Immigration – My unpopular (and ideologically correct) position
Saturday, April 22, 2006
I had a rather vigorous, and perhaps at times emotional debate with my co-blogger on Arizona Watch, Bridget Bettencourt, regarding solutions to the current immigration debacle. It did not turn out particularly well (for some time, I don’t think she’s speaking to me); however, upon further reflection, I think our impasse is an indication of just how difficult this issue is. Bridget and I have nearly identical ideological roots. While we often disagree on aesthetics and matters of personal preference, we very rarely disagree on ideological issues. In a rather rare instance, I conceded to my fellow blogger’s arguments.
I’m not going to insult Bridget by summarizing her position in this post. I hope she’ll author a post representing her own position. Instead, I’m going to present my own. For those who have followed Arizona Watch over the last 16 months, you will notice that my views on this issue have evolved in some senses. For the sake of heading off the sophists who will argue inconsistency, let me say this: my core beliefs remain unchanged, although my recognition of the importance of not compromising those beliefs even when faced with incredible public opinion against them waned for awhile, but has now returned.
I’ll start with some prevalent arguments on both sides of the debate that are simply wrong.
Wrong: immigration reform is a matter of national security.
This argument goes something like this: we must secure our borders against labor and economic migration in order to protect ourselves from the possible infiltration of terrorist elements. Sounds good, but it’s a subtle red herring. Terrorist elements are sophisticated. They have boats. They have forged documents. They will infiltrate this country regardless of the height of the wall we build along our land-locked borders. During the cold war, the iron curtain had borders that were extremely well secured (mainly to keep their own citizens from leaving). Still, western spies were able to infiltrate and set up a sophisticated intelligence network. The bottom line is that border security does not prevent the infiltration of sophisticated enemy elements. This is the realm of other divisions of law enforcement – customs, intelligence, anti-terrorism, and anti-espionage groups
Wrong: illegal aliens take jobs from US citizens.
The claim here is that illegals are willing to work for lower wages than US laborers; thus, they force legal US laborers from the lowest echelon of the work force. This is a ridiculous argument. The national unemployment rate currently hovers around 5% (in fact, I think it is a bit lower than that currently). 5% is the rate considered by economists to be “background noise.” It accounts for those willingly unemployed, changing jobs, released for lack of performance, and other normal employment trends. 5% unemployment is extremely low. So, where are the people being denied employment by illegals? The answer is quite simple: they’re other illegals. The competition for the lowest level of employment among illegals is undocumented, unreported, and I believe, significant. In fact, it explains a number of consequences of illegal immigration – drug use and low-level drug peddling, petty crime, and reliance on government services among them. But these are different issues altogether. My point is this: illegals are not displacing citizens from their jobs. The numbers don’t support the claim.
This claim sometimes takes another form, a subtle difference in wording that represents an entirely different underlying ideological error. Some say that “the illegals take American jobs.” This is absolutely correct. American jobs are those created by American employers. These jobs are the product of their hard work, and these jobs are essentially owned by those who create them. To claim that these jobs are owned by American workers is entirely wrong and socialist in ideology. To force an employer to employ a certain category of worker is to essentially steal from them the products of their hard work.
Wrong: amnesty or any other program allowing current illegal immigrants to remain in the US is an unprecedented encouragement and reward of law-breaking.
This claim ignores real US jurisprudence. Laws are unenforced and ignored every day. For example, many states have laws against the cohabitation of unmarried person of mixed gender. That’s right – it’s illegal to live with your partner unless you’re married. However, these laws are unenforced, and citizens have reasonably and justifiably come to expect that they will continue to be unenforced, thus, they cohabitate. In fact, Arizona just repealed such a law in 2001. At that time, I’d been living with my girlfriend for 10 years. Never did I consider that DPS would knock on our door. I knew about the law; I knew that it had not been enforced for many years, and thus, I ignored it. When the law was repealed, I wasn’t asked to pay a fine or discontinue living with my girlfriend to make amends for our past law breaking. Quite the contrary – nothing in our situation changed save for the technicality that our cohabitation was now legal.
The prohibition against illegal immigrants has largely been a similar situation. While a prohibitive element has always been present at the border, upon crossing, illegals have largely been sent the message that their presence is welcome so long as it is productive. When enforcement actions were taken, US Congressman (and by the very definition of their role as representatives, the voters) were the first to dissent and demand that INS (or now, DHS) discontinue. There has been a “wink wink nudge nudge” attitude toward illegal immigration for many years, and illegals were certainly justified in their belief that once within the US, their presence would largely be welcomed.
Wrong: illegal aliens do jobs that Americans will not do.
