This essay is not intended to address a crisis that may be occurring on the border at this time. I make no comment on that. Nor does it discuss the issues around war, such as how to deal with citizens of enemy nations. This essay is not a policy proposal, it does not set out, for example, when an immigrant can become a citizen and attain the vote or what to do to immigrants who commit crimes. It has but one purpose: to enumerate and respond to the common arguments used in favor of an impenetrable and guarded border fence to shut down immigration.
Suppose you were born in a country that outlawed normal life. North Korea comes to mind. Venezuela is a slightly less extreme example, and there are many other examples which are slightly less bad than that socialist worker’s paradise.
I phrase it in these terms, because this is the essence of the issue. People are rightfully fleeing places where they cannot live.
Anyway, suppose you are in a place where life is a living hell. Every day, you are forced to beg and steal scraps of food to somehow stay alive. The best you can hope for is to subsist, one day at a time. You must avoid the gangs and the secret police.
If you could somehow scrape together the money to escape to America, would you?
You would take a job paying minimum wage—or less—doing long days of unskilled manual labor, if necessary. At least in America, you can work and you can begin to build a better life for yourself and your family.
But you notice that people call you “illegal.” They don’t refer to any crime you commit, because you are no criminal. You never steal from anyone, hurt anyone, and or do anything else that could objectively be called a crime. You work hard for every penny you earn. But they call you “illegal” anyway.
You come to realize that when they say illegal, they refer to you, not your actions. Your very existence so utterly offends them that they think you are crime incarnate.
You notice that most of them drive faster than the posted speed limit. Many don’t register their old handguns or refuse to pay tax when they sell a gold coin. They traffic in old toilets, which flush more than 1.6 gallons. They break the law in numerous ways.
On Facebook, there is a common meme that laughs at the statistic that everyone commits three felonies per day. Their crimes don’t bother them in the slightest, because they aren’t hurting anyone. They do get the concept of victimless crime, at least when they themselves are made into criminals by nonobjective law.
However, for you, amigo, none of that matters. “The law is the law,” they assert. “The law must be obeyed,” and they don’t mean the speed limit law here. They mean the law that does not allow you to live.
Obviously, you are not going to oblige them by dying. This is the issue for you. Going back to hell may well be your death, or the death of your family.
This is the monstrous injustice of anti-immigration policy. Now let’s look at the arguments used to justify it.
“Immigrants bring bad ideas with them”
The most intellectual argument is that immigrants bring bad ideas with them. Though I have not seen it phrased this way, this implies that we could build a Great Wall (or a Berlin Wall) to keep out socialism, fascism, cronyism, corruption, and the ideas of Kant and Marx. Surely, there would be no Che t-shirts if the wall were tall enough.
I find this argument unconvincing. In this era of radio, television, and the Internet, it’s the policy equivalent of locking the barn doors after the horses are not only out, but sold to the Saudis, and earning big purses racing in Abu Dhabi. Rotten ideas are not only here in America, but they have predominated for decades in our universities, media, and popular culture.
A lame duck president said, “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.” When our current president was a candidate he said, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” We have a pejorative term for the wealthiest percentile of people, and one for bankers. Hollywood celebrities pose for pictures with socialist thugs like Hugo Chavez. These ideas are mainstream. Even conservatives will defend half a dozen of Marx’ ten planks.
If rational ideas prevailed in our culture and most people held to a rational philosophy, then evil ideas would find no fertile ground here. Proud people of healthy self-esteem who understand liberty, find nothing attractive about socialist utopias, death cults, thieving parasites, or paralyzing bureaucracy.
If you are un-persuaded, and you still believe that we have to keep out people with bad ideas, then you have to answer the following question. Are bad ideas intrinsically compelling?
Suppose a Marxist chants slogans on a street corner, or finds a willing American newspaper to publish his letter. Is this a threat to Western Civilization? Are reality and reason and liberty so weak and so un-compelling, that they are blown away by mindless communist propaganda?
At best, I think this argument reduces to another one that’s much more common. This argument does not address ideas, but voters.
“Immigrants vote socialist”
Immigrants vote socialist, opponents of immigration tell us. But do they? I rather doubt that it’s nearly so prevalent as we’re told, though I don’t have the statistic. It doesn’t make any sense to me. These are people who have scrimped and saved to go to a foreign country. Many have risked their lives, and most of them are not fluent in the language. What motivates them to do this? I doubt it’s typically a desire to bring to the US the same socialism that forced them to flee.
What if immigrants are not voting for Democrats for their socialist policies, but for their pro-immigration stance? That would be a tragic irony to this argument. If the Republican Party stakes out the anti-immigrant position, then no one should be surprised when immigrants vote Democrat, along with their extended families, friends, and supporters.
The presumption that immigrants vote Democrat leads Republicans to oppose immigration, which leads immigrants to vote Democrat. Mr. Foot, meet Mr. Gun. Blam!
Incidentally, while I am criticizing the Republican Party, this very same issue is hurting them elsewhere too. Do gays all want socialism? Or do they want legalized marriage? Do women all want socialism? Or do they want legalized control over their own reproduction? Do biologists and other scientists want socialism? Or do they want legalized stem cell research and other scientific inquiry? Many members of these groups turn to the party that promises what they want.
