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III. Research Question, Thesis, Method. | matthewsimmigration

Chapter III - Research Question, Thesis, and Methodology

The most pertinent contemporary question concerning United States immigration is how an effective immigration management architecture, comprised of state-administered and legally institutionalized policy reform measures, can be best designed and actualized to conform immigration flows to the fundamental state goal of national interest maximization.  The United States’ "national interest," its raison d’etat in this respect is conceptualized as a primarily economic measurement, with a combined focus on holistic national security (where "holistic" refers to diplomatic-offensive as well as military-defensive strategies), a balance between cultural protection and pliability, and prudent, benign opportunism in domestic and foreign relations leading to national and international goodwill toward the state.  In light of this broader definition, what definitively, then, does the United States seek to achieve through immigration policy (i.e., what are the country’s "immigration goals") and what specific reforms should it implement in order to realize these goals?

 

It is empiric both in history and modernity that the U.S. immigration interest, in line with the country’s overarching national interest, is foremost an economic concern and therefore, by default and secondarily, a socio-political and foreign relations issue.  It is therefore reasoned that the primary goal of reform is to implement immigration policies that will, first and foremost, maximize the economic wealth of American natives, and that doing so requires closer architectural alignment with the state’s economic policies centered on freer international trade in goods and services.  It is therefore conjectured that an "equitable moderate" approach to immigration reform - focused on creative and sustainable econo-centric reform rather than short-sighted if dramatic revamps of law for political stage-performance purposes or for appeasing a temporal special interest "flavor of the day" - would have the highest positive impact on the national interest.

 

"Equitable moderation" is herein defined as occupying the intellectual space somewhere between the amorality of traditional Realpolitik and the naiveté of orthodox idealism.  This approach is "equitable" in the sense that it aims to maximize the overall economic affluence of, and distributive justice in, the United States, thereby satisfying the "politically feasible" considerations necessary for effectuating appropriate change.  Political feasibility in this respect may require a sacrifice of "first-best" policy (i.e., in the economic sense, that which results in the highest economic efficiency for the U.S. and the world, and in the cosmopolitan liberal sense, that which gives foreign nationals equal and unrestricted access to U.S. labor markets, public benefits, and citizenship) for a less optimal "second-best" policy (i.e., that which results in less than the highest economic efficiency for the U.S. and the world, but which remains superior to the status quo in terms of maximizing native wealth and migrant welfare under powerful political constraints).  This "equitable" approach also takes foreign policy and "rule of law" considerations into account by seeking to facilitate higher standards of living for migrants and their respective national communities in sending states abroad, with the ultimate effect of making legal immigration choices preferable to illegal ones.

 

The equitable moderation model is "moderate" in the sense that it avoids the puristic extremes of political realist thought along Machiavellian lines by providing room for ethical ideations along Kantian lines, thereby softening the harsher notions of national self-interest while elevating the inherent human value of all affected parties in the migration debate.  In pursuit of these goals, equitable moderation - brought to fruition as a seven-part reform model at the end of this piece - approaches immigration policy as a function of politically feasible economic self-interest and creative compensatory foreign relations (and individual "foreign national relations") rather than one of power or back-door politics, pure altruistic philanthropy, or an alarmist clash of civilizations.

 

Moreover, and in contrast, it is posited herein that the implementation into policy of other recently publicized reform concepts - which are primarily politically radicalized and unnecessarily acrimonious, and which fail to fully emphasize the economic roots of immigration (namely, the issue of distributive justice) - would only exacerbate the complexity and recurrent short-life of an already crippled managerial framework.  Policy-makers have historically viewed the issue of immigration as a temporal if cyclical annoyance that necessitates political containment strategies, which have proven themselves more symbolic or barely satisficing than efficacious in achieving the optimal.  While winking at a hushed economic reliance upon cheap undocumented labor, the United States has maintained the status quo without fully legitimating immigration through a grander strategic lens that combines a proactive appropriation of highest-value global human and cultural capital with engineered domestic contentedness and strengthened geopolitical ties.