There is an element of truth to this, but the reality of the matter is this. American consumers, voting with their dollars in a manner inconsistent to their anti-illegal sentiment, would rather not pay the increased price of services and goods that would result from the increased wage scale that would be required by the employment of American workers for the jobs that illegal aliens are willing to do for a lower rate of pay. Citizens of the US, and people in general, will perform damn near any task so long as they are fairly compensated for it. For example, people go into sanitary sewers every day – it’s their job. There are no jobs that US citizens will not do. The fact is that the illegals will do icky jobs for less money than US citizens. They will do this because they value the opportunities, freedoms, lifestyles, and potential for self-improvement that the US offers them much more than US born citizens. They will sacrifice for things that we multi-generational US citizens take for granted, or worse yet, view as entitlements.
Wrong: illegal aliens are trespassing by virtue of their presence in the US.
This is an argument that recently produced legislation in Arizona that was vetoed by Governor Janet Napolitano. However, trespassing laws are intended to protect private property. Certainly, if an illegal (or any other unwanted guest, citizen or not) is present on private property, a crime is being committed, and the State is bound to protect the property rights of the private owner. But to claim that the presence of an illegal on US soil constitutes trespassing is to claim that all US soil is in some way owned by the State. Substitute “King” for “State” in that last sentence, and you have one of the reasons we fought the Revolutionary War.
There are some popular arguments that are quite true as well.
Correct: illegals cost taxpayers and healthcare providers huge sums of money by their use (and abuse) of such institutions as public education, indigent health care, and the prison system.
While some illegals have false, forged, or stolen identities that force them to pay taxes to maintain their ruse, a large number do not. They exist in a grey area in which they can use government services but cannot participate in taxation to pay for them.
Certainly this is terrible. The percentage of illegal immigrants doing this are freeloaders. The US citizens who cannot have their lips pried from the teats of the daddy state are no better. So long as we continue to vote ourselves the entitlements of welfare, medicare, medicaid, social security, public education, and any other government programs that human beings could easily and historically do for themselves, then people will take advantage of these programs regardless of their status as citizens.
Correct: some illegals are part of a criminal element who traffic in illegal drugs and maintain an organized crime and street gang presence with ties to their originating country.
Arguing against the factuality of this is pointless; however, I’m not sure that it is a valid argument when viewed in an historical context.
Regarding organized crime, I wonder how many legal, naturalized people of previous immigration waves had ties to organized crime elements in their home countries. Certainly the Italian, Irish, Jewish, name-a-nation immigrants of generations past had some among them who exploited and maintained ties to criminal elements in their homelands. I know of no statistic that shows a greater problem with immigrant ties to organized crime today then in the past.
Regarding drug trafficking, I am the first to admit that there are a huge number of illegals in US prisons on drug charges. There are also a huge number of US citizens in the same prisons for the same crimes. The massive number of drug-crime offenders is hardly a result of illegal immigration – it is a result of the ill-conceived beating of the dead horse called “the war on drugs.” The fact that illegal drugs must travel across international borders has nothing to do with illegal immigration, border security, migratory patterns, economic disparity, or any of the other issues raised in the immigration debate. It is a result of the demand for illegal drugs within the US that is not met by in-country production sources – it is a result of the failure of the war on drugs.
Correct: some illegals take advantage of US laws to obtain citizenship for their children.
This is a result of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution that grants citizenship to any person born in the US or naturalized in the US. This was largely intended to ensure that freed slaves would be granted citizenship. Some argue that it was never intended to apply to a foreign woman immigrating to the US for the express purpose of giving birth to her child, thus rendering the child a US citizen. Nevertheless, it is not only a law, it is a fundamental part of the US Constitution, and thus, it must be honored.
My unpopular position on this debate is this.
A prohibition on immigration from any source country violates the basic principles upon which the US was founded – that life, liberty and property are the inalienable rights of all people unless they sacrifice them by the forceful denial of another person’s pursuit of these same rights. These rights don’t stop at the US border. This does not mean that immigrants should not be screened and naturalized and subject to the laws of the US. It does mean that the artificially low quotas that place the current illegals in the position of criminals by virtue of their presence here are morally wrong. These laws must be repealed.
And chaos will ensue. What about all the services these illegals use at the expense of taxpayers? We can’t afford this. That’s correct, we can’t, so stop offering these entitlements and services – to everyone. What about the rise in cost of living when all of these people start earning minimum wage? We can’t afford this. That’s correct, we can’t, so repeal the minimum wage – for everyone.
OOOO, that’s scary. Are Americans ready to work for the American dream? Are Americans ready to pay their own way without stealing from other taxpayers to pay their way? Are Americans ready to take responsibility for their own lives and take back those responsibilities they’ve ceded to the State? The answer to all of these questions for the vast majority of illegals is yes and is demonstrated by their presence here.
Immigration reform and the desire to boot the illegals currently residing in the US has absolutely nothing to do with immigration. It has everything to do with our desire to protect the “American lifestyle,” a lifestyle that has come to comprise laziness, reliance on government services, ever increasing entitlements, and the ceding of personal responsibility to the state.
Ponder that for a bit before you start regurgitating agitprop in our comments section.
[Addendums, May 24, 2006]
My first Arizona Watch post discussing immigration as it relates to the welfare state is here.
Coyote Blog (unsurprisingly) gets it right here.