“Immigrants are like a trespassers who break into your house”
Moving on to the next argument, I hear often that an immigrant is like a trespasser or a burglar who breaks into your house. Think about what this argument says.
It says that the nation is owned collectively. If you are in the group, then you are part owner. If not, then you are a threat to the tribe. Today, it’s phrased in terms of criminal trespass, but it’s a primitive view of belongers vs. outsiders.
Of course the country as a whole is not owned, and certainly no collective has a right to violate anyone’s rights. Rights are neither a group benefit, nor a grant made by the government.
“Immigrants are taking our jobs”
A related argument is that immigrants are taking our jobs. This argument is thoroughly Marxist. Thus, it’s ironic that it so often comes from conservatives, Republicans, and even some libertarians.
Our jobs? A job is a contract with an employer, not a birthright for an individual or a group privilege. If someone else is hired, but you are not, there is no injustice. If members of one group get hired and members of another group do not, then there is no cause for the government to interfere.
Jobs are not zero-sum. Under certain conditions, jobs are created and wages are rising. Under other conditions, jobs are stagnant or even destroyed. What conditions? Left free from coercion, people find ever more ways of coordinating their productive activities. Increasing production means hiring more people and paying them better wages.
However, when the government intrudes it reduces coordination, which means it reduces productivity, employment, wages, and quality of life. I proved this in my dissertation. One form of government intrusion is to block people, goods, or capital from crossing the border.
It may have taken a genius like Adam Smith or Frederic Bastiat to provide the original arguments to debunk state control, central planning, and government favoritism for cronies. However, today, a smart 8th grader can understand and make a cogent argument against this nonsense.
I don’t think anyone believes in bad economics for the sake of bad economics. No, there are two reasons people support junk economics. One is they want to get something they couldn’t earn in a free market. They seek protectionist measures to keep out competition. The other is they can see that the economy isn’t working properly. It is a fact that employment is far below its prior level. Such jobs as do exist pay lower real wages. Most people feel it at some level, and they’re angry.
They should be angry, but we should place the blame where it belongs. Taxes, regulations, litigation, and especially the Fed are the cause.
Please don’t take out your anger on poor immigrants.
The idea that the economy is zero-sum is a Marxist idea. Lovers of America, the Constitution, and liberty should have nothing to do with it.
Immigrants come to benefit from America’s socialist institutions (“welfare”)
The next argument is that immigrants come here to collect. We should not allow immigrants because they will only end up on welfare.
Compensation is when you deliberately and knowingly do the wrong thing, supposedly to fix a problem elsewhere that you cannot or do not wish to fix. My example is to let the air out of three tires if you have a flat. Shutting down immigration is compensation for the welfare state. We who don’t want to see the taxpayer bankrupted will do better to fight welfare, than to fight immigration.
This leads to a question I have asked several times, and received no answer. Why does Immigration and Customs Enforcement go after employers?
We’re told that immigrants are here to sell drugs and commit crimes. However, it’s obvious that you won’t find drug dealers, welfare queens, pimps, and bank robbers working at or below minimum wage in the hot sun. So why go after employers? There is only one reason.
It is to protect us belongers from losing our scarce jobs to those outsiders.
Can any of these arguments be applied to block immigration between the states? On Facebook recently, I saw someone post (half) jokingly that Texas should pass a law to keep out anyone from California who voted for its welfare schemes or high-speed rail boondoggle.
Logically, there is no reason they couldn’t be applied to interstate immigration. North Dakota has low unemployment. If they continue to allow open immigration, then pretty soon their unemployment will rise to the unfortunate heights of the rest of the country (maybe they should thank their harsh weather for putting the brakes on this).
The next step is to apply it to immigration within a state, from city to city. We wouldn’t want all of those Tucson people coming here to take our Phoenix jobs, would we? The end game is the socialist dictatorship, which clamps down on the right of people to move as they wish.
The elephant in the room that must be named is some people of the anti-immigrant persuasion are motivated by racism. I don’t believe this is the majority, but it exists. They don’t dare openly declare their feelings, at least not in any forum I read. Instead, they couch it in another argument.
One reason I started this essay off with a story was to establish the context and put the reader into the shoes of a recent immigrant. I had another reason as well: to illustrate the problems in the anti-immigration position. No one who fled a living hell will go back willingly. So what will be accomplished by demonstrating one’s resentment by slinging the name “illegal” at a man? He will react. He will feel like he is in a no-win situation. He may himself become resentful, and in that state he may adopt bad ideas that he did not originally hold.
What will happen if the law attacks his employer and renders him unable to keep a job? What would you do if you were permanently rendered unemployable by law? He will take welfare if he can get it. The only alternatives are to starve, to go back to hell, steal cars, or sell drugs. Nothing good can come from forcing someone to make that kind of choice.
Though it’s not my purpose in writing this essay, if your concern is whether the GOP will win elections, it’s hard to think of a more effective way to repulse a large voting bloc. However, I think there’s something much more important at stake. It is the theme of most of my writing on the gold standard. We need to rediscover and return to the principle on which America was founded. It is the principle that everyone has the individual rights of life, liberty, and property. Let’s fight for those rights. Let’s fight to repeal welfare and to restore the Constitution and the Republic that was built on it.
It’s the right thing to do, and it also works.