also my policy for making all citizenship status provisional and revocable for television pundits and the similarly problematic, and my policy for children and pets and military school and an imaginary family with a imaginary farm that took in Buster and Billy, so stop crying.

Anonymous said...

Yes, US per capita emissions have declined for decades.

Thought you guys knew this stuff:



Brian said...

Live and learn. According to the link, US per capita emissions dropped from 1973 to 1982, partly came back over next 7 years, was stable for the next 20, and started dropping dramatically in 2007 through the end of the chart in 2009.

Not exactly declining "for decades", but yes lower per capita today than 40 years ago.

Suggests to me that there's all the more reason to be concerned about the "per capita" side.

Anonymous said...

The graph that "Waldo" posted a link to is not a lowering of per capita CO2 production FOR 40 years. It has been remarkably constant for the period 1980-2005. There has been recent dip (partly due to recession, partly from increased natural gas from fracking, but partly efficiency improvements), but also a runup from the 60's to the mid 70's.

US high output per capita is a reflection of the way we live. For example, there is no real reason to structure society so that everybody "wants" to live 50 miles from work, and drive a SUV with no other passengers. Immigrants will not change that substantially that I can tell.

Rib Smokin' Bunny


Does this mean the clans Buchanan and McKibben locked in a protectionist embrace to exclude underpowered sans culottes from carbon dificient regions of the world ?

Brian said...

Rib - not sure I understand, but I expect the immigrants would join those 50 mile commutes and add their footprints to everyone else's.

Russel's hit on a big part of the problem - a lot of the people sharing my concern about net immigration are actually big huge Buchananite racists. I wish they would just go away - I don't want them as allies.


No worries Brian.

A few generations in the melting pot listening to Glen & Rush should transform some overland immigrants from aspirant SUV drivers to off the grid survivalists living a passive lunar lifestyle in the Bearpaw mountains.

The others, tuning in to NPR and PBS, will be driven home by boredom and the threat of woodchuck-led calisthenics.