 

Formulating equitable moderation requires at the outset an appropriate methodology for the discovery of truisms in the domestic economy of the United States as well as realities in the international economy, through which each piece of evidence will impart either a positive or a negative adjunct to a best-choice economic national interest formula.  In deriving this formula, the author will align with modern problem-solving scholars who are less concerned with formal theory-building and hypothesis testing, and more inclined to use the eclectic techniques of analysis in social science to argue for specific types of policy reform. 35  Recognizing the accepted premise that "immigration is too diverse and multifaceted to be explained by a single theory," 36 or even by a single discipline, 37 the aim is to operate within a workable conceptual framework, to draw a distinguishing line between the opposing sides of the debate, to forward the associated implications through a simplified perspective, and to posit equitable moderation as the most politically feasible approach to effectuating sustainable policy reform.

 

The author also recognizes that individual worldviews are fluid constructions of reality developed through a number of psycho-social, cultural-institutional, socio-economic, linguistic and neurological influences that naturally affect one’s acceptance or rejection of varying theoretical explanations for social phenomena.  As per Max Weber, "all knowledge of reality is always knowledge from particular points of view" and the manner in which research is conducted is "determined by the evaluative ideas that dominate the investigator." 38  Therefore, when approaching a subject as complex as immigration policy reform with a goal of social scientific neutrality, the author will strive to be as value-free and objective as possible.  Thus, an essential means of progressing through this study is reliance upon a posteriori knowledge as rooted in empiricism: a positivist approach concerned with what is, as a product of verifiable experience, as opposed to a concern with what is merely believed to be, outside of factual verification.  An empirical approach simply holds that normative ideas (i.e., what ought to be) about immigration policy reform must be tested against objective data and facts, and accepted or rejected on the basis of how well they correspond to same.  Therefore, positivist rationale gained through empirical analyses will lend credibility to the author’s normative recommendations for policy reform, designing the "ought to" in conformity with the empirical "is" established throughout the piece.

 

Empiricism, in this respect, necessarily relies upon a complementary epistemological concept known as common-sense realism, or the belief that there is a real external world, that our perceptions are caused directly by that world, and that we derive meaning and application through those perceptions.  Follow-through on the empirical data for predictive purposes (i.e., in support of the thesis, supra) requires a subsequent rationalist or a priori approach based upon a common-sense acceptance of observable realities with respect to the political economy, human migratory behavior, and the historical policies of the United States, and reasoned causal assumptions that the proverbial x-factors (i.e., verifiable facts) should or will lead to the proverbial y-factors (i.e., rational policy-relevant conclusions and forecasts).  This approach conforms to the epistemological school of pragmatism, which holds that what is important about knowledge is that it solves certain problems that arise in conflicts between belief (e.g., normative ideas) and action (e.g., policy formulation based on positivist foundations).

 

Thus, this piece will utilize a blend of social scientific and eclectic analytical tools located somewhere between theoretical purism and commonsensical description, at the intersection of economics, politics and law, in order to solve the "problem" of immigration in a pragmatic sense.  The specific methods employed will include reviews of theoretical and problem-solving academic literature and analyses of reputable statistical data in order to discover the determinants and private and public consequences of modern U.S. immigration; an examination of the American political organism and how its sub-parts work with and against one another to influence elected officials and, ultimately, policy; a critique of policy concepts developed by certain chieftains in the current reform revival, including a comparative analysis of the opposing sides of the reform debate and their respective logic-holes; and a creative formulation of policy drawing on historical jurisprudence, economic and political empirics, and the elements of human rationality known collectively as common-sense.

 

35 Brettell and Hollifield, "Introduction: Migration Theory," 8.

 

36 Joaquín Arango, "Theories of International Migration," in International Migration in the New Millenium (Warwick: Ashgate, 2004), 15-34.

 

37 Raúl Urzúa, "International Migration, Social Science, and Public Policy," in Social Research and Public Policy (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers: 2000), 422.

 

38 Viotti, International Relations Theory, 2.

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